"How do we know that the world wasn't created five minutes ago complete with memories?" — Bertrand Russell
A man wakes up in a hotel bathtub. He seems to have lost all his memory. He doesn't remember his own name or why he's there. He discovers a murdered female near his bed. What happened here? The phone in the hotel room rings. The person at the other end asks him to run out immediately, there are strangers out to kill him. He runs out into the city only to discover that he is a serial killer named John Murdoch. The police and the strangers are after him. Welcome to the Dark City.
John soon discovers that his memories aren't what they seem to be. There's always something amiss about the city and its residents. He has a recurring memory of a place by the ocean known as Shell Beach, but no one seems to know how to get there. He soon finds out his mysterious caller Dr. Schreber and learns some of the reality. The Earth has now been taken over by the Strangers, an alien parasitic race with psychokinetic power who had to leave their planet and chose our planet to stay. They can create any physical artifact(s) by sheer concentration, a technique they call tuning. The Strangers have a collective memory but no individual memory. It is for this reason they've not been able to live inside humans comfortably. The Strangers have been experimenting with humans and their memories. Murdoch discovers he is the only known human who seems to be unaffected by their tuning. In fact he has a feeble power of tuning himself. What is this world he's been living in? How does he break out (if there is an outside)? Is John for real or just another memory?
I first heard about Dark City after I watched The Matrix. Lots of folks have called it as a big inspiration for Matrix (it was released a year before Matrix). As I discovered, sadly this is true. The Matrix isn't as original as it seems to be. There are entire ideas, concepts, dialogues and shot sequences that have been copied from here. Since this movie is older than the Matrix, I'm all the more impressed by the vision in the story and direction. Hats off! The Dark City has a never-heard-before cast (all except Jennifer Connelly as Murdoch's wife), but they've done well. The noir-esque style and B-grade sci-fi look of the movie doubles its coolness. No Matrix/pop-sci-fi fan should miss this one!
Here are some ideas that Matrix and Dark City share:
A world whose reality is not real and whose residents aren't real either.
The world is controlled by more powerful beings.
The protagonist is the one who discovers he has the power to defeat his aggressors.
The Stranger Mr. Hand is in pursuit of John. Agent Smith in pursuit of Neo. They speak the same way too: "Missster Murdoch" vs. "Missster Anderson".
Dark City has Dr. Schreber, Matrix has Morpheus.
After Murdoch discovers his tuning power, he makes a knife thrown at him freeze near his face and fall down. Neo does the same with bullets fired at him.
Strangers levitate and float around in Dark City. Neo and Smith can fly around.
Dark City has The Artist, Matrix has The Architect.