John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub in a hotel room in a surreal and gloomy city, suffering from amnesia.
In the room is also the body of a murdered woman and he receives a phone call from a Dr Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), who informs him he needs to escape.
Murdoch learns his identity and discovers he used to have a wife (Jennifer Connelly). He also discovers he’s wanted by the police (for a series of murders which he doesn’t recall committing) and by a group known as ‘the Strangers’ – a race of mysterious bald figures who are conducting a weird experiment on the inhabitants of the city.
He also finds out that he and the Strangers share a telekinetic power called ‘the Tuning’ with which time can be stopped. The Strangers use this power every midnight to rearrange the whole city as well as people’s minds and identities.
Murdoch is eventually caught by police inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt), who sympathises with him (he has his own doubts about the strange reality everyone seems to live in), and the two seek out Dr Schreber who might hold the key to solving the murders as well as the mystery of what exactly is going on in the perpetually dark city they inhabit.
Director Alex Proyas lends a potent gothic atmosphere to this dreamlike film noir fantasy, and the effects are impressively realised, too, as buildings stretch and widen before our eyes.
One of the most overlooked science fiction films of the nineties – and a clear precursor of The Matrix – Dark City is a stunning-looking piece of work and a great piece of metaphysical fantasy.
Incorporating elements of film noir, German Expressionism, Kafka and science fiction, the film was Proyas’ follow-up to The Crow (1993).
Dr Daniel Schreber
Inspector Frank Bumstead