Dark City (1998 film)

1998 film directed by Alex Proyas
(Redirected from Dark City)

Dark City is a 1998 science fiction film set in a city of perpetual night, whose inhabitants are repeatedly given new, artificial memories by mysterious beings called the Strangers.

Hey, do you know the way to Shell Beach?
Directed by Alex Proyas. Written by Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, and David S. Goyer.
A world where the night never ends. Where man has no past. And humanity has no future. taglines
First there was darkness. Then came the Strangers.
The only place home exists is in your head.
You have their power. You can make things happen by will alone. They call it "Tuning."
Together We can stop them, we can take the city back.
I love you John, you can't fake something like that.

John Murdoch

  • Maybe I have lost my mind, but whoever I am, I'm still me and I'm not a killer.
  • Hey, you happen to know the way to Shell Beach?
  • Daylight. When was the last time you remember seeing it? And I'm not talking about some distant, half-forgotten childhood memory. I mean like yesterday? Last week? When? Can you come up with a single memory? You can't, can you? You know something? I don't think the sun even exists in this place, because I've been up for hours and hours and hours and the night never ends here.

Dr. Daniel P. Schreber

  • Tonight's requirements are: family photo albums, nine personal diaries, love letters, assorted childhood photographs, ID's and social security cards. [examining a sample of memory serum] These do bring back memories. This one is still warm. What is it? The recollections of a great lover? A catalog of conquests? We will soon find out. You wouldn't appreciate that, would you, Mr. Whatever your name is? Not the sort of conquests you would ever understand. Let's see: a touch of unhappy childhood; ah, a dash of teenage rebellion; and last, but not least, a tragic death in the family.
  • Weren't you looking for the human soul? That's the purpose of your little zoo, isn't it? That's why you keep changing people and things around every night. Maybe you have finally found what you are looking for, and it's going to bite you on your—
  • First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They abducted us and brought us here. This city, everyone in it, is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to divine what makes us unique. One day, a man might be an inspector; the next, someone entirely different. When they want to study a murderer, for instance, they simply imprint one of their citizens with a new personality — arrange a family for him, friends, an entire history, even a lost wallet. Then they observe the results. Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the mere sum of our memories?
  • When they first brought us here, they extracted what was in us so they could store the information, remix it like so much paint, and give us back new memories of their choosing. But they still needed an artist to help them. I understood the intricacies of the human mind better than they ever could, so they allowed me to keep my skills as a scientist because they needed them, but they made me delete everything else. Can you imagine what it is like being forced to erase your own past?
  • Now remember what I told you: Never talk to strangers.

Inspector Frank Bumstead

  • So, Husselbeck, what kind of killer do you think stops to save a dying fish?
  • Nothing like a little healthy paranoia.
  • No one ever listens to me.

Mr. Hand

  • On occasion the imprinting does not take. They behave erratically when they awaken. We find them wandering like lost children.
  • There's work to be done.
  • We fashioned this city on stolen memories: different eras, different pasts all rolled into one. Each night, we revise it, refine it, in order to learn.
  • You've seen what we are. We use your dead as vessels.
  • You see, I have become the monster you were intended to be.

Det. Eddie Walenski

  • See, I've been trying to remember things — clearly remember things from my past — but the more I try to think back, the more it all starts to unravel. None of it seems real. It's like I've just been dreaming this life, and when I finally wake up I'll be somebody else: somebody totally different.
  • They steal people's memories, you know? Then they swap them around between us. I've seen them do it! Back and forth, back and forth, until no one knows who they are anymore.

Mr. Book

  • He is powerful, yes — dangerous — but he can also lead us to what we seek: what the doctor calls the soul. It is time for our experiment to move into a final phase.
  • Shut it down! Shut it down forever!


[At a murder scene]
Inspector Frank Bumstead: What's that make so far, Husselbeck? Six hookers in all?
Husselbeck: I believe so, sir.
Inspector Frank Bumstead: Give the man an "A" for effort.

Husselbeck: Well, everything Detective Walenski committed to paper should be here, so...
Inspector Frank Bumstead: The only thing that should be committed is Walenski.

John Murdoch: What you do seems kind of dangerous right now. I mean, how do you know I'm not the killer?
May: You don't seem like the killer type. Why? You feeling any urges I should know about?

Mr. Wall: No more Mr. Quick. Mr. Quick, dead, yes.
Stranger: Poor, poor Mr. Quick.

Inspector Frank Bumstead: I've met quite a few murderers in the course of my work. Murdoch doesn't strike me as one.
Dr. Daniel P. Schreber: Perhaps you are not accustomed to digging deep enough.
Inspector Frank Bumstead: Well, I do know when someone is lying to me, Doctor.
Dr. Daniel P. Schreber: Forgive me, Inspector, but you are not a clinician. Judging personalities happens to be my business.
Inspector Frank Bumstead: Well, maybe you could give me a few pointers.
Dr. Daniel P. Schreber: Certainly. Let's take you, for instance. You are a fastidious man, driven. Consumed by details. I would say your life is rather lonely.

Dr. Daniel P. Schreber: I have a weak heart, you know.
Mr. Hand: Your weakness is not, we think, an affair of the heart.

Inspector Frank Bumstead: You saw something, didn't you, Eddie? Something to do with the case?
Det. Eddie Walenski: There is no case! There never was! It's all just a big joke! It's a joke!

[Mr. Hand has been imprinted with Murdoch's memories]
Mr. Book: Is it done?
Mr. Hand: Oh, yes, Mr. Book. I have John Murdoch in mind.

Mr. Hand: We're very lucky, when you think about it.
Emma Murdoch: I'm sorry?
Mr. Hand: To be able to revisit those places which have meant so very much to us.
Emma Murdoch: I thought it was more that we were haunted by them.
Mr. Hand: Perhaps. But imagine a life alien to yours, in which your memories were not your own but those shared by every other of your kind. Imagine the torment of such an existence: no experiences to call your own. If it was all you knew, maybe it would be a comfort.

Emma Murdoch: What brings you here?
Mr. Hand: I met my wife at this place.
Emma Murdoch: It's where I first met my husband.
Mr. Hand: Small world.

Emma Murdoch: I love you, John. You can't fake something like that.
John Murdoch: No, you can't.

Desk Sergeant: How can we help you, sir?
Mr. Hand: You can sleep!

Dr. Daniel P. Schreber: Inspector, he is more disturbed than we thought.
Inspector Frank Bumstead: I may not be the judge of personality that you are, Doctor, but you're the one who looks disturbed to me.

Mr. Wall: We will give you some more pretty things soon, Anna.
Emma Murdoch: I'm not Anna.
Mr. Wall: You will be soon, yes.

Mr. Hand: I'm dying, John. Your imprint is not agreeable with my kind. But I wanted to know what it was like — how you feel.
John Murdoch: You know how I was supposed to feel. That person isn't me. Never was. You wanted to know what it was about us that made us human. Well, you're not going to find it...[taps head] in here. You went looking in the wrong place.

About Dark City (1998 film)

  • Like Hong Kong action directors reinventing the western, Australia's current crop of filmmakers are happily absorbing the received wisdom of Hollywood and boomeranging it back at us. Recalibrated film noir. The costume epic as psycho drama. Road movies with no maps. There's no end to the modifications and mutations.
    Sometimes, of course, the boomerang catches you in the neck. In "Dark City," Down Under director Alex Proyas revisits some of the territory he created for "The Crow," a tale of murder and revenge based on James O'Barr's comic-art novel, which gothicized the city and made the set design as much a character in the film as the late Brandon Lee's unhappy character. With "Dark City," we're in a similar landscape, but this time the set design is paramount.
    The hero, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), awakens in a bathtub and doesn't know where he is. Neither do we. Murdoch seems to be registered at the Hotel Raymond Chandler, the city itself seems to lie somewhere between Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Tim Burton's Gotham City.
    There's a scene at an automat. Is it the '40s? No, there's a '61 Falcon idling beside a '90s Citroen. Jessica Rabbit look-alike Jennifer Connelly, playing Murdoch's estranged wife, Emma, is a torch singer in a bygone boi^te. Kiefer Sutherland, as Dr. Daniel Schreber, looks like the kid from "A Christmas Story" all grown up and gone bad. He speaks in an asthmatic staccato and walks with a limp borrowed from Everett Sloane in "Lady From Shanghai." William Hurt, as bemused as ever, is Detective Bumstead, a refugee from pulp fiction.
  • If you had to guess, you might say that Proyas came out of the world of comic art himself, rather than music videos and advertising. "Dark City" is constructed like panels in a Batman book, each picture striving for maximum dread. But Proyas' roots are clear enough: A shot of the city suspended in space seems to be almost a direct lift from a British Airways ad of a few years back; the scenes of the Strangers assembled in their grotto recalls another commercial I seem to have seen, perhaps during some relatively recent Olympic coverage, which had a Big Brother theme and might have been made for Nike. Proyas made Nike commercials, according to his bio. Maybe he's paying homage to himself.
  • "Dark City" by Alex Proyas resembles its great silent predecessor "Metropolis" in asking what it is that makes us human, and why it cannot be changed by decree. Both films are about false worlds created to fabricate ideal societies, and in both the machinery of the rulers is destroyed by the hearts of the ruled. Both are parables in which a dangerous weapon attacks the order of things: a free human who can see what really is, and question it. "Dark City" contains a threat more terrible than any of the horrors in "Metropolis," because the rulers of the city can control the memories of its citizens; if we are the sum of all that has happened to us, then what are we when nothing has happened to us?
  • In "Dark City" (1998), all of the human memories are newly fabricated when the hands of the clock reach 12. This is defined as "midnight," but the term is deceptive, because there is no noon. "First came darkness, then came the Strangers," we are told in the opening narration. In the beginning, there was no light. John Murdoch, the hero, asks Bumstead, the police detective: "When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?" Bumstead is surprised by the question. "You know something?" Murdoch asks him. "I don't think the sun even exists in this place. I've been up for hours and hours, and the night never ends here."
  • The movie's premise—that what we call reality might simply be a fantasy imposed by an omniscient mad scientist—is unsettling enough to make you wonder if it could actually derail a seriously drug-addled mind. The world it envisions is a stylized, claustrophobic, fantasy of Depression-era New York City existing in perpetual night. Here the residents have unknowingly become the scientific playthings of a race of gray-faced fascistic aliens, the Strangers, whose voyeuristic obsession with human feeling recalls the sexual obsession experienced by those hyper-mental veiny-browed coneheads who fed off human fantasies in the pilot episode of Star Trek.
  • The invaders operate from secret catacombs in the heart of the city. Among their powers is an ability to put all the residents to sleep at the same time. While unconscious, they become subjects in an elaborate experiment involving injections through the forehead that mix and match people's memories. It is all a search for (get this!) the human soul. The Strangers also have the telekinetic ability to move objects, and during these blackouts in which time appears to stop, they rearrange the city's architecture. In the movie's most visually striking sequences, buildings shift, and the entire metropolis heaves into a different configuration.
  • This is essentially an old film noir amnesiac yarn, set in a hostile urban environment defined by late ’40s noir (“Dark City” could easily have served as the title for just about any noir ever made). But tale is shot through with a futuristic element that vastly increases the visual opportunities beyond dark shadows on slick city streets.
    Very appropriately for a picture about a desperate search through a labyrinth of time, memory and sinister manipulation, it takes a while for viewers to get their bearings. What is clear is that the Strangers, lean, bald, vampirelike men who dress in wide-brimmed hats and floor-length black coats and possess the ability to transform reality to their own purposes, have come to Earth to find a cure for their accursed mortality. So advanced are they that they can, through a process known as Tuning, will the world to a complete standstill, and can change the shape, size and very essence of material objects.
  • Visually, there is a great deal going on. Once you get over the startling resemblance of the threatening, perennially nocturnal city to the setting of “The Crow,” the differences start asserting themselves. Entirely created in the new Fox Film Studios in Sydney, the eponymous metropolis rendered with great imagination by production designers George Liddle and Patrick Tatopolous has the general feel and even the specific street sign style of ’40s New York, with Liz Keogh’s costume designs generally fitting that era as well. But the cars sometimes belong to more modern times, the low ceilings and cramped rooms evoke German Expressionism, and the superhuman powers of the Strangers endow everything with futuristic possibilities.
    Within the deterministic framework of the piece, performances are solid. The distinctively handsome Sewell is mainly obliged to express the desperate bewilderment and determination of a paranoid victim, and does so better than many others have done with similarly circumscribed roles. As the detective, Hurt fits with great ease into the attitude and look of the picture, while Sutherland has some fun with what can only be called the Peter Lorre role. Connelly fills the bill as the wife with whom the beleaguered hero tries to reconnect, and Richard O’Brien and Ian Richardson are the most prominent of the memorably fashioned Strangers.
    • Todd McCarthy, "Dark City", Variety, (February 19, 1998).
  • I'm a big fan of Alex Proyas' work, although this is really only his second movie (his first being The Crow). His work is truly visionary, and he has an impressive sense of style that permeates the entire movie, from the painstakingly crafted sets to the crafty editing of shots to communicate the tone of the scene. A very '40s film noir look dominates this film, with pools of light and dark competing for space on the screen, all with a feeling of gloom draped across the entire scene. The architecture is also noteworthy. It's as though someone took the Gotham City of Batman: The Animated Series and actually built it. It's claustrophobic, it's gritty, it's confusing, it's soul numbing, and it's great imagery.
  • I started off with this idea of a detective who was on a case that didn't make any logical sense and because he was an incredibly logical man he started going nuts. He thought he was going insane because the facts were just not adding up and they were pointing to some larger mystery that his brain just couldn't deal with.
  • I remember exactly when I got the idea. I was standing on the set of "The Crow" and we had built this roof-top set because we didn't have a great budget we just build these one-third scale buildings that we moved around on wheels so after we did a shot, we'd move them all around so we could make the background look different so we could shoot different scenes and you wouldn't see the same building in the background all the time.
    I remember standing there on the set and watching these buildings just move, because you couldn't see the guys moving them, so all you could see was just the building sliding across the set. And I just remember thinking that was really cool and I'd have to use that in some way. So I stuck it into this movie.
  • Well, the first draft had a fairly bleak end to the film, where the bad guys won at the end, but I just didn't like it. As I explored the story more and more it was about the individual's triumph in this world where individuality is being suppressed. Once I got into that mode there was no question that Murdoch had to win in the end and kind of wrest the power away from the strangers.
  • Dark City, like its predecessor, is a stunningly visual smorgasbord of tenebrous eye-candy, all creeping shadows and urban malaise. Proyas' ability to make a twilight cityscape look menacing is like no one else's. But apart from the sensory input he throws at you, Dark City is a curiously unengaging experience. It's like the CD-ROM games Myst or Riven blown up to huge cinematic proportions while the critical ideas driving the play are left behind. For all its dark splendor, nothing much happens to make you squirm or gasp or weep, as in The Crow. It flatlines before it ever begins. The story seems ripped from one of Kafka's lesser nightmares: Everyman John Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub with blood seeping from his forehead. Suffering from amnesia, he doesn't know who or where he is, or what's going on (in this manner he functions as the viewer's surrogate throughout the film), but he soon runs into the mysterious Dr. Schreber (Sutherland), a paranoid, possibly dangerous physician newly graduated from the Peter Lorre School of Tics and Twitches. Schreber informs him that the city's inhabitants are the victims of some ongoing cosmic experiment being conducted by a race of black-clad, fedora-topped aliens called “The Strangers,” who hope to unlock the secrets of humanity by mixing and matching people's memories. The city, it seems, is entirely a construct of these film noir bad guys, who have the ability to alter reality at will (a power Murdoch himself has picked up as well). Proyas also throws in the only American actress to ever adequately survive a Dario Argento film – Jennifer Connelly – as Murdoch's estranged wife, and William Hurt (suitably vague) as a Forties-style gumshoe out to solve a series of citywide serial killings. Actually, the whole film has a post-WWII feel to it, thanks in part to George Liddle's spectacular production design and Dariusz Wolski's gorgeous cinematography, but the actual time period is anyone's guess. So is much of the plot, though Proyas, who also penned the script, does his best to make things adhere to some internal logic I never quite figured out. Dark City looks like a million bucks (or rather, a million bucks gone to compost), but at its dark heart it's a tedious, bewildering affair, lovely to look at but with all the substance of a dissipating dream.
    • Marc Savlov, "Dark City", Austin Chronicle, (02/27/1998).
  • "Dark City" grabs your eyeballs and squeezes.
    The new sci-fi thriller by director Alex Proyas rewrites movie rules, making its stand on visuals alone. It is hypnotic, haunting and, to be sure, dark. It is among the most memorable cinematic ventures in recent years. Maybe there's nothing wrong with a movie that is simply sensational to look at.
  • The plot is weak, and the self- conscious script tries too hard to be knowing and sexually suggestive. Judging from the dialogue alone, "Dark City" is a clumsy melodrama. But the film's twisting of reality and its daring look—layered and off-kilter grays, greens and blacks—make it click. The big-hatted Strangers, for example, simply dematerialize as they walk through brick walls. The viewer knows it's just a special effect, but Proyas weights these now-you-see-'em, now-you-don't figures with unpredictability. They're superhuman and cruelly detached from the film's stupefied human characters.


  • They built the city to see what makes us tick. Last night one of us went off.
  • Forget the Sun. Forget Time. Forget Your Memories.
  • A world where the night never ends. Where man has no past. And humanity has no future.
  • You are not who you think you are.


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