“Though mentioned often in the script, the creatures in “Pitch Black” are seldom seen at length; rather, they are glimpsed, they are heard, they are felt. They are, really, the embodiment of your nocturnal fears: a howling coyote that jars you awake; the painting on the wall that comes to life when stared at too long. . . the sway of your bed just before the earthquake hits. Chimera of the night. The point is made so the reader appreciates that the focus of the finished film will not be on what the creatures do, but on what the creatures do to reveal the inner nature of the characters. For “Pitch Black” is, at its heart, a story of humanity and courage and lack of the same.”
– David Twohy, 1st draft script
In his science fiction/horror movie, “Pitch Black,” director David Twohy examines the difference between characters who are willing to see what’s around them, and those who are not.
We begin with Richard B. Riddick, locked in his cryochamber aboard the Hunter-Gratzner, an interstellar passenger ship. Until just recently, he had been imprisoned below ground in Slam City. Now he wants his freedom regardless of the cost — to himself or to anybody else.
Riddick’s way of coping with almost any situation is to learn more about it and figure out how it works. Thus he is always striving to see better, further, deeper. When he was sent to Slam City and told he would never see daylight again, he adapted by getting a surgical shine put on his eyes so that he could see in the constant darkness of prison. He also stifled all of his better instincts and became a remorseless killer in order to survive.
Having survived prison, however, Riddick is now in poor shape to deal with the regular world. Outside the darkness of Slam, Riddick’s eyes are blinded by light of any kind, and they are the chink in his armor when it comes to fighting. If his opponent can manage to rip off Riddick’s protective goggles, he becomes almost defenseless. Similarly, the selfish survival instincts that Riddick developed in prison make him an outcast in regular human society. He can adapt to the light by wearing goggles, but he doesn’t know if he will be able to adapt to living in civilized society again. He remains isolated from the other characters because they are unable to perceive his perspective, i.e., see the way he can. This is only a symbol, however, of the fact that no one can understand him or see his point of view.
Riddick’s jailer Johns, on the other hand, doesn’t really want to see the unpleasant reality, so he doesn’t really look. In fact, he’d prefer a little filter between himself and the world, so he shoots morphine right into his eyeball every day. He seems to suffer selective blindness throughout the movie as well, such as when he is unable to find Riddick using his telescope; when Riddick hides above him in the huge animal skeleton, and when Riddick is standing 5 feet away from him in the animal’s ribcage cutting Fry’s hair. The main thing Riddick and Johns have in common at this point in the movie is that they are each concealing their true nature, which will be revealed to the viewer as the plot progresses.
In the beginning of the movie, Riddick is blindfolded in a cryo-sleep chamber. Even without sight, he continues to decipher what he can about his environment by smelling and listening. After the crash, when he is hand-cuffed to a column, he can see through a small tear in his blindfold just enough to figure out how to escape. He tries to encourage the others to pay more attention to their situation as well, such as when the crash survivors are unable to locate Zeke’s body in the cave, and Riddick tells Fry to “Look deeper,” which could easily be his life’s motto. Riddick is also able to see someone’s true nature better than most other people as well. He has to prompt Fry to try to see through the image Johns likes to present to the rest of the party of being a heroic marshal. Riddick is also the one who discovers that “Jack” is really a girl and that she’s being stalked by the aliens because they can smell her menstrual blood.
Likewise, Riddick is the person who makes everyone else see that the geologists that settled on the planet before were killed by the aliens, when everyone else would prefer to believe they were taken off-planet by a big drop ship. He is also the first one to see that not everyone is going to make it off of the planet alive.
Riddick doesn’t tell everybody everything he knows, however. He knows that sometimes it is better for your state of mind NOT to be able to see what’s happening. He doesn’t tell everyone they can’t make it back to the skiff, even though he knows they can’t. When Paris and Johns are being slaughtered by the aliens in the darkness, Riddick is the only one who is able to witness their deaths. He doesn’t torment the others with the details of their deaths, even when Fry asks him about it. Later, when they are running the gauntlet of the bone yard and the aliens’ blood is dripping down on them from above, he tells Fry not to look. He knows that seeing the way the aliens are attacking each other will only make her more afraid, and he’s proven right when she looks up anyway.
It is Riddick’s ability to see from someone else’s perspective — that of the aliens who see in the dark — that enables some of the characters to survive. Riddick doesn’t see exactly the same way that the aliens do (through echo-location), but he can use the way he sees to deduce how they must see. His ability to put himself in the aliens’ place is what enables Riddick to formulate his plan to get the others to safety. It also helps him survive a personal close encounter because he was able to intuit that the aliens have a “blind spot.” Riddick is also the only one who notices that the aliens track their prey from blood. Everyone else is unable to see enough to make sense out of what is happening because they are so terrified. Paris, for example, freaks out and crawls into the darkness alone even though he *knows* his only protection against the aliens is the light.
Ironically, none of the characters are able to see Riddick the way he really is at the beginning of the movie; they just take Johns’ word for it that he’s a vicious killer. Similarly, Riddick also seems strangely invisible in several places in the movie, even when he’s not trying to hide, such as when no one sees him sitting in Paris’ chair under the unbrella with his feet propped up after he’s first escaped.
Jack admires and emulates Riddick’s unique perspective and abilities by wearing makeshift goggles and shaving her head to look more like Riddick. She also asks Riddick how she can get eyes like his. Maybe the reason Jack identifies so strongly with Riddick is that she knows how it feels to be imprisoned, since she had to be cut out of her cryosleep chamber where she was trapped after the crash. Perhaps she knows how important it can be to put up a false front for self-defense, since she herself is presenting as male.
Riddick, in turn, encourages Jack to look at things for herself, as he points out a bone ribcage that lurks dangerously over head rather than simply telling her to duck. Later, Riddick tells Jack not to cry for Johns, because Riddick knows what Jack does not, that Johns wanted to kill her. Once again, Riddick knows that seeing too much can be painful, literally, and that Jack doesn’t need to know.
Fry also wants to see, even if what she is looking for is hidden, and finding it is unpleasant. Immediately after the crash, she digs through the ship debris looking for her navigator, Owens, who is buried under the rubble. Soon after, she bravely approaches Riddick and asks to see his eyes when he tells her what happened to Zeke. She is the one who “looks deeper” into the cavern and finds what’s left of his body. She is the first to see the eclipse coming after she looks at the solar system model in the old settlement.
Carolyn Fry is driven to look even when what she sees may hurt her, as when she tries to see the aliens killing Paris and then Johns. In the run through the gauntlet to the skiff, she also cannot help herself and looks up at the aliens killing each other overhead, although Riddick has already warned her not to look. She is also the character who has seen Riddick’s humanity by the end of the film, when no one else really has.
An eye motif is used continually throughout the movie, probably to subconsciously make the viewer think about seeing and perspective. Paris’s glasses get cracked in the crash, which reflects the fact that his character doesn’t have any accurate perspective at all. This is echoed when Riddick finds the broken glasses in the sand at the settlement, and deduces that people don’t evacuate without their eyeglasses. Paris also asks later (somewhat foolishly), “What are my eyes seeing?” when the eclipse occurs. We first see water on the planet as a huge drop next to an extreme close up of the Muslim boy’s eye. The director also uses extreme eye close ups in point/counterpoint to suggest tension between characters.
The film’s focus on seeing is also developed through its cinematography. During the opening crash sequence, some of the shots are distorted, tinted, and/or reversed to demonstrate the chaos of the ship’s crash, suggesting the confused viewpoint of one of the characters. Likewise, the footage on the planet’s surface looks overdeveloped and washed out, suggesting heat and bright light. The exterior shots are also tinted to indicate the different colored suns, which further suggest multiple ways of seeing the same situation. Often during a scene, the camera pulls back to a wide shot of the group — frequently from overhead — when the action gets confusing, in order to give the viewer some perspective.
The desire to look is one of the things that brings Fry and Riddick together, and wedges Johns apart from them. Johns would rather not see things he doesn’t like, and would rather someone else do the looking for him. Thus when he drops a flare into the coring tunnel at the settlement, Riddick pops up between Johns and the camera, showing that Riddick goes down to get a better look, while Johns stays up top, trying not to see too much.
At another point, Johns asks Riddick to look ahead for him to see if any aliens are waiting ahead. Riddick says that it “Looks clear,” but it isn’t, as an alien flies out to attack Johns. He yells at Riddick, “You said clear!” Riddick corrects him by saying, “I said it *looks* clear.” Johns doesn’t learn from this experience, however. He’d rather ask Riddick *again* whether the way is clear than use his own hand light to see for himself. Riddick looks ahead again and shrugs innocently, then repeats, “Look clear,” as if to say “see for yourself.”
The contrast between the two men is highlighted again when Johns suggests to Riddick that they kill one of the others and drag the body behind them as bait to distract the aliens. Riddick’s first impulse is to look at the little group behind them and ask Johns which one he has in mind. Johns quickly tells Riddick *not* to look and won’t look himself. He won’t even say the name of his intended victim, because he can’t face what he is suggesting.
Fry comes into conflict with Johns several times when she tries to point out his short-sightedness. First she disagrees with him when he plans to screw Riddick and suggests an alternative. She also calls out Johns for blaming his fear of going to the skiff on Jack, and his suggestion that they wait out the eclipse in the crash ship. Johns retaliates by reminding her of her own failings with a Biblical-flavored quote when he says, “Look to thine own eyes first, right, Carolyn?” (Or is it “thine own ass?” Similar, anyway.). The Biblical quote goes something like, “When you look to help your neighbor take the mote of dust from his eye, it is best to remove the wooden beam from your own first.” He’s reminding Carolyn that she almost jettisoned all the passengers during the crash in an attempt to save herself.
Eventually Johns’ refusal to look is his downfall. When he is wounded in his fight with Riddick, he can’t shoot the aliens who come after him because, in the dark, he loaded a red cartridge containing morphine into his shotgun instead of a real cartridge. He’d had relied on his morphine to such an extent that he confused it with real self-defense.
The characters’ desire to see can be thwarted when the object in question is hidden. Riddick’s humanity, for example, is like water in the desert, as Imam says. “It only waits to be found.” Riddick’s better nature is hidden deep inside of him along with his darker urges, and the viewer waits anxiously to see which one will eventually rise to the surface.
In a way, Riddick’s humanity is like Carolyn when she is trapped in the cavern, unable to come out but crying, “I’m here! I’m here!” and wanting someone to find her and bring her to the surface. Both Carolyn and Riddick’s humanity are unable to uncover themselves without help from the others, and even then they are subject to being sucked back down into the darkness. Carolyn and Riddick are tied together visually in this sequence as well, as we cut back and forth between Carolyn trapped in the cavern, and Riddick trying to break his chains. This sequence helps the viewer realize a connection between the two characters, as he is freaking out in the same way as she is at the same time.
Just as it can be painful to see too much, it can also be painful to have your hidden secrets revealed. The secret Fry is hiding — that she wanted to jettison the passengers during the crash — is agonizing to her when Johns reveals it, and her shame is one of the things that leads her to sacrifice herself for the others in the end.
Johns tries unsuccessfully to hide both his uncaring, selfish nature and his secret morphine addiction, which only Riddick and Fry can see. The revelation of Jack’s secret also turn out to be painful, both literally and figuratively. She attempts to disguise her gender to make herself seem less vulnerable to predatory adults. Her menstrual cycle makes her more vulnerable to the aliens, who can smell the blood, and menstruation is often painful in and of itself.
For Riddick, revelation is doubly painful. Physically, it is not so much “looking” that hurts his eyes, as it is the light that illuminates them. He avoids light for that reason, but he also avoids it to keep from *being seen.* If eyes are the window to the soul, Riddick guards his carefully. Even when Riddick’s eyes are visible, most people never see beyond their mirrored surface to the man beneath. Carolyn is the only one who really tries, when she asks to see his eyes and trusts what she sees there enough to give him a chance.
Ironically, Riddick doesn’t want Carolyn to see his eyes at first, and makes her come to him before he will show them to her. He doesn’t want her to uncover his biggest secret, which is the vulnerable, hurt, caring nature he has buried beneath his ruthless exterior. Riddick believes that if someone actually sees his humanity, they will take advantage of it and he will suffer for it in the eventually.
When Carolyn finally dies in the end, Riddick at last allows his better nature to come to the surface, if only for a moment. Her sacrifice inspires him to be a better person, a person worthy of her sacrifice. Now Riddick will have to justify his existence for the rest of his life by trying to be a better person and rejoining the human race. He buries the man he was when he arrived on the planet, and becomes a new one for Carolyn. Accordingly the last line of the movie belongs to him:
“Riddick’s dead. He died somewhere back on that planet.”