Here’s a thing: I was never overly impressed with The Matrix — and even less so with its sequels. While that film does contain some incredibly impressive action sequences, and the Wachowski’s bullet time effect was a genuine innovation, I always felt that the plot was both clunky and incoherent. Part of this is, of course, down to the fact that the plot is both clunky and incoherent but I think my reaction was also affected by the fact that by the time I saw The Matrix, I had already seen a couple of films that handled very similar ideas in a much, much better manner. One of those films was eXistenZ, the other was Dark City.
After an opening monologue which (I believe) is cut from later releases of this film, we are introduced to John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who has just awoken, in a bath, with no memory.
As Murdoch stumbles around, he receives a phone call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) telling him to leave now to escape “The Strangers”. During the course of the call, Murdoch discovers a dead woman in his room, and we’re off.
Dark city has a very noir feel to it, not least in the design of the stylishly anachronistic city in which the characters find themselves. Not least of these is Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt), who is leading the manhunt for Murdoch, a suspected serial killer. Murdoch himself is trying to stay ahead of the police as he looks for his identity, and tries to determine whether he really has committed the crimes of which he is suspected. His estranged wife (Jennifer Connelly) doesn’t know who or what to believe, and then there’s Dr. Schreber whose motivations are kept deliberately unclear.
This makes for an increasingly engrossing film that is both a mystery and a thriller, all built on top of a very smart science fiction premise that leaves us asking even more questions, about what exactly is it that The Strangers are up to and what is the significance of Shell Beach.
Oddly enough, having the premise handed to us up front makes it somewhat unclear as to where the film is going. Initially, at least, but once you get a handle on what is happening it really is gripping.
Ultimately, Dark City is a meditation on what it means to be human and the extent to which our memories make us who we are. It’s a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, slice of science fiction that is capable of promoting much subsequent discussion.