Dark City (1998) – Film Review
Humanity is pushed to its limits in this bleak portrayal of a macabre world. After waking up in a hotel bathtub without any recollection of who he is, murder suspect John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) begins a search for his identity that soon begins to unearth a much greater secret at the heart of the city. Along his path he comes across Doctor Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) who feeds him cryptic information that promises to give him the answers he so desperately seeks. Soon Murdoch realises that every midnight life in the city comes to a halt and something much more terrifying replaces it, manipulating the reality he can barely relate to. Further questions arise and he is soon left wondering just how much of his reality is real. The darkness surrounding the city is mirrored by its inhabitants’ awareness of the peril they unconsciously face.
Written and directed by Alex Proyas, director of The Crow and I, Robot, Dark City poses interesting questions surrounding the concept of reality. In many ways a predecessor to films like The Matrix, the film warps our understanding of the world around us by subjecting it to believable ‘what-if’s. Although in this case such a ‘what-if’ takes the form of aliens taking our society and ‘tuning’ it to their own accord to better understand the human soul, the outcome is still chilling and scarily viable.
Dark City explores the repercussions ‘last Thursdayism’ (the idea that the world may have in fact been created as recently as last Thursday but we lack the means to realise it) may have on an American city alienated from the rest of the world. The aliens themselves are as chilling as the films representation of the pliability of human awareness. The so-called ‘Strangers’ use cadavers as hosts to their almost other-worldly selves. Horrific acts against humanity are intensified when seen being carried by the aliens disguised as children.
Much like the city it depictsm the film embraces many eras of cinematic style. Glimpses of film noir are intertwined with peculiar yet impressive special effects. According to IMDb the film also has one of the shortest average shot lengths, with there being a cut every 1.8 seconds, adding to the film’s intensity.
With the tag line ‘Forget the sun. Forget time. Forget your memories’, Dark City provides a chilling picture of the modifiability of the human soul and asks just how sure we can be of who we are.
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