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You’ve Gotta See Dark City

by Carlos Esteves
Dark City

Dark City: A Cyberpunk Movie that isThe Matrix’s Older, Neo-Noir Brother

You’ve probably heard this story before.

In a sleeping city, a protagonist awakens and explores philosophical questions as his mysterious, uniformed oppressors try to find him. Believe it or not, this article isn’t about Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in slow motion, but rather a movie that came a whole year before The Matrix. Despite the similarities, the Wachowski’s movie amazed the world and became one of the best known movies of all time. Meanwhile, Dark City was a financial failure and still remains a lesser-known cult classic.

Despite the similarities, director Alex Proyas’ movie is more than able to stand on its own two feet. Thanks to its inspiration from the detectives of film noir, this Aussie-American production was able to stand out from its trenchcoated brother while still making it one of the greatest science fiction movies of the 90s.

But for the love of all things cyberpunk, please watch the director’s cut.

Cover for the Director's Cut of Dark City
Cover for the Director's Cut of Dark City

Avoid the Theatrical Cut and Thank Me Later

In most movies, the difference between each cut is relatively minor.  Each version has its fair share of fans. Such is true with Zack Snyder’s theatrical version of Watchmen, the director’s cut and the Ultimate Cut. Each version has its own merits. Sadly, the cuts of Dark City are more like Blade Runner’s infamous seven versions. Some of them try their best to talk down to the audience, and remove any kind of nuance or ambiguity from Ridley Scott’s original vision.

Like Blade Runner’s theatrical cut, the original version of Dark City also starts with narration. However, this narration not only explains everything about the world but also arguably spoils the entire story, removing all the mystery and tension the movie carefully sets up. In an interview with Proyas, he admits hating these changes and was glad to remove the narration from the director’s cut. 

Obviously, there’s some other changes between the two versions, but the voiceover alone is a great reason to avoid the theatrical cut on a first watch. Trust me, I’ve had friends hate the movie just because of that narration alone.

Do yourself a favor, and mute the first few minutes of the movie if you can’t get your hands on the director’s cut.

A Whodunit that Spirals Out of Control

Dark City spirals all the way down. When J. Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) first wakes up, he is greeted with the body of a woman covered in spiral-shaped wounds. However, this shape continues to appear in the story in more and more bizarre ways. 

Spirals play a Major Theme in Dark City
Spirals play a Major Theme in Dark City

In a nutshell, this is pretty much the best way to describe how Dark City ramps up its weirdness. The story starts like any grounded detective movie with a victim, a murderer and a runaway. As the plot goes on, some things start to feel off. As the spirals get weirder and weirder, the stakes keep rising to the point where the third act is almost completely different from the beginning. Don’t worry, it will all make sense in the end.

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Stranger Danger in a Strange City

Just like its genre mix between nostalgic noir and futuristic sci-fi, the eponymous Dark City is a gorgeous mix of different genres. Of course, this choice was deliberate and gave the movie a unique look that made it age incredibly well. If you just want a movie with interesting sets and awesome stills, then no need to look any further.

However, J. Murdoch doesn’t have time to go sightseeing as he is being chased by men in black trench coats (without sunglasses, sadly). For some reason, they want something from Murdoch. As the movie goes on, this cat and mouse chase reveals more about the motives of the strange men in black as well as the world they live in. 

Murdoch Searches for Answers in Dark City
Murdoch Searches for Answers in Dark City

Searching yourself while searching Shell Beach

Like many other of the science fiction greats, Dark City isn’t scared to explore the nature of our existence as well as what defines our humanity. When our protagonist wakes up, he has complete amnesia.

The only mission he has is to get to Shell Beach, the place shown in a postcard in his pocket. Despite how cliché the amnesiac storyline is, this plot doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s not the main focus of the story. Instead, it serves as the seed for the main philosophical themes that slowly grow.

Despite its similarities with Blade Runner and The Matrix, the themes addressed in Dark City are different from the former two. Of course, I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling the movie. But if you want a movie that addresses the human mind as well as what makes us human, you won’t be disappointed.

Like other great science fiction movies, Dark City manages to address very interesting questions. while also creating an amazing plot. This cyberpunk movie has an interesting storyline and even devotes time for some great action scenes. Somehow, it manages to spin all these plates without neglecting either of them too much.That’s is why Dark City has become one of many people’s favorites.

Whether it’s good enough to beat The Matrix, I will leave for you to decide.

We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for Dark City.

Did we miss something here? Was there an unforgettable scene or classic one-liner that just shouldn’t be left out? What are your favorite parts of this movie? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll try to update the article with your suggestions!

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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