(director: Alex Proyas; screenwriters: Alex Proyas/Lem Dobbs/David Goyer; cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski; editor: Dov Hoenig; cast: Rufus Sewell (Murdoch), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber), Jennifer Connelly (Emma Murdoch/Anna), Richard O’Brien (Mr. Hand), Ian Richardson (Mr. Book), William Hurt (Inspector Frank Bumstead); Runtime: 100; New Line Cinema; 1998)

A sci-fi/noir thriller that portends to deliver a message relating to the powers of the mind and the meaning of identity.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dark Cityis a sci-fi/noir thriller that portends to deliver a message relating to the powers of the mind and the meaning of identity. Everything attempted here has been done before, but that still doesn’t take away from the film looking like it is an original. Credit must go to the creative use of special effects and the outstanding set designs used for its bedimmed city.

The film opens with the protagonist (Sewell) waking up in a tub in a hotel room with a murdered prostitute. Sewell is suspected of being the serial killer who is plaguing the city. And since he is not sure if he did it or not, Sewell has a dazed look on his puss like he will have throughout the entire film. Just then Sewell receives a call from the Nazi-like Dr. Sutherland. Sewell is warned to get out of there immediately; and, sure enough, there are strange creatures who are called Strangers coming after him. The police are also in pursuit, they suspect Sewell of being the serial killer they are looking for. Hurt, leading the investigation, is the deadpan, hard-nosed type of movie cop you would expect to see in a ’40s noir film.

The Strangers we are told in the voice-over are human-like aliens from another planet, who have altered the memories of everyone in this city and have changed everyone’s identity so that no one really knows ‘who is who.’ They just assume the identity that is secretly given to them. The Strangers have forced Sutherland, who is not a Stranger, into working for them to inject a serum into those whose identities are being changed. The city remains dark at all times, and at midnight everyone becomes unconscious. Somehow Sewell slipped through the cracks of the Strangers and even though he has no idea of who he is, he knows he can’t be a murderer. Sewell will be on the run for the remainder of the film, innocent though he may be and act like a protagonist in earlier noir films, questioning authority and trying to pull himself together, unsure of whom to trust. Sewell’s visit to the Automat brought back pleasant memories of my childhood in NYC; but, this Automat was cheerless and cold, only the restaurant’s bright lights served as a sharp contrast to the dark city.

Sewell fingers a postcard with a serene picture of Shell Beach, that he has found in his pocket. Shell Beach seems important to him, but he doesn’t know why. Sewell sees it advertised on billboards all over town but when he asks directions to go there, no one can tell him how to get there. Through Sewell’s interminable questioning of everything, he begins to piece together what is going on. Sewell finds out that the Strangers have telekinetic powers, enabling them to put people to sleep by focusing on them, they can also fly and go through walls and do mind control tricks. He also finds out that they came to earth because they were slowly dying out, they have no individuality, and they only live unconsciously. What they want to find on earth is how humans live as individuals, what makes them think, and what is a soul. They came to do experiments on humans, using them as if they were guinea pigs. Sewell was made to be a murderer and studied to see how a murderer acts, before he got away from their clutches.

Sewell has trouble deciphering what is real. He questions his wife (Jennifer), whom he does not even know and she tells him that she had an affair with someone else which drove them apart. Sewell falls in love with her anyway and the message of the film becomes only too clear: that science has become blinded by technology and remains ignorant of the imagination.

Proyas has created a visually challenging movie, that is backed-up by some thoughtful ideas. It is the kind of film that UFO’ers and alien watchers will tell ya’, see I told you there was life out there in space. But to others more scientifically inclined, this is still only pedestrian stuff. I enjoyed the film for its ambiance and for the creative mood it set. But what diminished its positives, was how the actors seemed to spout in a robotic way the messages for the characters they were portraying.

Dark City