An Essay on the Themes in Alex Proyas’ Dark City
Film noir is a very stylized and moody approach to making films. It allows for a dark approach to the classic metropolis story line, making Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998) similar in plot and direction to such movies as Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) and Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) . Themes show the corrupted side of human nature, ranging from doomed love to sadistic human experiences. The dystopian plot follows a general pattern of a single main character that is left with little or no knowledge of anything around him and his search for the truth of his reality. Dark City is a satire that concentrates on the power and control of independent thought and free will. It depicts a dystopian reality where religion and the occult are prevalent but concealed, treatment of its subjects pose an unseen danger, technology and morality have an inverse relationship, and resistance and revolution are valuable but tragic.
Religion and the occult can be seen as metaphors for the battle of free will against the control of the strangers. John’s introduction in the movie shows birth like qualities. His naked appearance and submersion in the water are similar to coming out of the womb; he is being reborn. John’s character is an attempt for a religious perspective to the plot. John’s apartment number is 614 and the passage in the Bible, John 6:14, makes mention of a prophet being reborn. On the other end of the spectrum is the occult which is represented by the community of the strangers. Throughout the movie the strangers are surrounded and presented with mystery, suspense, danger and a sense of the paranormal. Their control over the world and the people in it bring about a dislike and hatred for the strangers. By the end of the movie the religious character has finished his rebirth and has destroyed the occult and so their control over the people. the parallels with the battle between religion and the occult and free will against the control of ideas is very plausible. The rebirth of John the prophet could be the indirect effect of the strangers’ control.
The treatment of the subjects is the reason why there is a struggle of free will in Dark City. The reason given for John’s “tuning’ powers, the same power that the strangers possess, is that he has evolved. The humans who were being controlled by the strangers have found a way to block the mind control and to control the strangers’ machines. This growth or change was very unconscious and was forced upon them. The control that the strangers have and its lack of morality, suppresses the free will of the people. This forces the human mind or body to evolve to allow free will once again. Even the basic actions that motivate people are based on memories or intentions. If those fundamentals are controlled by the strangers then the humans are being restrained from what they would naturally do in an unnatural environment. If this restrain on the human mind was not present, then the humans would not have needed to evolve and so perhaps not have successfully struggled against the control. The stranger’s technology, while impressive and powerful, lead the way to the downfall of the strangers themselves.
Technology in this movie has the effect to dampen and control free will, while allowing complete disregard for any bit of morality. The skillful tuning that the strangers can accomplish allows them to create their world, their dark city, to complement the memories that are given to humans. These two ‘technologies’ together provide the control of a god over the people living in the city. The strangers create everything the way they want it and for their reasons. They create people and characters in the exact same way as they do building the city. This godlike prowess takes them beyond any moral boundary and the people are played with like puppets on the string. Memories are tossed around, emotions are fabricated and lives lived with little meaning. The thoughts and purposes of everyone are controlled by the strangers. Free will is non-existent, driven out by the power of the strangers. It is this control and power that push the humans to revolt and resist against the strangers.
The consequences of resistance allow for the will of the subjects to be released while destroying all hope for the originally benevolent strangers. The primary character, John Murdock (Rufus Sewell), is the center of the resistance and cause for the revolution. His evolutionary step beyond normal human abilities allows him to ‘tune’ just as the strangers do. His gradual increase in power along with the slow revelation of the truth brings about his unintentional revolution. Once John’s abilities match those of the strangers, of Mr. Book, battle is met and the consequences disrupt both the worlds of humans and strangers drastically. Most of the strangers’ underground city is destroyed but most of the machinery remains. The human world, the dark city, is liberated. All of the control that the strangers had in terms of both memories and physical barriers is gone. Shell Beach finally makes an entrance into the movie while the sun is revealed to the city. The city was intended as a research lab for the strangers not as a paradise for the humans. They needed to find something inside of humans in order to continue living. This revolution destroys any hope for the strangers and makes their species extinct.
A reality with very dystopian ideas such as resistance and revolution, religion and the occult, technology and morality and the treatment of subjects is created with deep texture in Dark City. The movie has aspects in it to promote the respect of the human spirit, and the ability to have free will. The control of this free will has obviously led to the destruction of that control as well as the strangers themselves. This is a film that while it may mirror some of the negative aspects of the human spirit, it praises it overall. The film is a great extrapolation of the director’s intentions and the movie has qualities similar to some masterpieces of film.