Film Commentary #2 (3-12-99)
Reality is an Illusion - - Dark City
Genre: science fiction/mystery/film noir
A man (Rufus Sewell) awakens in the bathtub of a strange hotel room with blood on his forehead and a murdered corpse in the room. He has no memory of who he is. He soon discovers that he is wanted for a series of brutal murders. Pursued by a police Inspector (William Hurt) and haunted by a group of mysterious people called The Strangers. He stumbles across his wallet, and learns that his name is John Murdoch, although names in this reality mean little; they are as transitory as the identities that the people have from day to day (or night to night, as the case may be). He has a wife, or so it seems (Jennifer Connelly).
The Inspector is throughly puzzled by this case, as is his long suffering wife who cannot believe that he is responsible for these heinous crimes. The case had previously been handled by an Inspector who went mad, drawing bizarre spirals all over his room. Throughout the film, all the subjects have memories of an idyllic place called "Shell Beach." Murdoch is haunted by its memory. Everyone knows where the place is, but cannot remember how to get there. In fact, there is no escape from the city. Everyone is trapped.
The Strangers are mysterious and ghastly pale beings in black who possess the ability to stop time and alter reality through mere thought called "chooning." They are aliens who inhabit the dead bodies of humans.
Set in a 1940's city that is always shadowed in darkness, at midnight each day, all the inhabitants of the city fall asleep. During this period, the Strangers reform the city and the lives of the individuals that inhabit through "chooning" and by injecting new memories into the inhabitants. They achieved the ability to alter people's memory through the experiments of the Doctor (Kiefer Sutherland). Reality is an illusion. The Strangers seek must discover what the makes humans human, their "soul." If they do not, their race is doomed.
Murdoch witnesses what the other inhabitants of the city do not; the midnight transference of memories from one person to the next, and the metamorphosis of the city in a twisting and forming of matter. Deep in the bowels of the city, the Strangers think these changes into shape using the power of their minds. Murdoch soon discovers that he can "choon" as well. How did he get this ability? What is the purpose of the Strangers and their twisted experiments? The movie answers these questions, but the heart of the movie is a visual masterpiece with intensive and refreshing images. The city is a black nightmare of flickering lights, wet pavement and even darker aliens.
Murdoch, and later through the help of the Detective and the Doctor, discovers the truth of the city. It exists in space and all the inhabitants are merely laboratory subjects. Puppets subject to the will of the Strangers. But, the Doctor has a plan. He is the only human allowed to exist outside the city's environment. He remains awake and able to act. He brings the truth to Murdoch and helps him achieve the ability to "choon" on a scale equal to the Strangers. Murdoch destroys them, re-forms the city and gives birth to the light of day for the first time.
Dark City is directed and written by Alex Proyas (The Crow). Dark City is a demonstration of what happens when a director is allowed to let his imagination run wild. This is a science fiction classic. The film achieves something very rare. It evokes an atmosphere. It is utterly original, engaging and imaginative in its questioning of the perception of reality. It is as if Kafka had written screenplays
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