Film Review: Dark City (1998)


Dark City is a voyage into the unknown, into a world with no sunlight nor hope, where memories are imprinted into minds as if on a conveyer belt. It embodies this premise with great style and overall structure, but lacks sharp dialogue or logic that would make it a truly great cinematic experience. It is one of those films where it does cool tricks for the camera, but when the plot demands the use of those tricks it falls short.

The story surrounds John Murdoch, (Rufus Sewell), who wakes up in a bathtub to find he doesn’t remember anything: He looks at himself in the mirror, like so many more inspired folk in cinema of the past have done, and tries to think about his identity. Nothing. He dresses himself in clothes that are stashed around him, and knocks over a glass-bowl with a goldfish in it. He picks it up, and puts it in a tub: If he has no memory, how does he remember language and that fish require water? The cop later comments on the peculiarity of a murderer saving a fish, and this starts the hesitation of Inspector Frank, played by William Hurt, on whether or not Murdoch truly is a murderer, or if he was set-up.

The real set-up is the world: The doctor, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is forced to imprint false memory’s every night at midnight. He is the most inconsistent character in the movie, and the director is confused with his own characterization. He wants the doctor to be weak and cowardice, yet also brave in his end-goals; If he didn’t make him limping and with  Scrooge-like mouth gesture, he might be a character of true depth. Instead, we don’t know what he is thinking or what to think of him, which makes his end-goals all the less dramatic.

John Murdoch also had a wife, who he was angry with for ruining their monogamy. The imprinters have Murdoch’s past memories inserted into one of their own, and this man now follows the clues of John’s memory towards where he thinks he would go; Murdoch has his wallet and his ability to read the context of a related person, like his Uncle.  The imprinters show loads of self-empowered energy, omnipotence the director wants us to indulge in. They are able to fly, we see, but when they really need to, like when chasing after Murdoch on top of houses, they seem to not be able to: Why not?

The film is a bold science fiction movie that just plain loves itself too much; the appeal of the imprinters, with white placid skin and dark clothing, wears thin and the front shots of their assembly becomes nothing special.  The relationship between Murdoch and his wife, Jennifer Connelly, is turned upside down after the realization that their love was imprinted; yet, during the final scenes, where it is Hollywood fitting for them to fall in love again, Murdoch seems to distracted with his power and thoughts to want to display any dazzle, which is exactly what Director Alex Proyas and his fellow screenwriters are doing.

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