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A Noir Science Fiction: "Dark City" Review

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films.

Rufus Sewell in "Dark City" (1998)

Rufus Sewell in "Dark City" (1998)

Dark City Review

In a night city full of confusing anachronisms and diverse architecture, a man named John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub of a shady hotel, next to the corpse of a woman in what looks like a brutal ritualistic murder.

With the assistance of Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), Murdoch escapes from the crime scene, evading The Strangers, a mysterious group of pale and bald men.

Slowly and steadily, Murdoch is putting together details of his identity. In addition to discovering his own name, he also finds he has a wife named Emma (Jennifer Connelly). However, his confusion is starting to get much more complex when he begins to witness strange events in the city. For example, there’s no daylight.

Buildings change shape and size from time to time. At midnight, all people fall into a sleep/trance caused by The Strangers, who in addition to stopping time, change the identities and memories of the citizens.


Murdoch is finally captured by Police Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt), who, thanks in part to Emma, ​​now has serious doubts about the alleged guiltiness of Murdoch and has begun to distrust the city.

From this point on, the group will stop seeking the identity of Murdoch and focus on exploring the city's origin. By doing that, they will get many more answers about themselves.

In the process, they will meet an endangered extraterrestrial species with a beehive mind which are desperately seeking "that thing" that makes human beings individual and unique, in order for them to replicate it and survive.

It's an interesting twist—and a difficult one to achieve—in which the philosophical discussions are brought by the outsider villain.


Dark City is also one of those rare cases in which a neo-noir film organically becomes a hardcore sci-fi piece. The merit is increased because of its wonderful and in its way optimistic, portrait of humanity and our constant search for identity.

Dark City is also an accurate allegory about the oppressive power of big cities, built as alienating microcosms designed to make people stay "tuned" to their jobs and routines, with little or no exploration capabilities to other realities outside their concrete-time maze.

It’s understandable that this Alex Proyas piece was a box office flop. Released at the height of the success of James Cameron's Titanic, Dark City was destined to be in the shadows (no pun intended). That year, the marketized sci-fi had nothing to do with ever-building cities but with meteorites destroying cities (Deep Impact, Armageddon). Besides that, the "science" portion of Dark City is quite silly and a difficult sell.

There are no big explosions or magnificent action sequences, but weird pale bald dressed in black men, floating around a space city, pushing things by invisible waves coming out their forehead.


On paper, Dark City sounds like a '60s bad horror B-movie. In reality, it's a visual cinema masterclass.

The impact of the status cult of Dark City is undeniable. Distilling influences of such films as Brazil (Terry Gilliam) and The City of Lost Children (Jean-Pierre Jeunet / Marc Caro).

Dark City established a thematic and aesthetic bridge with legendary consequent films like The Matrix (which would even use many of the sets of the Proyas' film) and Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

Movie Details

Title: Dark City

Release Year: 1998

Director(s): Alex Proyas

Actors: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, and others

© 2019 Sam Shepards


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on May 03, 2019:

Thanks, Sam. Wonderful review. I never watched this flick, but I think I will based on your well written review. Respectfully, Tim