The Strangers are conducting an experiment where they are seeking to find the soul, that thing that makes humans individuals, whereas the Strangers only possess a collective consciousness: something reminiscent of the demonic realm, if you have read enough exorcism accounts. The Strangers are, again, “aliens” that inhabit the bodies of dead humans, and hate light and water. So what we have here is pure gnosticism. The lesser creator demiurges keep men trapped in darkness and deny them their godpowers, while they rule with an iron fist and entrap men in a dreamworld, hiding from them their real origin, which is that they are destined to evolve into God.
As co-analyst Peter Parker noted in his assessment of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we see roughly the same formula he lays out at work here:
“1.)Primitive man makes evolutionary leaps by virtue of his imagination.
2.)Initially Man cannot distinguish between himself and outer nature.
3.)Through his imagination, Man creates subject/object boundaries.
4.)Man projects his own person-hood on the exterior world, creating god.
5.)This projection at first helps unify society but then metastasizes into a psychological prison.
6.)Man recognizes god to be merely his projection and “re-ingests” the projection into himself, realizing that he himself was God all along, thereby moving to the next stage in evolution.
7.)In some cases this marks a break with the subject/object distinction, destroying the notion of ego itself, allowing man to be integrated into the pantheistic “all in one”.
8.)This dialectical evolutionary process, is often symbolically represented with the union of male and female pairs.”
John Murdoch, like everyone else, is trapped in the base material world, created by the Strangers. He makes an evolutionary leap and by his power of telekenesis located in his third eye, or imagination, he “tunes” reality to fit his inner psyche, thus matching the inner and outer worlds. He projects himself onto the world, creating god, or in this case, himself as god. And in this situation, he frees man from the psychological prison created by the Strangers. Like with Starchild in 2001, John Murdoch destroys his ego when he is “imprinted” with the false memories he was originally given, but this time, Dr. Schreber has inserted himself into the memories to tell John that he is a god. John becomes, then, the macroprosopus, being formerly the microprosopus archetype that breaks the Strangers’ mold.
It is interesting that Murdoch really gets the answers to the “illusion” of his reality when he wanders into an old theme park attraction titled “Neptune’s Kingdom.” Neptune/Poseidon, of course, is the god of the waters, and the Strangers hate the water. Neptune is also the planet of the mystic in Holst’s famed symphonic piece, so Murdoch’s quest has been one that is ultimately solved by “mysticism.” Not all mysticism is bad, but you can bet when mysticism is found in a movie, there’s a penchant for gnosis. Perhaps the meaning, since Neptune is the farthest planet from the sun, is that John mystically returns to the meaning of the symbolism of the gods to find freedom from the matter-connected controlling demiurges, the Strangers.
Proyas, it should be noted, also directed The Crow and The Knowing, which Peter Parker has ably analyzed here. The theme of The Knowing, you will see, is very similar to the themes found in Dark City – a world controlled by alien/demon-like entities, a mysterious code and set of symbols that must be deconstructed to decipher that reality as we know it is an illusion, and the apocalyptic end of that world. The film also makes references to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but I’ll save that for its own analysis. Dark City is an interesting film, and is worth watching, but unfortunately, the overall message is what we see recycled so often – gnostic myth wherein man recovers the supposed truth that he is god. But man isn’t God.