Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Dark City (1998)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Dark City (1998)

In co-writer/director Alex Proyas' visually-stunning, labyrinthine and visionary sci-fi neo-noir - it effectively twisted unreal reality. The "dark city" was revealed to be a full-sized alien creation (or simulation) that existed in Space, and was threatening humankind; one amnesiac individual, who had no real sense of his own true identity, went on the run as a fugitive to clear himself of a crime he didn't commit, with an additional goal to try and "fix" the darkness of the "city."

The fantasy-mystery film (with stunning special effects, art/set design and an imaginative script) was a box-office failure - on a budget of $27 million, it only made $14.4 million (domestic) and $27.2 million (worldwide). Nonetheless, it has since become a highly-respected cult-classic.

  • the opening of the theatrical version contained a voice-over narration (a major spoiler!) that was removed in the Director's Cut version:

"First, there was darkness. Then came Strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology -- the ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability "Tuning." But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world, seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here, they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for. My name is Dr. Daniel Poe Schreber. I am just a man. I help the Strangers conduct their experiments. I have betrayed my own kind."

  • the story commenced with its principal character John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) - a man with memory problems; he awoke in a bathtub in a strange hotel; he received a phone call just after midnight, when he was notified by a frantic Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) who told him about his dilemma regarding his total amnesia: ("You have lost your memory. There was an experiment. Something went wrong. Your memory was erased. Do you understand me?") - Murdoch was urged to flee immediately into the dark city
  • Murdoch had frequent flashes of childhood memories that he and his family were from a coastal town named Shell Beach
  • Murdoch discovered that he had been a guest at the hotel for three weeks, and was now being pursued as a wanted man for committing brutal crimes; he went on the run as the prime suspect for killing a ritualistically-murdered, half-naked call-girl (the sixth hooker victim!) that he found in his room; he was sought as a suspected serial killer by police Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt)
  • Schreber, claiming to be Murdoch's doctor, summoned nightclub singer Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly), John's wife, to his office; it was claimed that three weeks earlier, John had separated from her after suffering delusions, complete memory loss, and a psychotic break; he was potentially violent and "searching for himself", and she had reported him as missing to the Inspector
  • after leaving the hotel, Murdoch was pursued and tracked in a nightmarish, retro 40s-style futuristic city underworld (perpetually dark and at nighttime) by the police and a group of trench-coated individuals with special powers known as Strangers:

    [Note: As described in the prologue, Strangers were actually malevolent alien beings living underground who wore black coats and fedoras. The Strangers were part of an endangered, dying race of fiendish alien parasites (with a collective conscience) who had abandoned their own world to seek a cure for their own mortality.

    The Strangers used their telekinetic "tuning" powers to stop time (at midnight and after) - when people were made to go comatose; they could also alter reality (the physical layout and landscape of the city) and re-program the memories and identities of its inhabitants by their will alone.]

  • one of the Strangers named Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien) was injected with Murdoch's lost memories, to help predict his location and track him down
  • the 'dark city' was revealed to be an experiment set up by the endangered aliens to determine the nature of the human soul by manipulating and transplanting people's memories each night; they were attempting to discover insights that would help their race survive
  • it was explained by Dr. Schreber, the Strangers' human helper, that Murdoch had inadvertently woken up during the midnight take-over process and strangely acquired the Strangers' superpower ability to tune (alter reality at will); he also informed Murdoch that everyone's past history was non-existent: "You still don't understand, John. You were never a boy, not in this place. Your entire history is an illusion, a fabrication, as it is with all of us"
  • Murdoch's quest for the mythic Shell Beach ended with a fake beach painted on a brick wall at the edge of the city - Dr. Schreber warned: "There is no ocean, John. There's nothing beyond the city. The only place home exists is in your head."
  • frustrated by the dead end, Murdoch broke through the wall - and the hole revealed that the 'dark city' existed as a contained force-field environment in the vast void of starry outer space; Murdoch was confronted by a group of Strangers, including Mr. Hand and Inspector Bumstead, and during a struggle between them, Bumstead and one of the Strangers were ejected through the hole and drifted off into space
  • by film's end, Dr. Schreber betrayed the Strangers; instead of implanting Murdoch with their collective (hive) consciousness, he inserted memories to help train Murdoch to fully utilize and control his superpowers and abilities
  • after awakening, Murdoch defeated the Strangers' leader Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) after a psychokinetic battle of massive proportions that took place high above the city
  • after learning that Emma had been re-imprinted and wouldn't know him, Murdoch then began using his unique powers (known as 'tuning') to start "making a few little changes" in the world - he 'recreated' Shell Beach by flooding the area within the force field with water and forming mountains and beaches
  • on the way to his Shell Beach, Murdoch was interrupted for one final conversation with the dying Mr. Hand, the last remaining Stranger, to tell him that the aliens had been looking in the wrong place for the secret of humanity:

    "You wanted to know what it was about us that made us human. But you're not going to find it in here. (He pointed to his mind) You went looking in the wrong place."

Encounter With Last Remaining Stranger, Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien)

Tilting the City Toward Sunlight
  • he then continued by tilting the city to bring sunlight to it - thus vanquishing the remaining Strangers who retreated underground and died
  • he was reunited with Emma Murdoch after opening a door that led out of the city; he saw her at the end of a pier in the bright sunlight. However, with new memories and identity as a woman named Anna, she had no recollections of his old identity. They strolled together down the pier in search of Shell Beach to restart their relationship:

    Anna: It's so beautiful here. So bright.
    John: Do you know if Shell Beach is around here?
    Anna: I think that's it just over there. I'm headed that way myself. Would you like to join me?
    John: Sure.
    Anna: I'm Anna, by the way. What's your name?
    John: John, John Murdoch.

Anna and John Meeting on a Pier Near Shell Beach

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) in Hotel Bathtub

Murdoch's Childhood Memories of Shell Beach

A Warning Phone Call to John From Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland)

Murdered Call Girl

The Strangers

Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly)

Fake Shell Beach Painting on Brick Wall

Breaking Through The Wall

Beyond Dark City - The Void of Space


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