Flashback: the Gnostic scifi fantasies of the late 1990s

All this talk of Gnosticism in the movies is reminding me, last Monday marked the 15th anniversary of The Matrix.

It would be impossible to overstate what a huge deal that movie was at the time. It was not the first Gnostic parable to grace the big screen by any stretch — several films that touched on similar themes had come out just the previous year — and the whole thing fizzled out when the filmmakers cranked out two bloated, underwhelming sequels just four years later. But for a while there, the movie had everyone talking about Christ-figures and philosophy and the nature of reality, etc.

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Amnesiacs Anonymous

John Murdoch has a problem. He just woke up in an old, decrepit hotel suite — the sort where the shadows seem to be painted on the walls — to find blood on his forehead and a murdered prostitute beside his bed. The police are on their way, and a mysterious group of bald men, raspy-voiced and pale as ghosts, are after him too. Even worse, Murdoch has no memories; he only knows his name from the ID in his wallet. He might, indeed, be guilty of this murder. Then again, he might not.

So begins Dark City, the latest gothic fantasy from former music-video director Alex Proyas. His last film, The Crow, was a bloodthirsty comic-book adaptation in which a man returned from the dead to get revenge for the murder of himself and his fiancée. The Crow looked good, but it didn’t have much to say. With Dark City, based on a story he wrote, Proyas ups the style quotient and shoots for something more significant, plugging into current debates on the nature of the mind and soul. Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell) discovers that the bald men are members of a race of aliens known as the Strangers, who have mastered the ability to control, create, and reshape the physical world through the power of their minds. But this power offers them little satisfaction because they have, so we are told, no individuality, no freedom, and no hope of eternal life. They have gained the world, you might say, but they have no soul to lose.

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