First There Was Darkness, Then Came The Strangers: Dark City (1998)

For a multitude of reasons, some very good films fall under the radar in favor of superior films.  Usually this occurs in a year with a significantly large amount of good movies.  The 1998 film Dark City is certainly an example of this, because not only is it a beautiful film, it is also a rather poignant statement on the state of human souls in a world destroyed by industrialization.  It is a multi-coursed cinematic feast complete with excellent acting, flashy action sequences and state-of-the-art special effects.  With the exception of Terry Gilliam few directors can pull of such feats, yet in Dark City Alex Proyas does all these things and so much more.

 This neo-noir film follows a cast of characters in a city that is always plagued with darkness.  The main character is one John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), who appears to have lost all of his memories with the exception of a strong bond to Shell Beach.  As becomes evident, however, Murdoch’s memories, like those of the whole of Dark City are fabrications by a group of wraith like aliens on a quest for the perfect soul.  Through a manipulative practice known as “tuning” these aliens wipe and exchange people’s memories, occupations and even living quarters as if it were a simulation game, complete with its own microcosm for Earth.  However, Murdoch, with the help of a cast of other characters, most importantly Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland), discovers that even if his memories are fabricated his emotions remain, and through ambition and his own perfection of the “tuning” process, he is able to create a city of his own memories, complete with the Shell Beach of days gone by.

One of the blatant critiques to emerge from this film is its dismissal of patriarchy.  The aliens, all of which appear to be male and refer to themselves with the surname Mr, control Murdoch and the other residents of Dark City.  In this sense, the film is obviously approaching issues of emotionless oppression under the logic driven patriarchal framework.  One that is concerned with a collective memory that is ironically portrayed as an old pale white male, as opposed to individual experience which in Dark City includes women, persons of color and even the disabled.  It shows that soul and beauty cannot come from pure brainpower, which in the film is literally parasitic and devours any opposition.  Instead, as Murdoch explains to one of the aliens in its moment of death to find the human soul one should look to the heart, not to the head.

This is the best contemporary Blu-ray I have seen to date.  It is well worth seeing purely for its cinematic value, but be assured that the story is quite good on its own and deserves more recognition than it seems to have.  Do yourself a favor and buy a copy immediately.

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