This time around, I'll be discussing a film that I had heard of many times, but never got around to viewing. This is mostly because of the fact that it draws from many surrealist films and I typically don't go for those types of films. However, Dark City is only sort of a surrealist film. I say that because once you get to a certain point in the film, you realize that is not a surrealist film, but rather a cleverly disguised one. Keep in mind, this post will in fact contain spoilers.
Dark City is one of those types of films that I only sort of knew what to expect when I first sat down to watch it. I knew that it was supposed to be a film noir type film mixed with dark and brooding, almost horror inspired visuals, with a slight bit of sci-fi thrown in. But apart from that, I knew nothing of the story, creators, or who even starred in it. I finally sat down and watched the Directors Cut of the film, which according many fans of the film, is the superior version.
Directed by Alex Proyas, who also directed The Crow, the film stars Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, and Rufus Sewell, and was released in 1998. The film was one of those films that can be considered by many as a cult classic, mostly due to the film being as dark as it is (hence one of the reasons it being called Dark City, of course).
The film follows the story of John Murdoch, played by Rufus Sewell, as he wakes up in a darkened apartment bathroom, not knowing how he got there or what is happening. As he stumbles his way into the bedroom and starts finding clothes to put on, he gets a phone call from a doctor, played by Kiefer Sutherland, named Daniel Schreiber. Schreiber tells John to seek him out, and during the conversation, John notices a dead body in his living room. John soon flees, finding himself pursued by not only by the police, but also by a group of pale skinned men wearing all black suits. These men are able to manipulate peoples actions and the things around them with their minds, as shown by being able to put people asleep, defying gravity, as well as the size of the buildings, all on a whim.
As I stated, I've watched the Directors Cut. The main difference is the fact that the theatrical release contained an opening narration from Doctor Schreiber. Supposedly this narration was forced upon the film makers by the studio to clear up any sort of confusion that the film may have caused its viewers. This narration, after doing a quick search on Youtube and watching the opening with it, practically spoils the main plot behind the film, which is not officially revealed until about two thirds of the way in. I was immediately able to see why fans were so overjoyed when this little tiny piece was removed.
In addition to the removal of the narration, from what I read, there's a few scenes that were added for the sake of character development as well.
This movie was actually one of the very few films that can be considered surrealist that I've actually enjoyed. Typically, I don't go for surrealist films, reason being is that I can't seem to enjoy the whole "this is a dream" type of vibe surrealist film makers go for. I enjoy a good fantasy film, because a good fantasy tends to feel as though they are grounded with some sort of logic and structure. Surrealist films, on the other hand, feel more random and disjointed to me, and there never seems to be an concrete reason why something is the way it is.
However, the reason why this particular film caught me was because, like I said, it is a film that it's actually a sci-fi film cleverly disguised as a surrealist. That right there gives the film a good reason why something typically random would happen in the film. I enjoyed the fact that these strangers, who are revealed to be some sort of dying alien race, were using humans as forms of guinea pigs for study. It was interesting that they these strangers would create certain scenarios for people in order to study how the human soul worked, and that they would "reset" peoples memories every time they chose a new scenario.
In this sense, the film seems as though it could have easily inspired films such as the Matrix. It's darkened streets, and the fact that our lives are manipulated by mysterious and malevolent forces, really shows that The Matrix could have easily drawn from this film. The menacing atmosphere from Dark City seemed to have transferred to The Matrix trilogy, and according to IMDB.com, even many of the set pieces from this film were later used in the first Matrix film.
I highly suggest that if you're into any sort of film that's dark, check this film out. Even if you're like me, and absolutely cannot stand surrealist films, I still say check it out, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with just how good this movie is. It's a sci-fi at heart and is certainly worth watching.
Next time, expect a review of a horror film, this time from a independent film maker named Josh Heisie.