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.