Sunday, November 18, 2012
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a hotel bath tub with no memory of who he is, a strange syringe on the floor, and a dead woman in the next room. A call from a nervous man claiming to be a doctor (Kiefer Sutherland) warns him to get out of there, which he does, just as a menacing group of tall, pale men arrive on the scene. A detective (William Hurt) believes Murdoch to be the serial killer butchering prostitutes in their nameless city, although Murdoch's wife Emma, a singer (Jennifer Connelly), refuses to believe the man she loves is a murderer. Meanwhile, beneath the city, its true leaders plot to stop Murdoch before he can interfere with their plans.
That little fact, along with other things, should alert viewers that things aren't all what they seem. The group targeting Murdoch, the Strangers as they come to be known as, aren't human. Tall, thin, pale, bald, they use the bodies of human dead and possess psychic abilities that enable them to manipulate time, space, and matter. They have collected human specimens, stolen their memories, and use them to experiment and study what it means to have a soul.
The question of what it means to be human has driven many a science fiction parable, including Metropolis and Blade Runner, movies that Dark City has been clearly inspired by visually and thematically. What is it that makes us human? Dark City offers a number of answers: our free will, our ability to love, and the collective and individual experiences that make up our memories. The Strangers, who share a group mindset, look, and thought, mix and match memories with different people to see how they behave, and it's no surprise the one man who proves to be a threat to them is the one who consciously and subconsciously is able to assert his own will and refuse the role assigned to him.
One of the recurring images of Dark City is the spiral.The dead victims has them carved on their bodies, and another police detective obsessively draws them after learning the truth about the city. Spirals have often been used in movies to denote insanity and paranoia among those who feel trapped; similarly, the path of a spiral remains fixed, so that no matter how many turns one makes, he or she always ends up at the same point. The Strangers, in their quest to understand humans, try to chart their destinies, not knowing that it humanity's ability to choose, to jump off the predetermined path, that makes it unique.