DARK CITY (THE DIRECTOR'S CUT): CHARACTERISATION, SYMBOLISM AND AESTHETICS
Spoiler Alert: I hope you have all watched Dark City by now, as I discuss the film's big revelation in this article.
In the last article on Alex Proyas' 1998 film Dark City, we took a general look at its meaning and themes from an Alt Right perspective. In this article, I wish to focus in on that increasingly marginalised subject regarding the philosophy of art: aesthetics. Take any course in the arts and humanities at university level now and I would be astonished if any professor touches upon it - unless it is as part of deconstruction theory or post-structuralism, where all positive notions of Occidental cultural are torn down before students have even begun to appreciate what they really are. This has let to a complete detachment of form and style from content, where often arbitrary and deeply pretentious labels and descriptions are attached to museal artwork that has no content in and of itself, as I noted in my tour of the Saatchi Gallery.
Dark City is one of those dangerous things: a film that marries content to aesthetics in the European tradition. This is one of the many reasons, some of which I explored in the last article, why Dark City is an implicitly white film. In terms of content and its relation to aesthetics, one has inevitably to look at symbolism and characterisation. Let us start with some of the decisions Alex Proyas made for the film and juxtapose them with the film's directly comparable and more commercially successful successor The Matrix, as envisaged by the gender-bending Wachowski Brothers. I will never understand the Alt Right's fascination with The Matrix. Please spread the word about Dark City.
We have already touched upon the racial homogeneity of Dark City's cast as opposed to the "diversity" of the cast of The Matrix in the last article. It is worth noting, though, the archetypes presented and how they relate to the racial undertones within the films. In The Matrix, there are three main protagonists, to which is attached a religious symbolism, hence the female is called Trinity. One notes she, the woman, is the only White, sandwiched between a Negro male and a Hapa male. The Negro, played by Laurence Fishbourne, is called Morpheus, the god of sleep, and plays the wise old man archetype to Keanu Reeves' Hapa hero archetype. They very much share the same relationship as Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss represents the new artificially created archetype of politically correct postmodernity, the "Mary-Sue". Indeed, their names are also artificial and used as signifiers. Neo and Trinity, the miscegenating couple, equally represent in name and purpose the coupling of the New as quasi-religion through miscegenation, presided over by the "wise" Negro.
This is all within The Matrix. But there is, of course, the real-life matrix behind this fiction. Indeed, when one looks, there are three matrices: the one within the film, the film itself and the martix that creates the film - a trinity. Morpheus is the highest authority within the film (we're just looking at the first one here), but he acts as intermediary between those outside of the film and the protagonists within the film, hence his name as a godhead. He serves to structure and control narrative, and whom he serves is the Wachowski Brothers. The Wachowski Brothers in turn serve producer and Hollywood mogul (((Joel Silver))). The name Morpheus is interesting, for the god Morpheus is the god of dreams, yet the Morpheus of The Matrix allegedly awakens those who are asleep. There are levels of irony involved here, for the matrix of the cinema theatre serves to induce its attendees into dreaming a false consciousness, the trick of this film being to sell the lie that the audience has experienced an awakening, while jacking them into the Hollywood matrix.
The archetypes in Dark City are completely different. While the hero and heroine have traditional roles as White Man and White Woman and within a traditional narrative, new archetypes from modernity emerge, which now too have been added to tradition: the detective, the nightclub singer and the mad scientist. The characters of Dark City, however, have far more complexity to them than mere types. They are rounded human beings. While the hero John Murdoch, played by Rufus Sewell, fulfills his role as hero type and emerging aristocrat, his loss of memory means he also spends the first half of the film completely bewildered. His wife, while devoted and fulfilling traditional roles, also works as a nightclub singer. William Hurt's detective, Inspector Frank Bumstead, grows as a character, as he breaks out of his fuctional gumshoe mould, joining with Murdoch's quest to leave the confines of the city. Dr Daniel Schreber reversed the mad scientist narrative, becoming ever more empathic and sympathetic, eventually taking on the role as sage to the hero.
The antagonists, the Strangers, however, are very much personifications of specific signifiers that form a whole, rather like all the "red-pilled" characters within The Matrix. This reflects their alien hive mind and they also have names that reflect their functions within the narrative, as opposed to those of The Matrix, whose names reflect the meta-narrative. Mr Book, played by Ian Richardson, for example, gives instruction, while Mr Hand (Richard O'Brian) carries out important tasks. The Strangers have a particular aesthetic - a blend of the vampire Nosferatu, the Cenobytes in Hellraiser and Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Show, hence Richard O'Brian's role. It also perhaps explains why Dark City was mistakenly marketed as a horror film.
Nosferatu immediately recalls German expressionist film, as does the great inspiration for the city: Metropolis. Alex Proyas stated this was his chief inspiration, as was one of Fritz Lang's other films, M. On the side that tends more towards realism in German expressionism, one finds the intermediary between the Gothic and Film noir, Dark City exploring the full range. The city itself, in contrast to The Matrix,
was chiefly model-work and not CGI and therefore has a more authentic
feel to it, even though the cityscapes of The Matrix are that of our own
contemporary world. In keeping with the more abstract side of German expressionism, though, all the angles of the buildings and structures are slightly offset from perpendicular, which subconsciously unsettles the viewer. This becomes increasingly consciously noticeable as the protagonists travel towards the edge of the city, the city simultaneously becoming more claustrophobic and seemingly subterranean. The more sensitive and unstable Dr Schreber's agitation at this draws the audience in emotionally. This is very much reminiscent of the effect created in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari.
Equally, the symbolism in Dark City is striking, even beyong characterisation. After the intitial prologue showing the city during tuning, followed by the opening credits, the film proper commences with a symbolic scene that foreshadows the rest of the film. The camera focuses in through a round window in one of the skyscrapers, where John Murdoch emerges from a bath with no memory, symbolising a new birth. While clumsily staggering around like a new-born animal, he knocks over a goldfish bowl, which shatters on the floor. He picks up the goldfish and places it into the bath. This simple scene does several things at once. Murdoch's act in saving the fish creates pathos in the viewer. He is revealed as a saviour figure, the role he will grow into. This small act at the beginning will be magnified exponentially at the end. Simultaneously, the goldfish is also symbolic of himself: he has no memory, goldfish being credited at having a memory of four seconds; he has just emerged into a wider world from the bath, as the goldfish is entering one by going into the bath, and Murdoch will find himself entering an even wider one by the film's climax; yet he is also, to begin with, a fish out of water, confused and flapping around with no direction.
Accidentally breaking the goldfish bowl also foreshadows the great revelation, where Murdoch, Bumstead and Schreber reach the edge of the city. As stated, it becomes increasingly claustrophobic and seemingly subterranean, which distracts the viewer from realising what is implied throughout the film. As Murdoch and Bumstead break down the outer wall covered by a poster for Shell Beach, the organic European American seaside resort floating around Murdoch's mind, the bricks fly out.....into the vacuum of space. The city is floating through space protected by a force field. It was logical all along: the permanent darkness, the claustrophobia, the foreshadowing - of which there was much. One of the aethetics throughout the film is the spiral form - marked on walls and dead bodies, in Bumstead's coffee, in the clouds, in Schreber's rat maze - the latter symbolising the Strangers' great experiment. The city, when at last seen fully from above, is revealed to be a spiral like Schreber's maze, the wispy clouds also spiralling above it. "There's no way out!" cries Bumstead's former partner, Detective Walenski, driven mad by the knowledge. He contrasts with Murdoch, this showing the two major contrasting reactions Alt Righters have upon being awakened to objective Truth.
In the world of The Matrix, despite the obvious advancement in technology, the world the humans have created is unaesthetic and the ships are no better than the Sentinels. Everything outside of the matrix is inorganic. One would have thought, given the technology at their disposal, the humans would have created either real organic things out of the slop they eat, or if impossible, at least organic aesthetics. Why, for example, do they have to wear boiler suits or basic rags, yet in Matrix Reloaded, we see in their base called Zion, they have "ethnic" jewellery in the party they throw? Why is the festival based on African dance? Why are the women predominantly White and the men predominantly Negroid? It is because this is the Wachowski Brothers' idyll, and the aesthetics they wish to promote are those of the ghetto, in addition to the Cyberpunk aesthetics within the matrix. When Murdoch recreates his small world in his own image, it is organic and intrinsically European American - that of Shell Beach. He tilts the spacecraft towards a sun, bringing light, in contrast to the great cave of Zion. If ours is to build a future for our form of humanity, for the children of the sun, then let it be Shell Beach and not Zion.