Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#498. Dark City (1998)

Directed By: Alex Proyas

Starring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly

Tag line: "They built the city to see what makes us tick. Last night one of us went off"

Trivia: New Line Cinema forced Alex Proyas to include the opening narration by Kiefer Sutherland, which Proyas objected to, saying it was unnecessary

Drector Alex Proyas' Dark City is a marriage of genres: the harsh reality of film noir and the fantasy of science fiction. Yet despite its pairing of these conflicting styles, the movie works. In fact, I'd say Dark City does more than just “work”...it flourishes.

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes one evening in a state of utter confusion. Suffering from a sudden bout of amnesia, he doesn’t remember anything; not who he is, how he ended up in a seedy motel room, or that he has a wife named Emma (Jennifer Connelly), from whom he was recently separated. More importantly, Murdoch can’t recall whether or not he’s the one committing a series of grisly murders. Yet it seems there’s more than memory loss and homicide afoot in this particular part of town. After meeting the bizarre Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), Murdoch discovers the city he and his fellow citizens call home is being controlled by an alien race, which, for some time, has been conducting experiments on the human population. These beings are so advanced that they can alter the layout of an entire city block just by using their minds, a power they call “tuning”. When Murdoch finds he also possesses this unique ability, he and Dr. Schraber concoct a plan to beat the aliens at their own game. 

Film noir (a French term, which, translated literally, means ‘black film’) is a genre that caters to the darkness, not only in mood, but subject matter as well. By opening the movie with the storyline of a homicidal maniac, one who gets their kicks carving up prostitutes, Dark City aptly earns the ‘dark’ of its title. Moreover, Proyas successfully recreates the noir atmosphere made popular in the films of the 40’s and 50’s, and builds a bleak, sinister world in the process. 

But this world is a lie, thus ushering in the science fiction of Dark City, and as sci-fi tales go, this one's a beauty. The gloomy surroundings Murdoch and the others believe to be real are actually manufactured by a race of creepy aliens, who've secretly imprisoned the population in order to study them. Wielding incredible powers, the aliens can stop time, psychically modify the landscape, and, with the help of the unwilling Dr. Schreber, alter an individual’s memory. Skyscrapers spring from the earth like trees, and the lives and personalities of an entire family can be changed in a matter of minutes. I was impressed with Dark City's noirish ambiance, but it's the sci-fi that makes it so damned engaging. 

Gaining points for originality and style, Dark City is essentially two movies in one; as crafted by Proyas, either of the film’s genre manifestations could function as their own feature-length motion picture. But just wait 'til you see what happens when they get together!


Johnny D said...

I remember coming out of the cinema after watching The Matrix and thinking, that was good, but it was a bit like Dark City wasn't it?! Afterall It transpires that the occupants in both films are living in a simulated reality run by lifeforms with limitless power. Both had 3 dark suited figures as its main antagonists chasing our hero throughout the story. And ultimately both had the protagonists bestowed with superhuman powers that could prove to alter the very fabric of reality around them. A gift which is nurtured throught the films until a point when the protagonist is revealed to be "The One" who saves mankind from the tyranny and is able to have an influence over the world in which they live to make it a better place.

I havent seen either in a while so there may be more similarities than this even. I'm almost certainly not the first person to have noticed The Matrix - Dark City crossovers and I also realise the underlying concept of simulated realities is not an original one either but the similarities between the two films are nevertheless undeniable.

Dark City remains the favourite of the two for me.

Dave B. said...

Johnny D: Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

You make some great points. Admittedly, I never made the connection between this film and THE MATRIX, but there really are strong similarities between the two. And I'll agree that, while I'm a fan of both films, DARK CITY is the stronger of the two.

Thanks again for the excellent comment. Very interesting!