Dark City is a 1998 neo-noir science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas. The screenplay is by Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer. Proyas began writing the story in the early 1990s. The film stars Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt. Sewell plays John Murdoch, a man suffering from amnesia who finds himself accused of murder. Murdoch attempts to discover his true identity to clear his name while on the run from the police and a mysterious group known only as the "Strangers".
The majority of the film was shot at Fox Studios Australia. It was jointly produced by New Line Cinema and Mystery Clock Cinema. New Line Cinema and New Line Home Video commercially distributed the theatrical release and home media respectively. The studio was concerned that the audience would not understand the film and asked Proyas to add an explanatory, voice-over narration to the introduction. The film premiered in the United States on February 27, 1998, performing poorly at the box office but receiving mainly positive reviews.
Following its screening in wide release, the film was nominated for the Hugo and Saturn Awards. With the help of Roger Ebert and home screenings, the film has since become a cult classic. In the years since its original theatrical release, critical and scholarly reviews have re-evaluated the significance of the film. A director's cut was released in 2008, restoring and preserving Proyas's original artistic vision for the film.
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a hotel bathtub, suffering from amnesia. He receives a telephone call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), who urges him to flee the hotel to evade a group of men who are after him. During the telephone conversation, John discovers the corpse of a brutalized, ritualistically murdered woman, along with a bloody knife. Murdoch flees the scene, just as the group of men (known as the Strangers) arrive at the room.
Eventually Murdoch learns his real name, and finds he has a wife named Emma (Jennifer Connelly). He is also sought by police inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) as a suspect in a series of murders, though he cannot remember killing anybody. While being pursued by the Strangers, Murdoch discovers that he has psychokinetic powers like them—referred to as "tuning"—and uses these powers to escape from them.
Murdoch explores the city, where nobody realizes that it is perpetually night. He sees everyone except himself becomes temporarily comatose at midnight, when the Strangers stop time and physically rearrange the city as well as changing people's identities and memories. Murdoch learns that he was originally from a coastal town called Shell Beach, though nobody knows how to leave the city to travel there. Meanwhile, the Strangers inject one of their men, Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien), with memories intended for Murdoch in an attempt to predict his movements and find him.
Murdoch is eventually caught by Bumstead, who recognizes that he is innocent, and has his own misgivings about the nature of the city. They confront Dr. Schreber, who explains that the Strangers are endangered extraterrestrial parasites who use corpses as their hosts. Having a collective consciousness, the Strangers have been experimenting with humans to analyze their individuality in the hopes that some insight might be revealed that would help their race survive.
Schreber reveals that Murdoch is an anomaly who inadvertently awoke during one midnight process, when Schreber was in the middle of fashioning his identity as a murderer. The three embark to find Shell Beach, but it exists only as a billboard on a wall at the edge of the city. Frustrated, Murdoch breaks through the wall—into outer space. The men are confronted by the Strangers, including Mr. Hand, who holds Emma hostage. In the ensuing fight Bumstead, along with one of the Strangers, falls through the hole, revealing the city as an enormous space habitat surrounded by a force field.
The Strangers bring Murdoch to their home beneath the city and force Dr. Schreber to imprint Murdoch with their collective memory, believing Murdoch to be the final answer to their experiments. Schreber betrays them by inserting false memories in Murdoch which artificially reestablish his childhood as years spent training and honing his psychokinetic abilities and learning about the Strangers and their machines. Murdoch awakens, fully realizing his abilities, frees himself and battles with the Strangers, defeating their leader Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) in a psychokinetic fight high above the city. After learning from Dr. Schreber that Emma's personality is gone and cannot be restored, Murdoch exercises his new-found powers, amplified by the Strangers' machine, to create an actual Shell Beach by flooding the area within the force field with water and forming mountains and beaches. On his way to Shell Beach, Murdoch encounters Mr. Hand and informs him that the Strangers have been searching in the wrong place—the mind—to understand humanity. Murdoch tilts the entire habitat and a sun rises, so that the city experiences daylight for the first time.
He opens the door leading out of the city, and steps out to view the sunrise. Beyond him is a pier, where he finds the woman he knew as Emma, now with new memories and a new identity as Anna. Murdoch reintroduces himself as they walk to Shell Beach, beginning their relationship anew.
- Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch
- William Hurt as Inspector Frank Bumstead
- Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Daniel P. Schreber
- Jennifer Connelly as Emma Murdoch / Anna
- Richard O'Brien as Mr. Hand
- Ian Richardson as Mr. Book
- Bruce Spence as Mr. Wall
- Colin Friels as Det. Eddie Walenski
- John Bluthal as Karl Harris
- Melissa George as May
- Ritchie Singer as Hotel Manager / Vendor
- Nicholas Bell as Mr. Rain
- David Wenham as Schreber's Assistant