|“||First there was darkness... then came the Strangers.||„|
|~ Daniel Schreber|
The Strangers are the main antagonists of the 1998 film Dark City. They are an alien species, of which possess incredible powers and unimaginably advanced technology. Although, they are nonetheless a dying race, with their hive-minded society unable to adapt or withstand their oncoming extinction.
However, having observed the individuality of human beings, they believe that the solution to their plight lies somewhere in the human psyche; they have arranged a grand experiment to delve into the forces behind human personality and memory, experimenting at length on the humans they have been able to abduct in an attempt to find some insight that will be able to save their race. As such, they spend much of the film orchestrating events from behind the scene, only revealing themselves when they have no choice but to intervene directly.
Biology and Behavior
Outwardly, the Strangers are uniformly pale, bald individuals dressed in form-concealing black coats and wide-brimmed hats - unusual and often demonstrating a variety of eccentric mannerisms, but otherwise human to all appearances. However, these are only the vessels that they use to interact with humanity and protect their true selves: in reality, the Strangers are transparent jellyfish-like entities that use human corpses as hosts and disguises, and have permanently adopted their current host bodies for use in aping human individuality.
Though they are possessed of immense psychic powers and their host bodies grant them additional resilience, the Strangers also possess a number of serious weaknesses: the true parasitic form of the Stranger resides in its vessel's skull, ensuring death if the head is penetrated or cleaved open. Strangers cannot tolerate water: moist, humid environments repel them, and direct exposure to water kills them instantly - a severe handicap, considering that their test subjects cannot afford to be without the substance. Similarly, the Strangers cannot withstand sunlight, and have gone so far as to turn their city away from the sun it orbits, trapping the human population in perpetual midnight - a fact they only fail to notice thanks to the Strangers' ability to alter memories.
A hive-minded species, the Strangers congregate in vast numbers in their laboratory beneath the city, discussing current events in senate-like gatherings. Though they have adopted a number of individual traits into their society in their attempts to mimic their human test subjects, such as the concept of dissenting voices and personal names, they still tend to operate in groups: though all of them possess the ability to Tune to some degree, their powers are best utilized when gathered in large numbers, where they can focus their telekinetic energies to alter the structure of local reality on a massive scale; similarly, when in the field, Strangers tend to work in groups of three to four. As such, the sight of a lone Stranger in the field is a rare sight.
Personalities among the Strangers tend to be rudimentary and experimental at best: all of them have adopted names, but they primarily seem based on random objects - Mr. Book, Mr. Hand, Mr. Wall and so on. Likewise, while they have adopted certain roles and certain personality traits, there is rarely any depth to them: Mr. Book is the leader; Mr. Hand is the commander in the field; Mr. Wall is the brute and the occasional contrary, and so on. Mr. Sleep is one of the few exceptions to this, as he demonstrates a pronounced sadistic bent throughout the story: witnessed eagerly clicking his teeth at the prospect of fighting, he also mutilates the corpses of prostitutes, attempts to get John to fall from a ledge by biting his hand, and when the Strangers finally capture John, Sleep is the first of them to demand the captive's execution. The other known exception to this rule is Mr. Hand, demonstrating curiosity and fascination with John Murdoch as time goes on, eventually risking death by accepting John's original memory imprint in order to learn more about him - also developing a particularly violent streak along the way.
Apart from these crude attempts at demonstrating personality, the Strangers are otherwise uniform in their overall behavior. Most of them tend to speak in unnerving monotones, and have a habit of ending their questions with the word "yes?" Occasionally, they chatter their front teeth as if signalling to one another, an activity they perform on mass while Tuning - often causing the entire laboratory to resound with the echoes of chattering teeth.
Little is known of the Strangers' past history, their home planet, or even their true species name. All that is known is that they discovered that their species was on the verge of extinction, their hive-mind unable to withstand the disaster whittling away at their numbers. Leaving their world en mass, the survivors traveled the stars in search of a cure, and eventually discovered humanity: recognizing the individuality of human beings, they came to believe that there was something in them that might be able to save their people - something commonly known as the human soul.
To that end, they formed an immense space station, modifying it to resemble a human city from around 1920-50: disguising their true forms with human corpses, they abducted several thousand humans from Earth and made them residents of the city, erasing their memories and regularly imprinting them with new ones in order to investigate the origins of human personality. However, they needed an expert on the human mind to properly synthesize and mix the memories, and also abducted the psychologist Dr Daniel P Schreber; though they allowed him to retain his skills and personality, they erased his memories of the past, ensuring that he could never find a way back to Earth even if he escaped their control.
While human society continued unabated throughout the city, the Strangers remained at work in the laboratories below, their factories churning out countless personal items and documents used to enforce the illusion of a past on their captives. Because light was deadly to their kind, the Strangers kept their station angled away from the sun it orbited, leaving the city in a state of perpetual darkness; however, thanks to the altered memories and social conditioning of their jailers, none of the human inhabitants of the city ever noticed the absence of daylight. Likewise, though all of them remembered an idyllic seaside paradise known as Shell Beach, none of them remembered how to get there, and none of them questioned the curious lack of city limits or external train routes.
Every so often, the Strangers would shut down operations aboveground for a mass Tuning, rendering their captives unconscious while they went about adjusting the city's layabout and replacing the memories of its inhabitants. Over the course of a single Tuning session, entire buildings would melt, merge or simply vanish to make way for new structures, while downtrodden members of the working poor could find themselves unexpectedly transplanted into the financial upper crust of the city, and given memories indicating they had always been as rich and powerful as their situation indicated.
Occasionally, one of their test subjects would wake up in the middle of the Tuning process, having developed an immunity to the Strangers' sleep-inducing signals after years of constant exposure. Most of them spent their days wandering the city "like lost children," struggling to process what they'd seen over the course of the Tuning: almost all of them were believed insane by their fellow citizens, an impression only worsened when they attempted to draw attention to the changes made to people by the Strangers. Most of these situations ended with the sufferer being recaptured by the Strangers or committing suicide.
After many years of experimentation, the Strangers eventually decided to study the nature of memory and free will: creating records and evidence of a serial killer (complete with the bodies of murdered prostitutes), they arranged to imprint protagonist John Murdoch with the memories of the killer, intending to see whether John would continue on the path established by these memories or diverge from it entirely. During the tuning process, John's memories were erased as planned; however, before Dr Schreber could inject the unsuspecting test subject with the memories of his life as a serial killer, John briefly regained consciousness, accidentally knocking the syringe out of his hands and forcing Schreber to flee in a panic.
Thus, the film begins with John awakening with no memories at all.
Events Of The Film
The Strangers swiftly arrive to investigate the scene, though John has already left his hotel with some over-the-phone prompting from Schreber; after knocking out the investigating desk clerk, they follow John as he attempts to discover his past, eventually cornering him underneath a billboard for Shell Beach. However, John proves immune to their attempts to induce unconsciousness, and unexpectedly demonstrates an ability to Tune as well; through instinctive use of this power, he succeeds in killing Mr. Quick, before hastily making his escape.
Below, the assembled Strangers discuss the situation, eventually resorting to interrogating Schreber in their attempts to uncover the truth - first in his private sanctuary at a local spa, then at his laboratory at the Strangers' base. In the end, he can only conclude that John has adapted to the situation in much the same way that other test subjects developed an immunity to the sleep-inducement, developing the ability to Tune after years of exposure to the telepathic energies of the Strangers.
Realizing that John may be the solution to their problem, Mr. Book declares him a top-priority capture - particularly after he discovers that the latest Tuning of the city went wrong due to John's subconscious influence on the city's machinery. Eventually, Mr. Hand volunteers to be imprinted with John's memories, hopefully offering them a means of following the human's attempts to uncover his past; though all such attempts at imprinting a Stranger with human memories have gone horribly wrong, Mr. Book permits this desperate step. As a result, Mr. Hand begins to demonstrate human emotions and begins stalking John's wife - driven by a growing fascination with human existence; however, he also acquires his target's memories as a serial killer, and deliberately murders and mutilates a prostitute just for the sake of roleplaying as John.
Though the memories eventually lead the Strangers right to John, he is nonetheless able to evade them with the help of Anna Murdoch and Inspector Bumstead; by the time they arrive at the police station to capture John, Bumstead has already left with him in an attempt to discover the city's secrets. While the two rogue test subjects capture Schreber and get him to explain everything, the Strangers capture Anna: after catching up with John - and killing Bumstead in the ensuing fight - Mr. Hand is able to force him to surrender by threatening Anna's life.
By now, Mr. Book has conclusively declared that John holds the key to the Strangers' survival, and must be made into one of them in order to share the information through their hive mind, commissioning an imprint of Stranger memories from Schreber to that end. However, Schreber instead gives John an imprint of memories teaching him how to use his powers, allowing John to break free and assault the Strangers with his newly mastered abilities: after destroying the underground base and killing Mr. Book in an aerial battle to the death, John finally turns the city towards the nearby star, ensuring that any Strangers that survived the destruction of their laboratory complex will die in the first sunrise.
Powers and Abilities
The Strangers' most prominent trait is their telekinesis, which is powerful enough to warp physical materials on a molecular level; in their culture, it is referred to as "Tuning," and every Stranger possesses some capacity for it. Individually, most use it only to form doorways to infiltrate human dwellings, occasionally levitating in order to bypass obstacles and travel swiftly about the city; Mr. Book is the most powerful of all of them, demonstrating strength enough to levitate and move physical objects, warp the city's technology on his own, and telekinetically fling human beings around like ragdolls. However, the Strangers perform their best work as a whole, interfacing with the internal mechanisms of the city in order to reshape the city, conjuring new buildings and new structures for their captives to inhabit.
However, they also possess a mild telepathic ability, most commonly used for influencing the minds of others: though they cannot control human beings or read their thoughts, they can force their captives to lose consciousness by placing a hand over their faces and commanding them to sleep. As with much of their powers, this can also be utilized en mass at a moment's notice before the Tuning commences, the city's mechanisms allowing them to send every single human resident to sleep: however, some test subjects can develop an immunity to this sleep-inducing signal, not only remaining awake during the Tuning but also resisting direct attempts to induce unconsciousness by individual Strangers.
As has already been mentioned, the Strangers possess highly-advanced technology: not only are they capable of warping the layout of the city and rendering its human inhabitants unconscious, but they have also mastered a unique technological art for deleting memories and creating new ones, physically condensing memory into a physical substance that can be injected into the human brain by a needle; through this process, they can re-arrange the identities of their captives at will, allowing them to test the role memory plays in human individuality. However, as they do not understand the complexities of the human brain, they have delegated the role of mixing these arranged memories to Dr Schreber, the only "artist" capable of mixing the memories as specified.
Finally, though Strangers rarely have cause for physical violence, the host bodies are capable of significant feats of strength and resilience: Strangers like Mr. Hand and Mr. Wall are strong enough to casually manhandle human beings with ease, and the lack of vital organs below the neck makes Strangers as a whole effectively immune to bullets
- As with most of the film, the Strangers draw significant influence from works of German Expressionism, particularly Nosferatu. With this in mind, the Strangers bear a distinct resemblance to Count Orlok.