Friday, December 4, 2015

Dark City Film Review


Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt.
MPAA Rating: R
Length: 112 Minutes

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Dark City is a science fiction neo-noir film that focuses on a main character who has amnesia.  Upon its initial release the film had a poor performance at the box-office, but as the years passed by, its status as a cult film grew.  Dark City is now a widely recognized film amongst circles of science fiction film enthusiasts, and it’s safe to say that recognition is for a good reason.

Dark City is a film that ingrains itself into a person’s vision with its Gothic visuals and dark imagery.  Watching the landscape the film is set on change and evolve is akin to watching a master painter at work.  The dark visual imagery couples perfectly with the mysterious story, the creepy undertones, and the philosophical questioning of the nature of human memories and the human soul.
Sharing a lot of similarities with the artistic style of Blade Runner, Dark City is a film that deserved more at the box office, and is more than deserving of its resurgence as a cult classic.

John Murdoch wakes up in his hotel bath tub not remembering anything about himself.  As he tries to remember who he is, he discovers a brutal murder scene in his bedroom. Shortly after he is contacted by a man claiming to be a doctor who claims John is being set up, and that there are a group of strange men are looking for him.  The doctor then tells John that he must avoid the strange men at all costs before hanging up.

This scene sets the film in motion as Murdoch has to flee both the police for the murder he is being set up for, and the strange men who are pursuing him.  He also has to figure out who he is and why he woke up in that room.
Dark City has a lot of stylistic similarities to Blade Runner.  Both films are set in the future in dystopianesque worlds, both use the stylizing of the noir to develop their characters, and both bring a number of philosophical debates/questions into the film’s story.  If you like Blade Runner, than Dark City is a safe bet.

The strongest aspect of Dark City has to be the visuals and the dark tone of the visuals that pervade over the entire film.  There is very little light that is ever displayed, and when light does make an appearance it always has a powerful effect.  The film also has a stylized 1930’s feel to it.  The buildings, cars, fashions, and at times even the dialogue seem to reflect this.  I would venture to guess that the 1930’s stylization was done to pay tribute to the time period the noir film was first developed.

The exploration of what the human soul is may not be the most complex of themes to explore, but it does add a lot of heart to the film’s story.  It’s a necessary addition, but it’s not necessarily a great addition either. The exploration of reality and the nature of human memories though is really well done. The film likes to question the nature of reality.  This is explored through the main character’s amnesia and through the audience’s ignorance of this world that looks very similar to ours, but is acting different.

Through the world and Murdoch’s amnesia, a very eerie sense of paranoia is established, and this drives its action sequences in addition to its philosophical discussions.  The Strangers also add a creepy sentiment of their own with their pale faces, their distinct style of dress, and their flat emotionless voices.  These features make them a truly antagonizing group of people.

Another very strong element of the film is the setting, or the city that the film is named after.  The city is always dark, most people living in the city have strange mental lapses where they can’t remember certain things, nobody seems to remember how to get Shell Beach, and the location of places frequently changes. In a lot of respects, the city is frequently referred to as a prison by the film’s characters.

Dark City is a film that even should even appeal to people who are skeptical about films in the science fiction genre.  It’s a film that really has it all: a deep meaningful story, set in a visually striking place, that has its characters moving at a brisk pace through the film’s story.

Score: 9.6

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