Skip to main content

Light from a dark city

I have watched Dark City many times, but it is only recently that I have reflected on its fascinating plot. The story revolves around John Murdorch who wakes up one day in an hotel, totally unaware of who he is. He stumbles around looking for clues, when the phone rings with a voice urging him to flee from danger. As he looks around he sees a brutalised corpse of the woman, forcing him to runaway.



As the story unfolds, we learn that John is developing supernatural abilities and that a shadowy group called the Strangers are after him. Who are these Strangers? Why are they here? Why is the city always dark? Why does no one seem to remember things? Dr Schreber a forced labourer of the Strangers fills in the blanks for us:
First there was darkness. Then came the Strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability "Tuning". But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for....

They abducted us and brought us here. This city, everyone in it... is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to divine what makes us unique. One day, a man might be an inspector. The next, someone entirely different. When they want to study a murderer, for instance, they simply imprint one of their citizens with a new personality. Arrange a family for him, friends, an entire history... even a lost wallet. Then they observe the results. Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the sum of our memories?
The Strangers are after John because they believe he holds the key to solve their mortality. As the plot thickens a key truth that shines through is that evolutionary progress however radical its claims ultimately has its limit. The Strangers are powerful beings with godlike powers attained at the peak of their evolutionary progress. They are so far ahead that when they hear John may share some of their powers they scoff at the idea . And yet there are severe limits to their make-up.

For one thing they are morally empty. They treat human beings in a degrading way. Everything is 'matter' to them and up for manipulation. All they care about is surviving at all costs. This emptiness is further magnified in their unfulfilled needs. One of the Strangers, Mr Hand tells John towards the end, “I wanted to know what it was like... how you feel”. Having climbed to the top of the evolutionary ladder, the Strangers find that there's nothing there. All that awaits them is death. For all their genius they have not solved their mortality. The final enemy, that is death, has not been conquered. Rather it has imprisoned them to the extent that they will do anything to go on living. Even if it means brutalising another species.

The movie is a powerful reminder that no matter how much we prosper, like Solomon eventually we will find that it is all meaningless. But not only that we all captive to death and in need of rescue. Death is the great leveller that we cannot avoid without external non-physical intervention.

Accordingly, the movie presents a clear statement that worldviews anchored on physical aspects of life are inadequate in explaining the full nature of man. Ultimately the true meaning of what it means to be human cannot be located in the physical dimension. It is non-material. This appears to be a key point of the movie. The Strangers hold to a strong material worldview. They believe everything is explained by physical properties. But as John reveals in the exchange below they stand devoid of truth:
Mr. Hand: But I wanted to know what it was like... how you feel.
John Murdoch: You know how I was supposed to feel. That person isn't me... never was. You wanted to know what it was about us that made us human. Well, you're not going to find it in here. [Murdoch points at his head]... You were looking in the wrong place.
Their hallow search for meaning anchored in physical experiences has not led them to the solution. Though the movie never answers definitively what place the Strangers should have looked, it is clear that John believes the answer is located outside the physical experience. Man is much more unique than a mere collection of memories. A perspective reinforced time and time again. John, mankind's hero, comes across as a conscientious person. He loves and protects those around him. He aspires to break out beyond his geographic confinement. Not content with living a lie, he yearns for truth. Unlike the Strangers who make choices based on cold logical calculations, John would willingly sacrifice himself for others, even when it appears on the surface his life looks meaningless. John is somehow able to transcend memories of betrayal and reach down to something that is unseen.

In this the movie’s message, whether by design or inadvertently, rings loud : worldviews that solely anchors the view of man in physical experiences run the errors of the Strangers who built castles based on human memories. These castles go up in flames in the same way the Stranger’s laboratory of memories does at the end of the movie. Only a worldview that sufficiently combines the unseen and seen offers a complete picture of human life. 
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I am what I am by Gloria Gaynor

Beverly Knight closed the opening ceremony of the Paralympics with what has been dubbed the signature tune of the Paralympics. I had no idea Ms Knight is still in the singing business. And clearly going by the raving reviews she will continue to be around. One media source says her performance was so electric that "there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen as she sang the lyrics to the song and people even watching at home felt the passion in her words" . The song was Gloria Gaynor's I am what I am . Clearly not written by Gloria Gaynor but certainly musically owned and popularized by her. It opens triumphantly: I am what I am / I am my own special creation / So come take a look / Give me the hook or the ovation / It's my world that I want to have a little pride in / My world and it's not a place I have to hide in / Life's not worth a damn till you can say I am what I am The words “I am what I am” echo over ten times in the song. A bold declaration that she

The Proof of Humility

It is easy to think we humble ourselves before God: humility towards men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real; that humility has taken up its abode in us; and become our very nature; that we actually, like Christ, have made ourselves of no reputation. When in the presence of God lowliness of heart has become, not a posture we pray to Him, but the very spirit of our life, it will manifest itself in all our bearing towards our brethren. The lesson is one of deep import: the only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in prayer, but that which we carry with us, and carry out, in our ordinary conduct; the insignificance of daily life are the importance and the tests of eternity, because they prove what really is the spirit that possesses us. It is in our most unguarded moments that we really show and see what we are. To know the humble man, to know how the humble man behaves, you must follow him in the common course of dai

Babylon will fall

From beginning to end the message of the Bible, this revelation of God, is that there is to be an end to the world, and that the end is judgement…There is a day coming when astonished humanity is going to hear this cry: 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen' (Rev 14:8). What is Babylon? It is the world without Christ. It is London without Christ. It is New York without Christ. It is all these modern infernos without Christ. Babylon the great, Babylon is fallen, is fallen. This Babylon which seemed so great and wonderful, with its palaces and its great businesses, transacted with all the kings and the princes, and the great of the earth, who all brought their merchandise to it. They boasted of it. How great, they said, is Babylon. That is the world without Christ. But the day is coming when he will judge it, and this Babylon will fall, it will be crushed to rubble and to nothing. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (Source: The Cross)