Throughout the intriguing story of Dark City, the world seen through the camera visualizes special knowledge. Knowledge unknown to certain characters main characters in the film including John Murdoch, played by Rufus Sewell, a man caught in a mysterious situation that has drawn dangerous attention. In the beginning, John doesn’t know what’s going on, but the audience does as the film opens in a dark room with John unconscious in a tub. The only light is a swinging one from the ceiling indicating that a disturbance has just occurred in the room. A bit of light also reveals a broken glass syringe on the floor.
The audience tries to piece together those clues as the camera shots from John point-of-view demonstrate confusion through a grim, darkly lit living environment. Then in another P.O.V. shot as John discovers a dead woman’s body at his place. He is in the dark physically and figuratively because he doesn’t know what happened to him and neither does the audience… yet. But the audience still wants to know what happened to him and later, why he is so special?
Gradually the plot gives the audience more information than John and progressive inklings of what Dr. Schreber, played by Kiefer Sutherland, knows. The camera shows a shot of space as Schreber’s narration in the beginning of the film describes how the aliens’ civilization was in decline and they wanted to use humans on earth to cure themselves by altering physical reality through their special power of tuning – all unknown to John until he’s basically in their lair at the film’s ending climax.
The camera also clues you in to the location itself with camera shot that pans down below the surface and ultimately an even better orientation shot wider camera shot revealing the entire environment – the wide spaceship complete with atmosphere and the aliens’ “quarters” below.
Another notable camera shot is the doorway shot has John and his wife, Emma, enter the new world which includes a big ocean and bright sunlight. The camera shows you the warm feeling of hope also in the theater marque which now reads “Coming Soon – Book of Dreams” instead of the title with the word “evil” in it previously shown.
Schreber ultimately get the upper hand because, unknown to the audience and John, a “lifetime of knowledge in a single syringe” makes John special. The audience sees instances where Schreber talks with the black-coated aliens, but if John saw Schreber talking with them (especially after the strong visuals of John’s fight with them in the beginning) John might not trust Schreber which would’ve prevented him from learning vital information including the aliens’ phobia of water.
It’s striking that John learns so much and has much more challenging action through direct contact with the aliens, especially Mr. Hand. The camera demonstrates this feeling of losing control to the audience when John experiences the dangerous movement of this urban environment during a tuning session through an over the top camera shot showing John hanging on the edge of a roof, barely hanging on to his physical world and his own mental understanding of what’s happening. Once John understands the concept of this world as the audience does through camera shots, such as Schreber’s wandering while the rest of the world stands still. Mr. Hand explains to John how the city was fashioned on stolen memories and how they attempt to “learn what makes you human” because they need to be like humans and use the dead as vessels.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler