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Peter T. Chattaway

Amnesiacs Anonymous

John Murdoch has a problem. He just woke up in an old, decrepit hotel suite—the sort where the shadows seem painted on the walls—to find blood on his forehead and a murdered prostitute beside his bed. The police are on their way, and a mysterious group of bald men, raspy-voiced and pale as ghosts, are after him too. Even worse, Murdoch has no memories; he only knows his name from the ID in his wallet. He might, indeed, be guilty of this murder. Then again, he might not.

So begins Dark City, the latest gothic fantasy from former music-video director Alex Proyas. His last film, The Crow, was a bloodthirsty comic-book adaptation in which a man returned from the dead to get revenge for the murder of himself and his fiancee. The Crow looked good, but it didn't have much to say. With Dark City, based on a story he wrote, Proyas ups the style quotient and shoots for something more significant, plugging into current debates on the nature of the mind and soul. Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell) discovers that the bald men are members of a race of aliens known as the Strangers, who have mastered the ability to control, create, and reshape the physical world through the power of their minds. But this power offers them little satisfaction because they have, so we are told, no individuality, no freedom, and no hope of eternal life. They have gained the world, you might say, but they have no soul to lose.

And so they have abducted a number of human beings and planted them in an artificial world, which the Strangers revise at will on a daily basis. (Thanks to the richly detailed art direction and a relentless soundtrack that bathes each and every second in various forms of music—orchestral, ambient, even a bit of jazz—the film itself looks and sounds completely artificial, but appropriately so.) The Strangers tinker not simply with the environment in which these humans live but with their very identities, thanks to the assistance of Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), ...

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