The film Dark City is a powerful cinematic experience in its stunning visuals and setting, as well as rich in themes of mind power and memory.
The film merges several genres – science fiction, horror, film noir, German expressionism, with overtones of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis. The ideas and themes open several mind-expanding and thought-provoking lines of deep inspiration.
The late great film critic Roger Ebert named Dark City the best film of 1998 and one of the great modern films. He called it a great visionary achievement, “a triumph of art direction, set design, cinematography, special effects – and imagination.”
Ebert so admired the film he did a commentary for the DVD. At a four-day film festival in Hawaii, he went through the film shot by shot and debated visuals and meaning.
Appropriately, the movie is set in a dark city run by the Strangers, beings that resemble Nosferatu-like vampires, who are studying humans.
Every night at midnight, they erase human memories and inject new memories as they remold the city into a whole new arrangement.
The film opens with a Kafka-esque mystery: a man wakes in a hotel with a woman’s body in the room, with absolutely no idea who she is, or even who he is. The phone rings; a Dr. Schreber urgently tells him that he must flee immediately as he is in great danger. He does so just before the Strangers enter the hallway.
Thus, the story is launched. He comes to discover that he is John Murdoch, and he wanders the city trying to make sense of what is happening through many twists and turns of place and plot.
In this nightmarish shadow world, he is hunted by both a police detective and the Strangers. Many humans are searching for a place in distant memory called Shell Beach, but no one can remember how to get there.
The plot reveals itself: The Strangers came from another galaxy whose civilization is on the brink of extinction to study humans. They have created this alternate city where they can “tune” the city and people by running experiments. Everything stops as they make massive changes in the city and in the memories of the inhabitants.
They are aided in this process by Dr. Schreber, who under coercion injects new memories. He was in the process of injecting Murdoch, but it was incomplete; Schreber tells him he has proven resistant to it.
Murdoch eventually discovers that he has the same power as the Strangers, the ability to use his mind to create and change the physical and world and memories. Without giving too much away, what he does is literally world changing.
The denouement, the weaving of all the strands of the story, is magnificent and satisfying.
The whole story turns on revealing his childhood memories, in which he is trained by Dr. Schreber in mental power exercises. The doctor urges him to focus, to remember, to gather his energies.
It turns out that the doctor, in injecting Murdoch, inserted himself into Murdoch’s memories with this mental training. Eventually, he can overcome the power of the Strangers in the future. He is the one who must bring light back into the continual city of darkness and shadows.
The bigger lesson for us is the possibility that we might do the same thing. Could we, as our present-day personalities, go back and insert ourselves into our memories? Give our younger self advice, warnings or encouragement?
Perhaps we could train ourselves, equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge and power to face whatever we need in the present moment.
Yes, it is a movie, but the possibilities are intriguing. It’s worth a try. Let me know!
Cast: Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch; William Hurt as Inspector Bumstead; Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Daniel Schreber; Jennifer Connelly as Emma Murdoch; Richard O'Brien as Mr. Hand
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
I have a passion for stories and inspirational literature.