What constructs the definition of an individual? We are defined by our status, our clothes, our money, even our memories, but there is a facet of our respective selves that stays the same even if all else was erased: the soul. For those who believe and those who don’t, the soul is a mythical blueprint of our being, and Dark City is a tribute to its capabilities. Visually mesmerizing with committed performances, and an amazingly intricate and involved script, Dark City is a surreal piece of cinema that defines the soul through Sci-Fi.
Alex Proyas gives us a city draped in night that morphs and shifts like a Salvador Dali painting. The sets and costume design definitely give off a timeless noir vibe, and the film is filtered to mute the colors and emphasize the gloominess of the eerie city. Proyas also uses strong contrast, making the shadows dangerously sharp. His camera zooms and sweeps around the peculiar city, perfectly capturing it’s dark beauty. The entire world we’re plunged into is a mysterious nightmare where every corner is to be feared.
Rufus Sewell, holding an eager panic and growing courage in his eyes, does well as John Murdock, a person who loses his identity. Sewell storms the streets looking for answers, while also dealing with his newfound powers and the pale-faced creatures called “Strangers,” trying to detain him. Sewell brings Murdock to life with his seamless transition from paranoid lost loner to prophet, and he is surrounded by a terrific cast. A young, curvy Jennifer Connelly does amazingly well playing Sewell’s estranged wife with wounded eyes. William Hurt is a perfect fit for the gumshoe detective, even bringing in some humor to all the seriousness. Finally, Kiefer Sutherland turns in a well-inspired performance as the crippled Dr. Shreber, trying to guide Murdock through his maze of problems.
Rarely are there movies that feel brand new, and even throughout the years where there have been films that have tingled our intellect, like the Matrix or Inception, Dark City still gives those other films a run for their money. The film is a rich study of what makes us distinct from other living creatures, and even potentially from creatures beyond our reach, as it examines the human condition. Murdoch’s journey to find his identity, to find Shell Beach, and what he ends up finding is phenomenal. This gripping mystery/crime story feels naturally unique and is a golden reminder of how original cinema can still be.
For a film from the late 90s, Dark City has pretty good effects, but there are some effects that seem a bit dated. For example, the “tuning” powers projecting from the minds of the Strangers and Murdock looks a bit humorous; it may also remind some of the telepathic waves projecting out of Professor X’s mind in the X-Men cartoon series.
This film is definitely for Sci-Fi fans, and perhaps comic fan-boys, but I think it’s accessible to the casual film-goer as well; although, I think there’s a risk that casual film goers may think the film is “silly,” and then go on to bring up the Matrix as its superior (I see it the other way around).
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