Dark City

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
    A world where the night never ends. Where man has no past. And humanity has no future.
    They built the city to see what makes us tick. Last night one of us went off.
    —Alternate tagline

    Dark City is a 1998 science-fiction film directed by Alex Proyas and stars Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and Richard O'Brien.

    A man wakes up in a bathtub with no memories--he doesn't even recall that his name is John Murdoch until he checks his wallet. He finds a dead woman in the bedroom; so when the phone rings and the voice on the other end tells him to get out before "they" come for him, John does so. In spite of the damning evidence, John is convinced that he's not a killer, and he sets out to prove this, while evading the police... and the pale men in dark coats who have taken an interest in him.

    Meanwhile, Emma Murdoch is contacted by one Dr. Schreber; he claims to be her husband's doctor and says that he desperately needs to speak with John. But it becomes increasingly unclear whether or not Dr. Schreber is really on John's side.

    Meanwhile, Inspector Frank Bumstead is investigating a serial killer targeting streetwalkers--the dead woman in John Murdoch's room was the latest victim. The evidence does seem to paint John as the serial killer, but there are some pieces that just don't fit. Bumstead is beginning to understand why the last detective on this case went insane.

    It's going to be a very long night for everyone.

    Dark City was not a success upon release, but was adored by critics, notably Roger Ebert, who cited it as the best film of 1998 (one of the few science fiction films he's ever so honored). The film has since gained a cult following.

    Also worth noting: The Opening Narration from the original cut spoils the movie to hell. (It was a last-minute addition at the behest of New Line Cinema.) It's recommended that you either watch the Director's Cut (which omits the narration) or mute the opening if you're watching the theatrical version. (Unmute at the closeup of the pocketwatch.) If you want spoilers, check out our synopsis page.

    Tropes used in Dark City include:
    • Always Night: Used as a plot point.
    • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Many viewers might not realize that the automat was a real type of dining establishment popular around the middle of the 20th century. They were quite common in the Netherlands and a few are still in operation elsewhere.
    • Amnesiac Lover: John to Emma in the beginning, then Anna (formerly Emma) to John at the end.
    • Amplifier Artifact: The machine below the city allows tuners to create changes on a massive scale.
    • Awesome McCoolname: John Murdoch. More low key but say it and try to say it doesn't sound badass.
    • Badass Longcoat - John, Bimstead and the Strangers.
    • Beam-O-War: Twice during John's final battle with Mr. Book, the second time involving a thrown knife as well.
    • Bittersweet Ending/No Endor Holocaust: Yeah, it's fantastic the Strangers have been thwarted, but even though John is now the God of the City, what's supposed to happen next? Has an oligarchy been replaced by autocracy? How long can he maintain the illusion? It's shown John can create matter out of nothing using the City's power, which could solve any issues regarding food or drinking supplies, but with the Strangers gone, the inhabitants are effectively free of the illusion. They will no longer be subjected to the Strangers' drugs. But then that'll only mean they'll begin to notice what they haven't before... that this city is always changing. Won't there be panic? If it wasn't for the upbeat tone at the end suggesting hope, this would have come off as incredibly bitter. We can only hope John will be a benevolent deity and ensure human progression rather than stagnation.
    • Blank Book: Stranger made artifacts of John's "childhood".
    • The Chanteuse: Emma.
    • Chekhov's Gun: Dr. Shreber's memory vial...
    • The Chosen One: John is The Everyman, even compared to the other, quirkier city inhabitants. Most of what makes him important relates to his powers.
    • City in a Bottle: Everybody seems to remember life outside the city, but nobody remembers how to get to any of those places.
    • City Noir: Given this film is a homage to classic Film Noir and German Expressionism, it's to be expected. But there's the added twist that this city always changes. Literally. Buildings are never in the same place twice, bridges or roadways constantly shift, apartments can become hotels, housing developments can transform into five star restaurants, etc. This only heightens the uncertainty, surrealism and paranoia in the atmosphere. It's a prison with ever-changing cells. This takes the Film Noir metaphor of the city as a repressive labyrinth of the soul to the logical extreme.
    • City with No Name
    • Click. "Hello."
    • Closed Circle
    • Creepy Child: Mr. Sleep. (Who was played by a pair of very young fraternal twins.)
    • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Every single word that Detective Eddie Walenski says to anyone turns out to be perfectly true, despite the fact that his partner, Inspector Bumstead, is absolutely right when he describes Walenski as being around the bend.
    • Curse Cut Short: "Maybe you finally found what you're looking for, and it's going to bite you on your aahhggg!"
    • Dark World
    • Days of Future Past: According to the director, although his co-screenwriters have a different interpretation.
    • Doppelganger Replacement Love Interest: Anna
    • Driven to Suicide: Walenski finally found a way out.
    • Dying Race: The Strangers.
    • Eldritch Abomination: The Strangers.
    • Eldritch Location
    • End of the World Special
    • Evil Albino: The Strangers. The truth is scarier.
    • Evolutionary Levels
    • Exposition Beam: The last syringe Dr. Schreber uses on John.
    • Fake Memories: Regularly and on a city-wide scale.
    • Femme Fatale: Subverted quickly.
    • Five-Bad Band:
    • Flashback Cut: John's shattered memories of Shell Beach. Also how Dr. Schreber presents himself to John to teach him to Tune in mere seconds.
    • Foreshadowing: On repeated viewings, a lot of lines and shots can be seen to call forward to the plot twist.

    Crime Scene Cop: Ever notice how these things always seem to happen in the middle of the night?


    Bumstead: <upon being shown to Walenski's office> I'm being punished for my sins, aren't I?