Dark City (1998) review

John Murdoch, a man who wakes up in a bathtub, and finds himself in a room with a murderer woman who has markings carved into her. Now on the run from the police, he struggles with his memories, and what is truly going on in the city.

Dark city is aptly named, we notice it but really don’t pay much attention to it. It’s one of those things that happen in the background, we can’t truly judge because we have no idea how much time has passed. It’s not until John points out to Inspector Frank Bumstead, “When was the last time… you remember doing something during the day?”, it is then that we really pay attention to the fact that it has never been light outside, it’s always the middle of the night.

The film has style, a lot of it, it looks and feel original and it’s steeped in atmosphere. The film pays attention to its looks; its backgrounds are detailed and great to look at; its props are interesting and creative; the characters looks, especially the Strangers, are original and interesting. The film never sacrifices its story for its style, and vice-versa, you never feel like the story is dragging or uninteresting so it can focus on its style. The scene when Murdoch wakes up in the bathroom is especially great to watch, the swinging of the light, making it cast light then shadow over various things, including Murdock himself.

The film starts off with us seeing Dr. Schreber, he is walking along when he pulls out a pocket watch, the time is almost midnight, and we see the last second tick as it sticks midnight, and then it stops. Time has stopped… or has it? We still see the flickering of lights and smoke rising. Has time stopped for just the people, or is his watch merely broken? We see him walk off into the city, almost as if he were waiting for midnight to arrive, but we can’t be sure. Switching to the scene with Murdock, waking up confused and seeing a dead body on the floor, he receives a phone call from Dr. Schreber, who is telling us that he knows what is going on, after being warned “They” are after him, Murdoch runs.

The film is all about memories, and what it means to be human. Murdock starts having flashbacks, the hotel receptionist is one man when Murdock leaves, and he is another man when the police are questioning him, he even says the same things to the police as what he told Murdoch. From this point on, I was convinced that I was in a film dealing with memories, this was even further proven when Bumstead visits a man named Eddie Walenski, who seems to have figured out the truth, that he never was who he was. It seems like memories are shifted around, from person to person.

The film’s way of showing us how the memories and environment change is interesting and completely wonderful to watch. The secret behind the city and those in control are truly scary to think about if it ever came true, and it’s brilliantly done throughout the movie in everything it does, its tone, its setting, its characters, its design, and even in the way that it’s filmed.

I’ve written about amnesia before in the Bourne trilogy reviews, saying how it is a device so the audience can learn about information at the same time as the character, as well as develop the character from the start, giving them an inner turmoil. The film shows us what it is like to be many different people in your lifetime, one day you can be a rich business owner, the next day you can be a janitor, and the next you’re a police officer. Is it really our memories that define us? I believe they play a part in developing who you are, after all, we learn from our mistakes, do we not? Although I don’t believe it’s what truly makes you, you. It’s more than just your memories who make you who you are, it’s your feelings, your conscious, and many other things which factor to what makes you who you are. However, this film dives deeper into what it is that makes a human a human. If you weren’t a murder, but have the memories of one and find yourself in a room with a dead body, will you truly believe yourself a killer, or will you know you aren’t, because it’s not something that YOU would do? I would never kill anyone, I’d never want to, if I woke up with the memories of a killer, my feelings and conscious would never believe that I could do it, no matter what my memories might say. I’d discover my true self through who I really am, not what someone has implanted in me.


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