Dark City is a 1998 neo-noir science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas. It was adapted from a screenplay written by Proyas, David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs. The film stars Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt. Sewell plays John Murdoch, a man suffering from amnesia who finds himself accused of murder. Murdoch attempts to discover his true identity to clear his name while on the run from the police and a mysterious group known only as the “Strangers”.
The majority of the film was shot at Fox Studios Australia. It was jointly produced by New Line Cinema and Mystery Clock Cinema. New Line Cinema and New Line Home Video commercially distributed the theatrical release and home media respectively. The studio was concerned that the audience would not understand the film and asked Proyas to add an explanatory, voice-over narration to the introduction. The film premiered in the United States on February 27, 1998, performing poorly at the box office but receiving mainly positive reviews.
Following its screening in wide release, the film was nominated for the Hugo and Saturn Awards. With the help of Roger Ebert and home screenings, the film has since become a cult classic. In the years since its original theatrical release, critical and scholarly reviews have reevaluated the significance of the film. A director’s cut was released in 2008, restoring and preserving Proyas’s original artistic vision for the film.
John Murdoch (Sewell) awakens in a hotel bathtub, suffering from amnesia. He receives a telephone call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Sutherland), who urges him to flee the hotel from a group of men who are after him. During the telephone conversation, John discovers the corpse of a brutalized, ritualistically murdered woman, along with a bloody knife. Murdoch flees the scene, just as the group of men (known as the Strangers) arrive at the room.
Eventually he learns his real name, and finds his wife Emma (Connelly). He is also sought by police inspector Frank Bumstead (Hurt) for a series of murders allegedly committed by Murdoch, who cannot remember killing anybody. A detective named Eddie Walenski tries to tell Bumstead that the case they were working on never existed. While being pursued by the Strangers, Murdoch discovers that he has psychokinetic powers like them — referred to as “tuning” — and uses these powers to escape from them.
Murdoch explores the city, which experiences perpetual night. He sees people become temporarily comatose at midnight, when the Strangers stop time and alter the cityscape, as well as people’s identities and memories. Murdoch discovers through clues and interviews with his family that he was originally from a coastal town called Shell Beach. Attempts at finding a way out of the city to Shell Beach are hindered by lack of reliable information. Meanwhile, the Strangers, disturbed by the presence of this human who can “tune,” inject one of their men, Mr. Hand (O’Brien) with Murdoch’s intended memories, in an attempt to find him.
Murdoch meets Walenski at the subway and Walenski tells him that the Strangers take people’s memories and replaces them with new ones. Walenski kills himself by jumping in front of a train, rather than risk capture.
Murdoch is eventually caught by Bumstead, who recognizes Murdoch’s innocence and has his own questions about the nature of the city. They confront Dr. Schreber, who explains that the Strangers are endangered extraterrestrial parasites who use corpses as their hosts. Having a collective consciousness, the Strangers have been experimenting with humans to analyze their individuality in the hopes that some insight might be revealed that would help their race survive.
Schreber reveals Murdoch as an anomaly who inadvertently awoke during one midnight process, when Schreber was in the middle of fashioning his identity as a murderer. The three embark to find Shell Beach, which ultimately exists only as a billboard at the edge of the city. Frustrated, Murdoch breaks through the wall, revealing a hole into outer space. The men are confronted by the Strangers, including Mr. Hand, who holds Emma hostage. In the ensuing fight Bumstead, along with one of the Strangers, falls through the hole into space, revealing the city as an enormous space habitat surrounded by a force field.
The Strangers bring Murdoch to their home beneath the city and force Dr. Schreber to imprint Murdoch with their collective memory, believing Murdoch to be the final answer to their experiments. Schreber betrays them by inserting false memories in Murdoch which artificially reestablish his childhood as years spent training and honing his psychokinetic abilities and learning about the Strangers and their machines. Murdoch awakens, fully realizing his abilities, frees himself and battles with the Strangers, defeating their leader Mr. Book (Richardson) in a psychokinetic fight high above the city.
After learning from Dr. Schreber that Emma’s personality is gone and cannot be restored, Murdoch exercises his new-found powers through the Strangers’ machine to create an actual Shell Beach by flooding the area within the force field with water and forming mountains and beaches. On his way to Shell Beach, Murdoch encounters Mr. Hand and informs him that the Strangers have been searching in the wrong place — the mind — to understand humanity. Murdoch tilts the entire habitat towards the sun, and the city experiences daylight for the first time.
He opens the door leading out of the city, and steps out to view the sunrise. Beyond him is a pier, where he finds the woman he knew as Emma, now with new memories and a new identity as Anna. Murdoch reintroduces himself as they walk to Shell Beach, beginning their relationship anew.
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