Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
“They built the city to see what makes us tick. Last night one of us went off.”
The recesses of darkness he discloses,
and brings forth to the light.
“Dark City” is not a religious movie—far from it. The initial premise of space aliens searching for the human soul may strike Christian audiences as a wee bit demonic. Not to mention the title, which isn’t exactly inspirational. And yet, peel away this movie like an onion, and there are shades of the Book of Job in the Old Testament.
This puzzling and surreal film can only be described by the opening scene: A man named Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up naked in a bathtub. Upon regaining consciousness and finding some clothes to wear, he receives a phone call from a Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland), warning him of impending danger. This “future noir” part, indebted to “Blade Runner” (1981), is one half of the movie.
Murdoch doesn’t know who he is or why he’s in danger; however, he eventually figures out that nightclub chanteuse Emma (Jennifer Connelly) is his wife, and that gumshoe Bumstead (William Hurt) suspects him in a string of murders. This “film noir” part, loosely based on 1940’s Bogart movies, is the other half.
The Book of Job states,
“In the night the thief roams about and puts a mask over his face; in the dark he breaks into houses. By day they shut themselves in, for daylight they regard as darkness.” —Job 24:15-17
Without giving away the plot, that’s a fairly accurate description of what happens in “Dark City”.
The visual tradition of “Dark City”, by director Alex Proyas and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, is firmly rooted in the German expressionist cinema and painting of the 1920s. New Line Cinema is promoting this film to teenagers who liked Proyas’ “The Crow”, yet that’s a marketing technique that’s already lost some potential audience.
Surprisingly, this “R”-rated film is not too profane. There are two instances of brief nudity, neither of which are sexually suggestive. The violence is reserved for a Hollywood-formulaic shoot-'em-up ending. And, the good news: No profanity or swearing whatsoever (not even the Lord’s name in vain.) Recommended for discerning adults but not for kids.
ALTERNATE RECOMMENDATIONS: “Dark City” thoroughly reflects the German expressionist classics, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) and Murnau’s “Faust” (1926). Check the classics or foreign section of your video store.