Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Dark City

Dark City; science-fiction drama, USA / Australia, 1998; D: Alex Proyas, S: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard O'Brian

John Murdoch wakes up suddenly inside a bathtub and cannot remember anything about his life or how he got there. He finds a murdered prostitute in the room and escapes just before the police arrive at the scene. Inspector Bumstead suspects Murdoch is the serial killer of the city and thus question Murdoch's wife, singer Emma. Murdoch, however, uncovers an even bigger mystery that eclipses the case: bald men in dark suits are chasing him, aided by scientist Schreber. It turns out that aliens have taken these bald men as their vessels, and that they are running the entire city, an artificial creation, switiching people's identities from time to time, to find out about their soul in order for the aliens, who are facing extinction, to try to survive by merging with humans. Murdoch, Bumstead and Schreber join forces and reach the edge of the city, figuring out they are floating in space on a giant dome. Using his special telekinetic power, Murdoch is able to kill the bald men, destroy and rebuild the city with a beach and a make daylight again. He meets Emma again, who lost her memory, and decides to start a new relationship with her.

Years 1998 and '99 peculiarly coincided with a whole 'deluge' of movies about simulated reality being released, including "The Truman Show", "The Matrix" and "The 13th Floor". Among them was also Alex Proyas' "Dark City", which is, together with "The Truman Show", easily among the best additions to the lot. Starting off as a normal crime film noir about police searching for a serial killer, this movie slowly undergoes a transformation to leave this first act behind in order to adapt a far more encompassing, "abnormal" and wider philosophical concept about Plato's allegory of the cave, where the hero Murdoch wonders if he and all the people around him are only living in a fake world run by someone else. In one memorable sequence, Murdoch is awake at midnight, and watches in shock when all the cars and trains suddenly stop on the streets, and all the people fall asleep simultaneously, only for the bald people in dark suits to show up and re-arrange a couple to change their identity and memory, changing them from a working class couple in a shady apartment to a rich, aristocratic couple in a mansion when they wake up, with a completely different memory of their lives.

Another memorable moment has whole buildings "growing" or changing at midnight, as well, to fit the alteration of this world. This is very engaging, speaking about some subconscious human fears of just being pawns of the invisible Moirai who control and write their destiny, as well as the limits of gnoseology, symbolically shown in the spectacular ending that evokes the Flammarion engraving, thematically similar to the ending of "The Truman Show". Some flaws are apparent, though. While the reason for a simulated reality was perfectly explained in "The Truman Show", here it is rather vague and incomplete: if the aliens need the people to survive, why constantly change their identities? What difference does it make? If they need humans as vessels, what are they waiting for? And since they already use the bald men as vessels, didn't they already achieve their goal? Stylistic and moody, "Dark City" is a movie that stimulates the viewers to think, nonetheless: it poses the question if there is some "meta-identity" in people, a one which refers to free will that can choose to live its own life, even when an external force imposes a different identity upon it.


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