John Murdoch (Rufus Swewll) awakens to find himself naked in the bathtub of a strange hotel room. John’s confusion turns to fear when he realizes that he has no memory of how he got there. As a matter of fact he doesn’t even remember who he is. He finds a set of clothes on a chair. He gets dressed and finds a suitcase with the initials KH on it. Inside are more clothes and a post card for a place called Shell Beach.
At that point the phone rings. The man on the other end tells him he’s a doctor and that he can help him. He tells John that he had been the subject of an experiment that went wrong and his memory was erased. He then tells John that there are people coming for him and that they must not find him. Just then John sees the body of the dead girl on the bedroom floor and a bloody knife. Now in full panic mode John flees. Not far behind John are three sickly pale men wearing long black coats and black hats. As John runs around the dark city trying to remember who he is a group of cadaverous men all dressed the same follow him around trying to capture him.
While John is pursuing leads the man on the phone contacts Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly), John’s wife. His business card says he is Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland). He tells her he is a psychiatrist and that John has suffered a psychotic break. The result is the loss of his memory. He urges her to call him if John contacts her.
While this is going on there have been a string of murders in the city. Prostitutes have been killed in a ritualistic manner. The original detective on the case, Walenski (Colin Friels), has suffered a breakdown and Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) is assigned the case. Now the latest murder is tied to J. Murdock. As Murdoch is following his identity and wondering if he really is a murderer, Inspector Bumstead and the pale strangers are following him. Bumstead to arrest him and the strangers to kill him.
Things get weirder as Murdoch follows the clues. At midnight ever night everyone immediately falls asleep. Everyone except him. And it’s always night. There’s never any day time. While everyone’s asleep the city changes. The buildings in the city begin to move around. Tall buildings get shorter and short buildings become sky scrapers. Identities change. The man that was the hotel desk clerk is now the newspaper vendor. And Murdoch has changed. He finds out that he also has the power to alter things. When he’s trapped a door will suddenly appear for his to escape through just by thinking of it. Murdoch has the psychokinetic power to make things move and change.
Eventually Murdoch begins to piece parts of his life together. But some of the pieces still don’t fit. It takes Dr. Schreber to explain that John and everyone else in the city are pawns being used by an alien race. Their identities are being changed at the aliens’ will. They are part of an elaborate experiment by a dying race. But John is no longer under their spell and is becoming dangerous. The aliens need to either kill him or absorb his consciousness into their own in order to survive.
“Dark City” was released in 1998 and was directed by Alex Proyas. It is a strange film, a combination neo-noir, science fiction, murder mystery and psychotic thriller. Influenced by film noir, cyber punk, science fiction films such as “Metropolis” 1927 and “The Twilight Zone” television series and with just a dab of Greek Mythological themes, the movie slides from genre to genre and back again.
The film is both fascinating and utterly confusing. The special effects are awesome. The alien strangers’ unusual physical appearance is subtle yet effectively creepy. With all its dark and gothic style images the film takes dystopian society to another level. The mixing of all the genres together was not only inspirational but done extremely well. Many of the pieces used in some of the sets were also used in “The Matrix” 1999. The child “Stranger” called Mr. Sleep is played by brother and sister twins Satya Gumbert and Noah Gumbert.
Director Alex Proyas was forced to include the opening narration by Kiefer Sutherland for the film. He was against it since it gives away several plot points that he thought should have been revealed later in film in order to keep the mystery of story line. Proyas removed the narration in his director's cut.