Dark City

RATED-(R)-100 MIN-1998 


                                                    You say they brought us here…from where?


                                                      I’m sorry, I don’t remember. None of us

                                                             remember that; what we once were, what

                                                       we might have been, somewhere else.

dark city poster

Sometimes a film comes along and just has everything going for it. The idea and script, director and actors, execution of it all is just perfect, that together, it adds up to something new, exciting, and fulfilling. When a film accomplishes this, the magic happens. I have always loved Sci-Fi movies, but unfortunately, many are just like the next one-boring and predictable. It happens all the time. My other problem with some of these movies is, that the payoff at the end is unsatisfactory. It's like the filmmakers don't trust the story, and just want to dazzle us with flash and action. That happens a lot. Dark City has one the best payoffs or endings I have ever seen in a movie. It makes perfect sense, is so obvious and poetic, you probably will miss it. 

What a wonderful somber, beautiful, with an almost nightmarish feel to it, film Dark City is. If you have not yet experienced this gem by Alex Proyas, I highly recommend that you do. When this film came out, I did not know much about it, except that Roger Ebert had sung its praise on “Siskel and Ebert”, and that it did sound very intriguing. After I saw it, I was floored by this smaller masterpiece that did not have the advertising behind it of bigger Hollywood blockbuster titles. Ebert cherished this film, and he was so right.


The first twenty minutes or so has many edit cuts, that creates an uneasy feeling in the viewer. This is done on purpose I think, as Proyas is trying to convey the same thing the main character: John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) is experiencing in the opening of this story. We see a city at night, and at the stroke of midnight, everyone goes to sleep. If they are walking, they fall If they are driving, they slow down and stop. Whatever they are doing, they fall asleep. There is an introduction with a narrative by a man that says (The Strangers), who have come from somewhere else, are behind this event. Somehow, they control this city, with the possible exception of one person.

A man wakes up in a bathtub, not knowing how he got there and who he is. There is blood on his forehead and he is naked. Frantically searching for his clothes, he finds some hanging in a closet and a suitcase with initials on it and some stuff inside, including a postcard from a place called: Shell Beach. The phone rings and the person on the other end explains that there was an experiment and something went wrong; that men will be coming for him, and he has to get out now. There is also a body of a woman in the corner of the room, who was murdered and has strange circles cut into her.


The Strangers do indeed come, and the panicked man, Murdoch runs. As it turns out, there have been a string of unsolved homicides, and the Inspector on the case: Bumstead (a very dry and effective William Hurt) is trying to piece them together to find the murderer since his partner has gone insane... they think. Murdoch is the prime suspect, even though he has no memory of committing these crimes. So he runs. The Strangers come.

Murdoch, it appears, is having problems at home with his beautiful wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) who sings at a nightclub. She is worried because John has gone missing, and she doesn’t know where he is. When things start to lead back to him, John frantically tries to piece to together who he is, and where he came from. There is also a very strange man: Daniel Schreber (a creepy Kiefer Sutherland), who is a doctor and appears to have some connection to The Strangers. They seem to be doing some odd things in the late of the night in the city. The clue of that postcard from Shell Beach is crucial, because as the movie progresses, it becomes quite apparent, that everybody that he asks, has heard of Shell Beach, but they have no memory of how to get there. When he finally gets on the subway, which should take him to it, there are no trains that actually go there. The police close in, and the Strangers get closer to John Murdoch, running for his life in Dark City.


The Strangers are truly eerie: dressed in long black coats and hats, deathly pale, with the apparent gift of flight, they are out of a nightmare, and they somehow control the city from a machine down below. Their purpose is a mystery, but obviously sinister. They have odd names like Mr. Book, Mr. Quick, and the leader Mr. Hand (a perfectly cast Richard O'Brien), who is ruthless in his pursuit of Murdoch. I have never seen (Rufus Sewell) before this, but he is very good in conveying the fear, confusion, and panic that you would expect from a man desperately trying to find answers in this perpetually Dark City.

Part Sci-Fi, part noir mystery, Dark City has to be ranked right up there with some of the best of all time in its genre. What Proyas has done is remarkable. He has crafted a claustrophobic thrilling film, with beautiful retro sets, a very good soundtrack, smart script, and an effective cast, that doesn't once misstep. It all works so well. As the plot starts to provide answers, you will be truly rewarded with a great film experience that satisfies to the very wonderful end. There are two versions of this movie on the Blu-ray: the theatrical version, and The director’s cut that removes the narrative from the beginning that Proyas wanted. Watch both, and decide for yourself. I love this film, and You Should See This Movie.


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