City of Angels: The Film Behind the '98 Hit 'Iris'

As we get older, something funny happens: the songs we used to hear playing over a scratchy speaker in our hometown mall, or in the back of our parents’ car, start to deem themselves relevant to our own lives and experiences. We suddenly begin to understand the lyrics we once just mindlessly sang along to.

For me, one of these songs is the 1998 hit “Iris,” by the Goo Goo Dolls. Having heard the song vaguely throughout my childhood, I recognized it as I was skimming through the band’s Spotify section a few years ago. After rediscovering it and listening to it constantly over that summer, it became one of my favorite songs, and got me curious to find out what inspired the band’s frontman, John Rzeznik, to write it.

Rzeznik was asked to write a song for the 1998 film, City of Angels, starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. In the film, Cage is an angel who greets and comforts those who are about to exit the mortal world and enter the afterlife. Contrastingly, Ryan is a doctor living and working in Los Angeles, who has the ability to see Cage despite his angelic form and her mortal limitations. Spoiler alert! The pair falls in love. Not knowing Cage's character is an angel, Ryan's character is concerned about the two of them never having touched and not knowing anything about his life. Eventually, Cage reveals his secret and makes the definitive, heart-wrenching decision to give up his immortality in order to be with her.

It was neat to identify the scenes and concepts Rzeznik makes reference to throughout the song “Iris.” A personal favorite of mine is when he sings, “You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be / And I don’t want to go home right now.” After having watched the film, I knew this line was sung from the perspective of Cage’s character. Rzeznik references heaven as a holy, desirable place, but subtly points to Cage’s angelic form by referring to it as his “home.”

If you enjoy the song, the film is worth a watch - you'll be able to catch many more of the song's references. Whether or not you’re a Goo Goo Dolls fan, the movie fits beautifully with the song’s powerful lyrics, and will let you experience it with a totally new perspective.

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