47 Great Movie Moments #33 – Dark City

And we continue with this series of 47 moments in film that I love. (Why 47?).  For #33, we look at the second film in a row whose title is two four letter words!

Dark City (1998)

Directed by:  Alex Proyas

Amnesiac John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) tries to figure out who he is, and who is controlling things in a mysterious world of perpetual night.

The Set-up

John has fallen into the hands of  the Strangers, mysterious aliens who reshape the world that he lives in at will, casting all the inhabitants as different characters according to the needs of their macabre experiments.  The Strangers have learned that John is the result that they have been looking for in all their experimentation, a human being who shares their power to reshape the world.  The instruct their lackey, the hapless Dr. Schreber to inject John with the collective memories of their race, so that he will essentially become one of them….

The Moment

But, it turns out that Dr. Schreber has been waiting for this opportunity, and he has come prepared.  He secretly discards the hypodermic needle provided for him and instead injects John with his own concoction, one that gives John a lifetime of memories of Schreber himself, teaching him how to use his powers to fight the Strangers.

“You’re probably wondering why I keep appearing in your memories,” he asks, appearing as a teacher.  “It is because I have inserted myself in them.  All of these memories have been fabricated to teach you about the Strangers.  To give you a lifetime of knowledge…in a single syringe.”

The scene is a hypnotic series of warping images, with Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) appearing to John as an ice cream vendor, a fireman, a guy selling flowers, and more, each time teaching him about their common enemy, and training him to use his special abilities in battle, and challenging him about his calling and destiny.  All of this intercut with the images what is “really happening” during the minute where Murdoch is absorbing his new knowledge: Schreber is eagerly waiting for the effect to take hold, while the Strangers themselves grow increasingly concerned about what is happening.  But…by the time they realize the truth, it is too late.

It’s an amazing storybeat that is both surprising and completely satisfying in terms of the movie’s narrative, as well as being sharply filmed and edited.  When it’s over, we are chomping at the bit the final climax of the film to get underway.


The Payoff

The climax gets underway.
Murdoch comes out of his stupor in full command of his psychokinetic powers.  He sets himself free, he sets Schreber free, and he proceeds to battle the Strangers in a no-holds-barred spectacle of mental combat that leaves the city devastated and the Strangers destroyed, and impressively done without any dialogue (albeit a few grunts and screams).

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