Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"Dark City" by Alex Proyas resembles its great silent predecessor "Metropolis" in asking what it is that makes us human, and why it cannot be changed by decree. Both films are about false worlds created to fabricate ideal societies, and in both the machinery of the rulers is destroyed by the hearts of the ruled. Both are parables in which a dangerous weapon attacks the order of things: a free human who can see what really is, and question it. "Dark City" contains a threat more terrible than any of the horrors in "Metropolis," because the rulers of the city can control the memories of its citizens; if we are the sum of all that has happened to us, then what are we when nothing has happened to us?
In "Dark City" (1998), all of the human memories are newly fabricated when the hands of the clock reach 12. This is defined as "midnight," but the term is deceptive, because there is no noon. "First came darkness, then came the Strangers," we are told in the opening narration. In the beginning, there was no light. John Murdoch, the hero, asks Bumstead, the police detective: "When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?" Bumstead is surprised by the question. "You know something?" Murdoch asks him. "I don't think the sun even exists in this place. I've been up for hours and hours, and the night never ends here."
The narration explains that the Strangers came from another galaxy and collected a group of humans to study them. Their civilization is dying. They seek to find the secret of the human heart, or soul, or whatever it is that falls outside their compass. They create a vast artificial city, which can be fabricated, or "tuned," whenever they want to run another experiment.
We see the tuning taking place. All humans lose consciousness. All machinery stops. Changes are made in the city. Skyscrapers are extruded from the primordial materials of the underworld, architecture is devised, rooms are prepared for their inhabitants, props are set in place. Aided by a human scientist, the Strangers inject memories into the foreheads of their test subjects. When humans awaken, they have no memory of the day before; everything they remember has been injected from a communal memory bank. If a man commits murder one day and then is given a new identity, is he still capable of committing murder? Are men inherently good or evil, or is it a matter of how they think of themselves? The Strangers need to know.