The Matrix may be the movie that most go to when they think of 90’s cyberpunk , but the truth is that Dark City came out a year before* and has many of the same storybeats. And Grant Morrison’s 1994 comic The Invisibles had plenty of the elements that The Matrix also mined, like the leap of faith from a building and a gang of anarchists being the actual heroes against a world of sameness.
It’s pretty amazing that this movie ever came out, as who would think that New Line Cinema would co-finance a movie that’s based on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? You can see their studio notes all over this movie, like how the psychic scenes needed effects and the voiceover introduction that attempts to explain everything to the audience.
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up not knowing who he is except that he’s in a hotel bathtub. A call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) tells him to run, as there are a murdered body and a bloody knife in the next room, as well as a group of men called The Strangers after him.
For some reason, no one realizes that the city is constantly covered in the dark of night. Murdoch discovers his name, that he has a wife named Emma (picture-perfect should-be giallo queen Jennifer Connelly) and that he also has powers that allow him to reshape reality.
There’s also William Hurt as a cop who believes that Murdoch is innocent of the murders and the fact that the Strangers are really aliens living inside the skins of dead humans and oh yeah — the city itself is floating in space inside a giant energy field.
Dark City is packed with so many ideas that you could really watch it over and over and still find new ideas that were unseen in past viewings.
Also, cheers to director and co-writer Alex Proyas for casting Richard O’Brien, bringing the Rocky Horror creator into yet another cultural obsession for me (along with Rocky, Flash Gordon, Shock Treatment, Jubilee and Spice World).
Unlike the aforementioned Neo-starring film, Dark City went up against Titanic and faired about as well as you’d expect. Honestly, this is a movie that finds its audience and keeps it, reminding them that there is a secret world somewhere in which alien corpsewearers will learn that the human heart means more than the brain.
As for me, I love movies shot completely inside on soundstages with cars and buildings that seem to come from no set time period. Therefore, if you’re looking for a perfectly unexpected movie to pair this with, I’d suggest Streets of Fire.
*It was also shot on the same sets at Fox Studios in Sydney.