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Dark City (1998)

by on 2011/03/31

“Can you imagine what it’s like to erase your own past?”

* * * *

I am a huge fan of the Matrix series. Huge.

Ok, I’m maybe not the biggest fan of the series I’ve ever met. I knew a guy who quit his job and changed his entire life after seeing the first two films. Yes, that really happened.

And that’s exactly how powerful the Matrix franchise is.

Well, gentle readers, Dark City is to the Matrix as the Dead Sea Scrolls are to the Hebrew Bible. Dark City is the arcane origin of what would come one scant year later.

I’m here today to preach the gospel of Dark City. (You know, too little, too late).

This black-gold standard of tech/future noir, Dark City was directed by goth god Alex Proyas (The Crow). Full of German Expressionist shadows, rain-slick city streets, a dark, lovely torch singer, weary gumshoes and an anti-hero, Dark City is the perfect film to conclude my roster of neo noir this month.

I saw Dark City well after I watched the Matrix in all of its three flawless installments about a zillion times. (Yes, I said flawless). After the credits rolled on the seething darkness that was this Proyas film, I turned to my esteemed co-reviewer and panted, “Who else knows about this?”

Because, you see, Dark City has good many wonderful things in common with the Matrix.

For the sake of brevity, here are my top three:

  • Dark City, like the Matrix, features the trials of an unlikely hero (systematic anomaly) who is able to manipulate the very fabric of reality, using his mind to alter the world around him. In Dark City, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) has the ability to “tune,” creating doors in walls of solid brick, levitating books and killing the seemingly unkillable agents of the mysterious powers-that-be. “There is no spoon.”
  • The dystopic world of Dark City is a fiction constructed entirely by non-humans. In this case, the mysterious non-humans aren’t machines, they are blue, shrimpy/squidy aliens. These aliens don’t need our biological processes to provide them with battery power, rather they need our memories. They study and manipulate human beings’ capacity “for individuality, our souls.”  The artificial construct that is the ever-dark world of John Murdoch’s city simply keeps the human beings trapped, compliant and unquestioning.
  • Like Neo in the Matrix, John is helped by people who are themselves wise to the conspiracy and seek to stop it. In this case, Kiefer Sutherland (The Lost Boys) as Dr. Daniel P. Schreber becomes a kind of panting, stammering shepherd to John, explaining aspects of the plot to enslave humanity, and later teaching John how to defeat the aliens via a needle in his forehead. *Cough. Jack in. Cough.* (Unfortunately for the viewer though, Dr. Schreber is no Morpheus. This is not Mr. Sutherland’s finest hour on film – he’s plays a cringe-worthy Renfield to the life-sucking aliens).

There are stories within stories within stories in Dark City, like jet-black Russian stacking dolls. Each night, people are moved around between lives – hovels become mansions, night club singers become ticket takers, workaday family men become serial killers.

Dark City is a gorgeous, midnight-black, moving gothic painting of a film. And it isn’t simply pleasing to the eyes of any self-respecting goth alive, it also features terrific performances from Sewell, Jennifer Connelly as John Murdoch’s wife, and William Hurt as Inspector Frank Bumstead, the long-suffering cop who is investigating a series of murders linked to Murdoch.

For true zealots of the darkness like myself, Dark City is the holiest of scriptures. Levitate, don’t walk to add this wonderful film noir to your collection.

* * * *

100 minutes

Rated R for revealing that reality is a great big lie

(This review brought you by the letter guilt).

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