Dark City (2002)
December 2, 2014 6:15 PM - Subscribe

CRFC6: In a dreary city where the sun never seems to rise, a man named John Murdoch awakens in a seedy hotel room with no memories and a murder rap. As he seeks to uncover the truth, and clear his name, he uncovers a much vaster conspiracy than he could ever have imagined.

This is the sixth installment of the Constructed Reality Film Club. Previously we've watched eXistenZ, Strange Days, Source Code, Paprika and Total Recall. Next week we'll be watching The Truman Show, which has recently made its way back to streaming services.

A note! If this is your first time watching the film, and you don't have the director's cut, you may find it more satisfying to mute the prolonged summary of the major twists that was added to the theatrical cut at the insistence of the studio. You can unmute when you see the protagonist waking up in the tub.

Housekeeping: I currently have a discussion thread open, where I'm taking any requests for future installments of the club!

Resources: Although Dark City is not currently on any streaming services, you can search for a rental at a public library near you.

The original NYT review from 1998, which is mixed between appreciation of the visuals, and a dislike of the characters and plot.

The Film School Rejects blog has a very nice summary of the commentary track form the DVD

A Regrettable Moment of Sincerity provide a negative, a positive and a mixed review of the film with a following discussion.

This post analyses the visuals of Dark City, looking at the noir and German Expressionism influences that are riddled throughout the film.
posted by codacorolla (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I can't be rational about it. I don't like the movie, I want to wrap myself in it and live inside it.

It's currently on HBO Go if you have it ALSO Ebert gave a huge scene by scene commentary on it.

I, of course, always skip the opening intro narration and go straight to the waking up in a hotel room scene.
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Damn I love this movie. Absolutely mute the voiceover at the beginning. Christ. Talk about ruining your story. It's like having Bruce Willis do a voiceover for the Sixth Sense going "I had a great life and a wife I loved. But that all ended one night. And this is what happened after I died." Can't imagine what the suits were thinking.
posted by Naberius at 6:57 AM on December 3, 2014

It came out at about the same time as "The Matrix" and explored the same paranoid fantasy -- what if the world we live in is just a simulacrum created by unknowable outsiders for their own sinister purposes?

I think this is the better of the two. The fantastical, noir styling of the film makes sense once you realize that this world has been inadequately constructed out of the memories of its inhabitants, the action scenes are trippier, and the big reveal may not make any more sense, but definitely feels richer -- we're all just some vast experiment, swapping roles in some endless maze, so that unfathomable aliens might see if there is something essential about the human experience that remains even when other things have bene changed, both boig (jobs, identity, relationships) and small (who forgets to tie their shoelaces.)

Compared to "we're all batteries," this is marvelous.
posted by maxsparber at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think this is the better of the two.

I pretty much came here just to say this. I liked the first Matrix film well enough, but it was bogged down by a lot of nonsense, (ugh, batteries). Moreover, the audience is clued in about the underlying nature of reality too quickly, to leave more room for action set pieces. I had more fun with it before Neo had the red pill / blue pill conversation.

Dark City did a much better job of taking its time and exploring the horrifying implications of what was going on, even if the ending is a pretty big shift away from most of the movie.
posted by mordax at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2014

Ah, the chooning. Or shooning? Kewning?

Here's a 14 minute "video essay" featuring a variety of still images and clips set to Ebert's commentary on Dark City. (There are some brief moments of nudity and violence.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:38 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like my constructed realities to include Rufus Sewell waking up in the tub, what can I say?
posted by rewil at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I loved this movie so hard when it came out. I walked into the theatre too late to hear that opening killjoy spoiler crap and was ENTRANCED.

Not a fan of Jennifer Connelly, though. If you sing a song like "Sway", maybe you should, um, sway a little bit?

But now that I'm re-thinking it, maybe it was because she wasn't inherently a singer/sway-er? Was her luke-warm acting actually really en-pointe?!?
posted by jillithd at 3:03 PM on December 3, 2014

But now that I'm re-thinking it, maybe it was because she wasn't inherently a singer/sway-er? Was her luke-warm acting actually really en-pointe?!?

She's shown some ability to act in other movies. Most other people (not counting Kiefer "If I Don't [huff] Chew Every Bit [puff] Of Scenery [huff... puff] My Father Will [huff] Disown Me" Sutherland) in the City are subdued and sort of stumbling through their existences, so I always chalked it up to everyone's brains subconsciously knowing "I'm a fucking rat in a maze. Why bother running?"
posted by Etrigan at 4:04 PM on December 3, 2014

I always read everyone's kind of hazy, sleepwalking performing as part of the effects of being trapped in the experiment. Only Sewell ( and the cop who went mad) have any animation or life in them.
posted by The Whelk at 5:32 PM on December 3, 2014

For lack of a Google Map...
posted by Parasite Unseen at 6:25 PM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a summer job at Best Buy back in the dawn of time. My movie-loving brother sold me his early generation DVD player (it was a time where DVD players weren't unheard of but still rare) and I bought Dark City with my Best Buy discount. It was the first DVD I bought and the first DVD I watched in my own DVD player. I will own Dark City forever.

I do not care if people find fault with this movie. That's their right. It's a goddamn perfect movie, though. I do not tolerate opinions otherwise (even my own. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it now other than I love it).
posted by darksong at 7:16 PM on December 3, 2014

i always liked this movie and watch it every couple of years. Spectacular atmosphere. I find it to be very much a state of mind film, that, like certain music, you need to be in the mood for (and I often am in that sort of mood). Interesting to see the references to the Matrix upthread. I like the Matrix even more actually, but again, like music, it's nice to take in different takes within a similar framework.
posted by juiceCake at 7:55 PM on December 3, 2014

The director claims they tried to mix up the time periods and style to give the idea that the city is in an unreality but honestly, there are only two anachronisms ( A guy in a hoodie on the subway and one of the songs sung in the nightclub) Everhing else is straight up 30s-40s.

I am seriously considering getting Sutherland's haircut in this movie.
posted by The Whelk at 9:30 PM on December 3, 2014

Was her luke-warm acting actually really en-pointe?!?

I'm pretty sure that's what William Hurt was up to. There was a flatness about his performance that would have been kind of off-putting if not for the idea that he really is sort of acting out a part that's been imposed on him and doesn't quite come naturally.
posted by Naberius at 7:57 AM on December 4, 2014

I'll just add that it's a delight to see that most people here are as besotted with this movie as I am. Saw it in the cinema when it came out and have loved it with the adoration that I usually reserve for David Lynch movies ever since.
posted by merocet at 8:33 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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