A cult-type, but underplayed movie by Alex Proyas with Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly and Kiefer Sutherland. It's trying to dissect what we humans are, and how we are composed of our memories.

It's a literally dark movie, full of staggering ideas, visuals.

Weird strangers can change reality, can control time, can modify human memory. And our hero wants to escape from them.

The movie looks like the best bits of Batman, Brazil, Blade Runner, and is hypnotizing.

There Is No Ocean

This is a paper I wrote as an assignment for my Science Fiction Visions of the Post Human Future: Cyborgs, Robots, Viruses, and AI class. That class rules. The assignment here was to analyze a film (or TV show, or even a computer game) and discuss how it related and represented some of the post human themes that have been brought up in class thus far. Don't vote on this unless you really feel strongly about it. I am getting graded on it. And I apologize in advance for all the film faggot talk. This node is about the movie Dark City, so if you haven't seen it, don't read this. Here goes...

March 30, 2000

There Is No Ocean

Dark City is a visual journey through a highly stylized world of darkness. The main character, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), wakes up with amnesia and must find his past in a world where the past really doesn’t exist. The journey leads him to find that he has a power called “tuning,” which allows him to control the physical world simply by using his free will. His journey continues on and he finds a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), who attempts to tell him the truth. He discovers the Strangers, a mysterious race he finds out live in vessels of the dead citizens of his world and control it with their collective mind. His quest climaxes with a final showdown with the Strangers, which produces an interesting semi-surprise ending. The themes in this film completely encompass the aspects of a semi-post-human future (or civilization). The properties of the film that create these themes are the film’s visual style, the story, the characters, and the subtext of the plot.

  The visual style of this film calls upon many previous films that each have their own unique style. The collaboration of these different styles give the film own unique style that fuels the story beautifully, with a dystopian, dark look at this world which allows no self-control of the citizens’ own though. This darkness definitely represents the darkness of the minds of the citizens, as they have no power to remember anything and if they do remember, it is because they have been programmed. The style calls upon some film noir styles from the 40s, most likely to assist with the lonely feeling of the sequences that take on that particular style. Another heavily assimilated style is German Expressionism. The film is dark, has deliberate shadows and skewed angles, camera work, and lighting; almost everything that is visual in this film can be related to Expressionism. This assists the story in its emotional visualization, and is a very successful technique in that it gives the audience a feeling of separation from the characters and the world. Another important aspect of the visuals of this film are the fact that the special effects are there to serve the story, and not just for eye candy. The subtle insertion of these effects provide a more effective, almost subliminal execution of the effects, making them more comforting and believable for the viewer. They magnify the sick realism of the dark world and improve it’s mysterious qualities. Story-driven special effects like these are used in The Matrix as well. The story is completely backed up by the images, making the film a visual and stylistic success.

  This film is about what being human really is. If there were only one theme that represented the whole film, that theme would be the properties of the human soul that are the reason humans are not simply products of their own memory. The Strangers, much like robots and other aliens in other films, think that they can figure out what makes humans human by changing their memories around and seeing how they react; their mistake is their denial of the fact that being human is a special and unique thing. The main theme is that free will is what really makes humans what they are. The proof that free will is the one thing the Strangers cannot get around is the bold action Walenski (Colin Friels) takes when he jumps in front of the train. The Strangers could not have prevented this action because of Walenski’s free will. The triumph of Murdoch at the end is an example of the common overcoming of evil portrayed in science fiction films, but the overthrow consists of a different kind of shootout than usual; Murdoch faces off with the main Stranger in a battle of the mind and free will. The battle shows the usual triumph of the hero, but this fight seems much more dangerous than the everyday shootout. Murdoch’s risk of losing his mind is backed by a much more fearful risk; if he loses the battle, his entire race loses their freedom. The story presents humanity’s loss of freedom. If the events in the film did not take place, the world would forever be controlled by the Borg-like race that would, ironically, never find out what the soul is. Each character does his or her own part to execute the story in a near-flawless and completely believable manner.

  Murdoch’s actions, his amnesia, realization, execution of power, and triumph are all very important in his quest for the freedom of the human race. His and every other character each has his or her absolute destiny within the film. The idea of destiny is a spiritual theme that exists subtly, once again playing on the subliminal action more than being a direct part of the story. Another extremely important character is Dr. Schreber. He is the character that truly fuels the actions of Murdoch, from start to finish. Schreber is the mad scientist of this story, with his belief that the experiment, which is the Strangers’ search for what makes humans human, is more important than the victims of the experiment. His actions, especially towards the end of the film, are evident of Rotwang in Metropolis. He programs the characters throughout, and in the end he programs Murdoch basically to be the hero. This action proves his loyalty to his own species, which is a definite theme of other science fiction; the survival of species of self drives him to save Murdoch, and, in effect, the whole human race. Another very important set of characters are the Strangers. They are the classic communist villain. The collective population make up the Strangers’ one unified mind; they all control the nightly tuning; they all think the same and feel nothing. They are a modern representation of communism and the still existent fear of governmental control. Much like the Borg from Star Trek, they are one collective entity that creates a seemingly all-powerful evil. They are never seen by the innocents in the film until the end, which displays a sort of danger in the unknown property as seen in The Matrix. The invisible evil theme is constant to the end, when the main Stranger challenges Murdoch to a fight to the death by way of tuning. The equivalent of a human soul, the life force that lets the Strangers take over the dead as vessels is released from the head Stranger and dies without a host. This sort of parasitic life is somewhat evidence of virus-like activity, and could be considered a virus if the hosts were not already dead when they were taken over. The characters are the closure that gives this film its unity.

  Quite a bit of subtext to the actions and plot of this film exist. The main example of this subtext is the almost godlike persona Murdoch takes on after he defeats the Strangers. At the beginning of the story his character is born out of womb-like bathtub, and then is lost and must find his way. He discovers his power and destiny, and fulfills it to the point of ultimate power. He becomes godlike; he can mold the physical world any way he pleases. He creates a new world from what had made up the dark city. The mentioning of evolution is another important event. Dr. Schreber comments on how Murdoch might be an evolution over the regular human. The Strangers deny the idea out of disgust, which is really their fear of being equaled by a mere human. Their belief that they are higher beings than humans is a common belief held by many aliens and robots in science fiction films. Overall, the sub textual comments made by this film are highly intriguing and thought-provoking.

  This film’s visual style is very dynamic. Its sampling from other genres and styles creates an altogether new style that is effective in execution of the story. The story itself is a new twist on a classic idea; it is simply the theft of control by an evil force that is recovered by a messiah-like hero. The characters in this film fit the story flawlessly with their transition from the unknowing to the final discovery. The subtext gives the film multiple layers; it adds new depth to the film that makes the film a new experience every viewing. While it may seem at first like a simple stylistic film with a shallow story, Dark City is a film that takes advantage of all important pieces of a film, and blends them together to make an artistic piece that intrigues time and time again. In the film there may be no ocean, but there are definitely depths.

Trivia: the background music used in the oft-downloaded "X-Men: The Movie" trailer was taken from this movie. Not at all inappropriate, since "Dark City" is probably the most popular comic book-like movie produced in recent years.

Dark City is a noirish science fiction thriller about humans trapped in a dark city ruled by weird man-like creatures.

John Murdoch: Rufus Sewell
Inspector Bumstead: William Hurt
Dr. Daniel Schreber: Kiefer Sutherland
Emma Murdoch: Jennifer Connelly
Mr. Hand: Richard O'Brien

Directed and co-written by Alex Proyas, a former music video-director, it is not like other movies. It begins with John Murdoch awakening in a bathtub, covered in blood. He has no recollection of what has happened, but is urged by a telephonecall from Dr. Daniel Schreber to flee, as someone is after him. Soon Murdoch is pulled into a web of mystery and must piece his memories together as he finds clues.
The 103 minutes are a very exciting time, and one is on the edge of his seat until the very end.

Rated R for violence and sexuality.

This movie had amazing cinematography and art direction, but the plot was actually somewhat lacking, as were the actors' performances, for the most part.

Spoiler alert: Yes, the core of the plot is given away, but it bascially is "spoiled" within the first couple minutes anyway. I suspect that some of the most glaring flaws were caused by a studio desire to dumb down the film. In particular, the opening of the film begins with the "mad scientist" Dr. Daniel Schreber, (Kiefer Sutherland) delivering pounds and pounds of sci-fi plot exposition. Apparently the director didn't want to do this, but the studio demanded it. God forbid that audiences would have to try and think without everything dumped into their head. which I didn't like in a film which is supposed to be a sort of horror noir, not a stylish-looking extension of a clichéd space opera. From the first minute forward, you know that telepathic aliens control this world. The suspense comes from whether or not the hero will defeat the aliens, and maybe figuring out whether they are on Earth or some alien planet etc.

There were a lot of moments which I felt were aimed squarely at the adolescent male set, simply because they felt gratuitous, and frankly right out of Dragonball-Z. In a rather malformed climax, the hero, John Murdoch and the lead villain, Mr. Hand, battle with their mind-beams, and their mental will nudges a big energy ball back and forth until of course it finally knocks the villain off his feet, just like Vegeta battling a whatever. And there was also a small creepy child alien who bit people. The alien 'strangers' were sort of nifty, but it seemed like Vincent Price could have hammed it really well here.

The movie has some really tripped-out visuals, and I enjoyed those a lot. The first time you see the buildings grow it is very jarring. The style, in general, is a superb mutant mixture, mostly echoing the '30s, but with a few fluorescent lights and the like, as well. In one part, where the buildings aren't part of the strangers' experiment anymore, the land had the look of a discarded jumble of architectural ideas, which I found quite novel.

The acting and character development was another weak point. The hero had little impact beyond looking confused and maybe tough sometimes. Kiefer Sutherland had an inexplicable accent, though it was a daringly weird role to play, and just didn't quite work. Jennifer Connelly is damn hot, but she seemed not at all compelling. William Hurt, as a detective, was literally jettisoned into space when he couldn't drag the plot anymore.

One thing that surprised me was seeing Jennifer Connelly on the end of a white pier into the ocean, as an emotional, stylized dream moment, which also occurred in Requiem for a Dream.

All in all this movie is all right if you want some really cool visuals, but the story could have been much more compelling, and the characters are mostly weak.

Some have accused The Matrix of ripping off Dark City. However, The Matrix was in production for almost a year when this was released. You will see the roof-hopping segment, much like the beginning of The Matrix. In any case, the nature of the reality the characters live in is quite different. Also, I can actually remember the characters' names, from The Matrix.

In the movie Dark City there are villans, called the strangers, which the director uses with pop culture’s fears. We all have our unique fears. We live our lives with fears of loss of identity, fears of the unknown, and fears of loss of control. These fears include a fundamental anxiety that some unknown force is controlling our lives. Every individual has his or her own unique set of fears, commonly identity loss, the unknown, and who is in control of humanity. These different fears are reflected by various villains, mainly the strangers in Dark City. The goal of many movies is to scare people through using common fears of the culture.

The strangers in the movie Dark City are similar to evil characters in other movies, namely Nosferatu and the Borg. Villains such as Nosfeartu, the Borg, and the strangers are all unnaturally pale, outfitted in black, and typically male. People that are very sick or dead are often unnaturally pale, as well as anyone who is often in the dark. In western cultures, the close family and friends of someone that died were expected to wear black for during periods of mourning. Although the tradition is no longer as strictly followed today, black is still worn to funerals and closely associated with death. Partly due to being thought of with death, the dark color black is often a reminder of dark dreary depression. We relate the villans to sicknesses and death.

The loss of an identity is a major fear for most people in our culture. Especially in times like today, people are required to show proof of identity to go about daily life. In the movie the strangers are constantly creating identities and rearranging identities. There is no way to be sure that your identity is going to stay the same, or that you are going to remember what it is correctly. In our culture today a crook can gain control of a person’s credit cards, steal someone’s identity, and gain complete control of an identity claiming to be somebody else. Because our identity is such an intimate part of us, an externally controlled change is a violation that fills us with fear.

Most people have a huge fear of losing control, or of someone already being in control of us. When we see bad things happen such a child killed in a fire and we see otherwise normal people like ourselves commit appalling acts of multiple murder, it is very distresssing. One way to understand these horrors is to accept that (at times) something bad is controlling the world. Science has told us a great deal about the world around us, yet most people agree that there is a larger force controlling us. A lot of people believe in a stronger force, whether it is Allah, God, Buddha, or someone else. The majority of people who believe in a stronger force believe that that force is a “good” positive force. Our culture fears that the strong force controlling us is something “bad.” As always, some people are different, but the general population is afraid of an evil force controlling us. Our schools teach us things about science that we believe because we are told to. For all we know God, Satan, the CIA, capitalism, or a giant chicken could be controlling us. The list of suspected controllers is limited only by our imagination.

In Dark City the strangers are villains. Each night at midnight, the strangers stop all of the clocks and every human immediately falls asleep. The two most vulnerable times in a person’s day are sleeping and showering, the strangers prey on people in their sleep. For example, in one scene in Dark City a poor man in a wife beater and underpants is talking about working the graveyard shift to his wife who is outfitted in curlers and a house dress. The couple is sitting at a modestly set table in a small room with peeling wallpaper and, trash outside of the building.

After the injection the couple is transformed from a slovenly pair to a well dressed husband and wife seated at a grand table. They were sitting with a large table banquet sized with candles, a tablecloth, and more food. The room, fireplace, and stairs all grew. The man in a suit was telling the woman in a classy hairdo that he fired someone who was asking to be taken off the graveyard shift. The strangers were rearranging memories and controlling the humans. The strangers reflect culture’s fear of being controlled by something “evil” and uses that to try to scare people.

I think that as time changes, different masks that have been pulled in front of our eyes are going to be pulled over. We will slowly learn that not all things are as they appear, and our culture has been sadly mistaken. Once people find way to understand the world, such as belief in a God, they usually stop searching for other explanations. This can be a deadly mistake. No matter how confident a person is in their beliefs, abandoning the search for new ideas and new explanations is only asking for trouble.

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