Comfortable and Furious

Dark City (1998)

A movie of stunning visual power, it is also an interesting peak into the Mormon concept of heaven. The story involves John Murdock, a man who wakes up in a strange bathtub, naked and bleeding from his forehead. Who is he? He doesn’t know. But, he finds all sorts of clues (and a dead hooker) that hint at who he might be. He gets a mysterious phone call from a Dr. (Sutherland) who says he wants to help him. The Dr. tells John to leave and he does. Which is good cause there are these weird dudes coming to get him. Looking like a cross between Pinhead (sans pins) and Nazis, the Strangers as they are called, have unlimited power yet are dying off, for some reason. Uh… world floating in the clouds, or something, a slavish fetishism to 40s noir and a hero with really bad hair. I think that’s it.

Oh, Jennifer Connelly looks quite beautiful when she is doing her cabaret singing. What a bod. Unfortunately–and I am not a fan of women tweezing their eyebrows down to tiny lines–Connelly looks as if two caterpillars had nested on her brow. Oh, and William Hurt is sulking around for some reason. I’m about to eviscerate this film, cause frankly it bored me greatly. Thank God this thing is not based on a comic book so I don’t have to sift through countless emails from nerdlings saying, “You are so wrong about [whatever] because in the graphic novel…” Before I do, I need to just restate how cool the visual effects were. Super-double cool.

I wonder what would have been so bad if writer/director Alex Proyas (The Crow) had just decided to show us the morphing city for two hours? I could have totally watched that. By far and away the best part of the film, the backdrop of the ever-evolving city was inspired. Seriously, check Dark City out for this stuff alone. Buildings grow out of the ground like vines and twist and shape-change their way skywards, stretching and rounding out as needed. Engrossingly beautiful and attention holding. But then this murky, frankly childish plot appears and, well, it was just dull. Let me wreck the story for you real fast. So, John Murdock somehow has gotten the god-like power of the Strangers. He can morph reality. Like, if he sees a wall and he wants a door to be there, BOOM, there’s a door.

The Strangers want to get him and assimilate him into their collective groupthink because… uh… because they are dying. So, this big cat and mouse thing develops and we learn that all the people in the city are nothing more than experiments for the Strangers. Sort of like countless other sci-fi films. Sutherland’s Dr. character is the Stranger’s familiar: he has sold out his fellow man and even though the Strangers are capable of intergalactic time travel and mentally conjuring up their own surroundings, they can’t mix up the cocktails needed to replace people’s thoughts. Oh yeah, so every night at midnight the city stops. Everyone falls asleep and Sutherland and the Strangers re-program everyone’s memories and morph the buildings (the second part being cool). They do this because… uh, oh, because, they are dying (obviously they do this because Proyas needed a framework to hang all those badass effects from).

So, nothing is as it seems, yaddy yaddy yah, and if Murdock could only learn to control his awesome powers–by say having fake memories of him controlling them implanted in his brain–he could defeat the baddy aliens and create beaches. This takes almost two hours. When he does master the craft of fighting with his mind, the most inexplicable fight scene I’ve ever seen takes place. Murdock and the big bad guy think bad thoughts at each other. I found this part especially hilarious because in an old band I had with Schultz, we had a song called “The Outlawed Ass of Denmark.” Long story real short, the Ass of Denmark shows up at Sigmund Freud’s office and the great Dr. pronounces that the Ass is stuck in his anal stage.

Suddenly Carl Jung appears and says no, the Ass is the archetypal ass. All of a sudden Nietzsche arrives and maintains that the Ass is in fact the Uber-Ass. The Germanic mental giants suddenly start thinking massive, brutal thoughts at each other. “Take that, Nietzsche!” “Ow! Try this one on for size, Sigmund!” “That hurt! Eat this, Carl!” Etc. This is what kept me out of the really good grad schools. I’ll admit the premise works better as a song, yet its inherent “total silliness” is visualized up on the big screen in Dark City. Goofy shit, man. And yes, I know Freud was from Vienna and Jung was Swiss.

Rufus Sewell, the man who played John Murdock, lacks any sort of emotional weight as a lead. He’s British, I know, but still, no excuse. Even though he had the most screen time, I found him forgettable and absent, unless he was using his mighty mental might to bust down walls and stuff. Hurt, an actor I regard very highly, was given nothing to do but look confused and get things wrong. His physical presence was welcome, but his character was just flat. Connelly, an actor capable of great things, is left with nothing but to stand around looking pretty (which she does well) and talk about how much she loves her husband (Murdock, sort of). The Strangers, while admittedly sharing a single consciousness, were dull and hard to differentiate unless it was the roving pack of the Tall Guy, the Short Guy, the Evil Kid and the Mean Guy.

Their primary weapons were knives (I guess because a decision was made not to have any guns in the film) but they weren’t very good with them, so more often than not they would revert to thinking big, destructive thoughts. The most appealing character in the film was Dr. Schreber. Complete with a cunt-lipped eye and an Igor-like accent, Sutherland limped around and did all could to add some emotional weight to the film. However, considering that 75% of his lines were pure exposition, there just wasn’t much he could do. Anyhow, with a single muscular thought, Murdock defeats all The Strangers and is about to finally go outside to the beach (getting to the beach is a really big deal). Before he does, he is confronted by the sole surviving Stranger and we get treated to one of the corniest speeches I’ve heard in a while, “You thought what made us human was up here [points to his thick, dull skull]. You looked in the wrong place!” Get it? It’s our soul… Anyhow, Murdock is God now and he rebuilds the city in three minutes and creates lots of beaches and brings back the sun. Too bad he was powerless to do anything about Connelly’s eyebrows, though.