Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch

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Dark City

Dark City is a 1998 movie written by Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer, and directed by Proyas. It stars Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly. While not a box office hit, it has a considerable reputation. more...

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Film critic Roger Ebert is a well-known fan of the movie, having rated it with four stars out of four and naming it the best film of 1998. Ebert uses it in his teaching, and also appears on a commentary track for the DVD.

The story begins with a man waking in a hotel room with no memory, which soon proves to be but one of many troubles. He is being sought by police, who believe him to be a serial killer, and also by a group of mysterious men with psychokinetic powers. Furthermore, something appears to be wrong with the world at large: time, memory, and identity behave in unusual ways. The film is dedicated to the memory of Dennis Potter, which may be considered a useful indicator of the style of the story. The style of the film might also be said to owe something to Expressionism and film noir, and may be considered neo-noir.


Note: At the request of studio executives, the movie begins with a voice-over narration that gives away several key plot twists.

John Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub at a hotel, having lost all of his memory, including who he is. He receives a phone call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (played by Kiefer Sutherland, in an apparent homage to the style of his father Donald Sutherland) urging him to leave the hotel immediately. According to Schreber, a group of men (who may not actually be humans), referred to in the movie as The Strangers, are coming to the hotel to find Murdoch. Murdoch escapes them, and shortly afterwards finds out his name and that he has a wife named Emma (played by Jennifer Connelly). Unfortunately, he also finds out that he is wanted for a string of serial killings, which he has no memory of and does not have the urge to commit.

He also starts to find strange things happening around the city, all of which seem to have some connection to The Strangers. For instance, whenever the clock strikes midnight, everyone in the city falls asleep simultaneously, it is always night, and it seems to be impossible to leave the city. Apparently, Murdoch was raised at a seaside resort named Shell Beach, a place that everyone seems to know despite being unable to remember how to get there. Strangest of all, Murdoch has some sort of psychokinetic power, which the Strangers also seem to have.

Meanwhile, police inspector Frank Bumstead (played by William Hurt) is investigating the serial killings of which Murdoch is suspected. Bumstead's colleague who worked on the case before was apparently driven mad by something he discovered, and Bumstead soon begins to suspect that Murdoch is not guilty, but the victim of some plot. Murdoch is also being sought by Mr. Hand (played by Richard O'Brien), a Stranger who absorbs the memories Murdoch has "lost" (in truth, those of the serial killer that he is suspected of being) in order to track him. Unusual amongst the Strangers, Mr. Hand desires to experience life as a human through Murdoch's memories, but merely ends up manifesting the homicidal rage that comes from the memories of a serial killer.


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