Films & Architecture: “Dark City”

This week we want to propose the 1998 Alex Proya’s film considered part of the neo-noir sci-fi movement. The movie shows a city that is an experiment in itself, in which the entire place have been forced to maintain in darkness. A work that make us remember classics as Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Do you think there are some places like this nowadays? Do you imagine it as a possible future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

MAIN INFO

Original title: 
Year: 1998
Runtime: 100 min.
Country: USA
Director: 
Writer: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Soundtrack: Trevor Jones
Cast: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly

PLOT

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. While being pursued by the Strangers, Murdoch discovers that he has psychokinetic powers like them, and he uses these powers to escape from them. Murdoch moves about 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 questions the dark urban environment, and 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 from everyone he meets. Meanwhile, the Strangers, disturbed by the presence of this human who also possesses psychokinetic powers, inject one of their men, Mr. Hand (O’Brien) with Murdoch’s memories, in an attempt to find him.


Murdoch eventually finds Bumstead, who recognizes Murdoch’s innocence and has his own questions about the nature of the dark city. They find and 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 men embark to find Shell Beach, which ultimately exists only as a billboard at the edge of the city. Frustrated, Murdoch tears 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 battle high above the city. After learning from Dr. Schreber that Emma’s personality is gone and cannot be restored within her body, Murdoch utilizes 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 head—to understand humanity. Murdoch opens the door leading out of the city, and steps out to view a sunrise that he created. Beyond him is a dock, 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.
TRAILER

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Previously posted on this section…

Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “Dark City”" 21 Aug 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=264868>

4 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    One of the most influence film in the cyberpunk movement.With more money it would be a real classic, but… Pioneer, advanced, sorpresive, totally recomended. A true utopia!!!

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Yes. There are depressed areas dominated system drug psychotics.
    But! The future will be bright. Dark psychos not come to power. :)

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    Very neat idea, thank you! Maybe a bit too much sci-fi for me, but I got used to it towards the end. The set design, especially the streets, and the general mood of the city reminded me of another movie. I believe the set of Woody Allen’s ‘Shadows and Fog’ is absolutely beautiful. It really creates a perfect and believable space for the story to unveil. The lack of colours and the light enhances every volume. It feels like watching a play, with a constantly changing scenography. I heartily recommend it!

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    You should really be crediting the production designers in every post in this series, over soundtrack and cast credits. They are the ones responsible for all of these major architectural references, either built on a stage or using locations.

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