You've seen what we are. We use your dead as vessels.
Alex Proyas' Dark City was released a year before The Matrix and shares a lot of the same ideas, but at the time it was much less seen than the bigger, splashier blockbuster. But Dark City has developed an audience on home video over the years - I've personally owned it on VHS, DVD, special edition DVD and Blu-ray - and it's a film that stands the test of time, both visually and intellectually, in a big way.
It's a smart, stylish movie that marries sci-fi and noir to great effect, and it asks some big questions about what makes us human. Are we nothing more than our own memories, or is there something deeper and more enduring within us that makes us who we are? Proyas wrote the script after reading Daniel Paul Schreber's psychoanalytical narrative Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, and of course Proyas named Keifer Sutherland's breathy character after the author, who believed in "fleeting-improvised-men...souls that temporarily resided in a human body, by way of a divine miracle."
I'm not one of those people who always claims that the Director's Cut is the way to go with any film - after all, I'm an editor, and I believe in editing - but Dark City is one of those movies that is improved vastly by the Director's Cut, which omits Sutherland's opening monologue, enforced by the studio to spell out the film to audience members unwilling to wait until the final act to put it all together. Scenes are extended by just a few beats and made weightier and more suspenseful, and the big, brainy climax at the end is far and away cooler in the director's cut. It's not a long movie even still, only 111 minutes, eleven minutes longer than the original version with Proyas' additions.
Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly and Sutherland all turn in terrific performances, and Sewell in particular is a perfect tortured lead, struggling with amnesia and unwilling to believe the murderous lie that The Strangers have arranged for him. His weird, beautiful eyes make him seem entirely capable of being the one human who can "tune" - if anyone can, it should be this intense, unusually handsome man.
The darkness in this film is so unrelenting that when John Murdoch finally breaks The Strangers' spell over the city, creating his own ocean and sun and sky, the light that floods the screen is as much a relief to us as it is to John and Anna, standing on that pier, drinking in the sun with a look of utmost serenity on their faces. It's a lovely end to that malleable, restless, dark city.
Dark City is playing at the Drafthouse this month - catch it on the big screen if you live near one!