"What is it that makes us human?" asks Dr. Schreber, "Will a man given the history of a killer continue in that vein? Or are we more than just the mere sum of our memories?" This is the question Dark City poses to us.
The narration explains to us that the Strangers came from another galaxy. They were dying. They seek to find the secret of the human heart, or soul, or whatever it is that falls outside their compass and thus they create a vast artificial city, which can be fabricated, or "tuned," and erase and alter memories whenever they want to run another experiment.
Set in the noiresque background of "Dark City", the film is submerged both literally and symbolically in the darkness, which never ends as our protagonist finds out. The film pans and captures long shots of the city, a psychological inner labyrinth of winding alley ways, shadowed paths and casts a sombre murky atmosphere with only occasional glimpses of artificial light from nearby lamps.
It evokes a claustrophobic sense of entrapment that is deepened by the imagery of the mouse lost in the maze and winding circles that appear and reappear in the film, symbolizing it's own mental exploration of what it is to be "John Murdoch". As Valensky says: "I've been searching every corner of the city, there's no way out."
Amidst all this is John Murdoch, who wanders the streets having escaped from the Stranger's latest experiment: where he was to be "imprinted" with memories as a murderer of six prostitutes, however his latest memory imprint was incomplete because he wakes up in the process.
He sets off confused and as the mystery begins to unfold as to Murdoch's life, every sign points to Shell Beach, an allusion to...