Most of the films that come out follow a conventional story pattern. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. But every once in a while, there comes a film that doesn’t follow the conventional, the orthodox, the predictable. They have their own story arches and most often, they don’t have a beginning or an end. I call such movies as mind fuck movies. A genre that is such a twenty-first century invention! It is not that mind fuck films were not being made before 2000, but after the success of ‘The Matrix‘ and ‘Memento‘, it seems like filmmakers realized that there is a wide audience for such kind of movies. So, what are mind fucking movies, actually? As the name indicates, any film that fucks with your mind! Yeah, as simple as that.
In case, you love messed up movies like I do, this list is for you. Here is the list of the top mindfuck movies ever made. You can stream several of these mindfuck movies on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. Let us know your favorite.
20. Time Lapse (2014)
The concept is promising: three people discover a camera that takes photographs of the next day, i.e., the future. Although it may have some plot holes, the film more than makes up for it with a fast paced, well executed story. The film does have its dark moments and the director has done a remarkable job in creating tension and apprehension throughout its duration. Also, this movie happens to be his debut directorial venture. Bradley King. Remember the name.
19. Triangle (2009)
This twilight zone style thriller with a haunting soundtrack is a superbly written film that unfolds at a perfect pace. This movie is a hard one to follow so remember to pay close attention to detail. The movie is very David Lynch-like in its direction and cinematography and has a dream-like feel to it. A deeply engrossing psychological thriller which is worth every minute of your time.
18. The Double (2011)
What happens when an introverted, downtrodden man runs into a vivacious and energetic co-worker, his doppelganger, at his workplace? While the introverted Simon is smitten by his beautiful colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska); James, the charming and respected co-worker in office, helps him get together with Hannah. To Simon’s horror, James slowly starts taking over his life. Based on a unique concept, ‘The Double’ is riveting from start to finish — and even after that.
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17. Identity (2003)
There’s a reason why ‘Identity‘ despite being thrashed by critics stands today as one of the cult classics. Yes, it is a flawed film, but in its flaws also lies its beauty. It is a story of ten strangers who find themselves stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rain-storm and become acquainted with each other when they realize that they’re being killed off one by one. The film plays not just with the minds of its characters but also its viewers .. till the last scene.
16. Predestination (2014)
‘Predestination‘ is a befitting reality to how time-travel movies are made, and how uncertain they are. It embodies a timeless traveler, revolving in time between 1945 to 1993 in search of the fizzle bomber. The movie plays Ethan Hawke as a “temporal agent” and Sarah Snook, his “predestination.” The opening scene, itself, is paradoxical start as it combines a time-loop of 3 generations. By the time ‘Predestination’ comes to end, you are left with a bedazzled mind.
15. Source Code (2011)
From Duncan Jones, who previously directed ‘Moon’, ‘Source Code‘ is movie which leaves us more than perplexed at the end. Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Colter Stevens is a pilot and a part of secret program of the government, by which he is given to relive the last few minutes in the life of another man, who died in a train explosion. Stevens is needed to learn the identity of the bomber, but when he takes up the task, he sees many things are at stake, the least available being time. ‘Source Code’ gives a new twist to the time-travel films we are used to seeing, and does so brilliantly.
14. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
According to Chaos theory, a small event at some place could lead to influential events far away. When Eric Bress and Mackye Gruber made this theory into a film, obviously that was going to be something we hadn’t seen before. Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is a teenager who frequently blacks out due to unbearable headaches and is transferred to the past, where he can make alterations to his life and of others too. But when he finds out that small changes in the past can drastically change the present, Evan finds himself in macabre parallel realities. It is not a perfect film, but it is a damn interesting one.
13. Mr. Nobody (2009)
Choices. Isn’t our whole life at the end of the day a series of choices or decisions that we make? Based on a simple premise of a boy trying to decide whether he should go with his mother or stay with his father, results in one hell of an interesting film full of absorbing visuals and intriguing possibilities. The film got butchered by the critics; but don’t believe them. This film is for the ages.
12. The Machinist (2004)
Trevor, a machinist, suffers from insomnia and hasn’t slept in a year. You read that right, in a year. But how does one wake up from a nightmare if one isn’t asleep? Christian Bale is the essence of this classic, his impressive body transformation being the highlight and adding to the authenticity. It’s nearly impossible to get the frail and emasculated body of Bale out of your head.
11. Coherence (2013)
‘Coherence’, a story of eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events, is essentially based on a scientific theory referred to as Schrödinger’s cat theory. Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. In simple terms, it is the possibility of existence of multiple simultaneous realities at the same time. A fascinating film based on even more fascinating idea.
10. Primer (2004)
‘Primer’ is not just a film; it is an elaborate science puzzle. To fully understand each and every aspect of ‘Primer’ requires multiple viewings — those who claim that they “got” the film in first viewing itself are either lying or are just being a smart-ass. When you finally “get” the film, don’t be surprised if you feel ecstatic and victorious, not very different from how you feel when you are able to solve a difficult puzzle. In my all movie-viewing experience, I am yet to see a film that was so difficult to understand in one viewing.
9. Upstream Color (2013)
‘Upstream Color‘ draws its cinematic flavor from the likes of Terrence Malick and David Lynch. The quality of film-making resonates with Malick’s style of unconventionality, but resembles more with David Lynch’s surrealism infused with reality. The movie requires skills as receptive as a synapse-spark to understand the plot in its essence. But if you do understand it, your mind will be blown at the genius of Shane Carruth.
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8. The Gift (2015)
With popularity of psychological thrillers in a domestic setting on the rise after the film ‘Gone Girl‘, here’s another overlooked thriller in the same genre. Whoever knew that our boy next door, Jason Bateman, the hilarious, bumbling Michael Bluth from ‘Arrested Development‘ could play a dark role with such a high degree of perfection? A brilliant film which starts off as a stalker type movie and slowly delves into darker territories. The lines between protagonist and antagonist are blurred. The Gift will have you feeling uneasy throughout its duration.
Directed by Joel Edgerton who also plays the supposed bad guy opposing Bateman’s character, it’s ultimately their distinctive, contrasting, and unpredictable behavioral traits that lend a hand in making a lot of this film’s progress ambiguous and indecipherable for the audience. We are really at a loss when it comes to guessing ourselves what will take place next.
Using a high-end upper middle class house at its prime location, the film concerns itself with three characters: that of Bateman’, his wife, and his old classmate, with whom his relationship is a little confusing and extremely unnerving. When the couple first meets him, they’re all smiles on both sides, and talk quite formally, but soon after, this newfound friend begins to cling onto them, attempting to have a say in their private, personal moments, making their lives uncomfortable. I like the way this film reveals its twist, in perhaps one of the most original ways done in recent years, peeling off a shocking truth layer by layer, all the while making the viewer feel overwhelmingly feeble and powerless.
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7. Enemy (2013)
‘Enemy‘ is a story about a high-school teacher, who discovers his doppelganger, a struggling actor. This challenging exploration of the subconscious dwells deeply in themes of spiders and webs, which stands for the predicament the protagonist finds himself in. The film has one of the most confusing plots, with the end having multiple interpretations by fans and critics alike. The film is a reflection of the opening caption, which read : “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”
It presents a plethora of situations that all make little sense with incoherency everywhere, though with a clear lead and some identifiable turn of events, we are able to follow through the entire runtime. Captivating with its storytelling strategy and exceptional performances, the film is left to the audience to define for themselves. What does the giant spider that shows up in the climax mean? Why is the relationship between the actor and the teacher so strange, and what is it that actually occurs in their lives during the final act? I would like to tell you that there are clues here, but unfortunately, I myself haven’t picked up on any. Then again, I don’t think all film stories need to be open-and-shut within its own duration.
‘Enemy’s success is that it gives you something to think about, because though the plot is loose, its presence is very much felt, like the solution that isn’t obvious to the identity of the video recorder in Michael Haneke‘s ‘Cache‘ (2005). The cinematography and direction both lend a hand in closing up the already claustrophobic atmosphere of this film.
6. Shutter Island (2010)
All hell breaks loose at the AsheCliff Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, when they find one of their most dangerous patients to have escaped the premises but hiding somewhere in the hospital. Investigators Teddy and Chuck come on board and start looking for clues on the island. They find everyone to be a suspect. Even Teddy himself. Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller has the viewer caught biting his nail in anticipation.
When I first saw ‘Shutter Island‘, I was with a couple of friends, and I remember we were all at the edge of our seats. A similar pattern I notice with a lot of these kind of films (that have frequented this list) is how interesting they are for a mainstream audience, mostly because thrillers like this one rely heavily on a twist, one that comes out of nowhere and completely changes everything you’ve seen and understood about the film. Characters you believed to be one way end up in a totally different line, and you can’t say for sure whether this change is a result of natural forces or a submission of sorts, to a system that is too powerful to resist.
Though a lot of this film is slow, its entertainment value ultimately lies in that surprise ending, that makes the audience re-assess everything they had just seen. Exceptionally handled by Scorsese, the performances are some of the best to come out of his filmography, with the final act carried out splendidly by both Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. I do feel that the revelation at the end feels a little forced, but I believe that was done to make it more impactful.
5. Donnie Darko (2001)
‘Donnie Darko‘ has a grandiose vision with a sprawling imagination of an affluent adolescent. Down to its insidiously naughty elements, “Donnie Darko” is about a young rebel “Donnie” who pays odes to the likes of “The Catcher in the Rye” and successfully brings glib humor through intimidating characters and subjects. Films like ‘Donnie Darko’ are very rare. And even though it is dense with ideas and nearly impossible to understand in one-viewing, very few films are so full of brilliant ideas.
‘Donnie Darko’ relies on both strong visual and narrative elements to communicate its story about a passing, and the events that lead to it. Connected to parallel universes in some odd way, the film manages to apply its themes smoothly in a tale that is anything but that. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the protagonist, its clear that there is something wrong with him. He is a disturbed young man, with strange visions appearing in his dreams and forcing him to do things against his will. A subtle yet strangely striking nod at depression, I have myself made a connection between this film and silent human connections, as a sort of interpretation, though I can never be sure about anything. The final couple scenes are extremely haunting, with Gary Jules’ rendition of ‘Mad World’ playing over some images that etch themselves onto your brain, followed by a finish that leaves you more confused, but on a pleasant note, since it signifies that the plot you have just witnessed unravel may make sense after all, upon a final, deeper analysis of the film.
4. Interstellar (2014)
‘Interstellar’ is dense with ideas like blackholes, wormholes, theory of relativity, 5th dimension and warping of space and time. If your mind doesn’t get blown away just trying to understand these complex theories, then the visuals surely will blow you away. Replete with some of the best images you would have ever seen on-screen, ‘Interstellar’ is visually breathtaking and technologically awe-inspiring.
What I personally enjoy about ‘Interstellar‘ is that while its complex storyline could have turned it into some sort of docufiction, it is saved from such a fate by some wonderful characters. There’s a father who strongly wishes to believe that he is in the right; there is his daughter who misses him terribly as he travels off to space with a group of astronauts; there’s that crew member with a relatable romantic past, and so on. The striking cinematography displays exceptional, never-before-seen frames of sheer beauty, like the famous frozen beach scene, wherein a wave that is about to fall seems frozen in its own planetary time, which is different from that of the protagonists. Its scientific accuracy has come under question in several occasions, but that doesn’t stop the film from being a spectacle of the highest order.
The finale is another string of scenes that showcase imaginative brilliance. Literally an otherworldly trip, the only real criticism I have for the film is its introduction of a guest star halfway into the picture, who feels very forced and unwelcome, with this actions being predictable, and therefore, irrelevant. Other than that, its amazing that a film of this kind was even made.
3. Memento (2000)
‘Memento‘ teases, tests and challenges its viewers like very few films manage to do. Though, the ultimate strength of ‘Memento’ may not actually lie in its jigsaw narration, but rather on how surprisingly affecting it is — a quality that Nolan always tries to bring in all his films, even though with not as much success. ‘Memento’ is also a template of filmmaking that proves big doesn’t always mean better; small can be great too. We only wish, Christopher Nolan — who is great at making mind blowing movies — can come back again to making such intimate, striking pieces of art.
Personally, it is my favorite piece of work from the director, though I do not think it is his most mind-blowing film, despite it not lacking much in that department. Telling a revenge story with a protagonist who knows lesser than the audience does, Nolan utilizes his backwards, forwards, and intercut storytelling style to hopefully make the audience go through the mental mindset of the protagonist, whose acute short-term memory loss results in him not being able to recall recently seen faces or incidents. It’s a chilling experience for the viewer when presumed antagonists show up right in front of the lead’s face, and though we know of their true colors, our helpless hero is unfortunately oblivious to it all. This makes his character very real, and therefore pushes him up to the top of the chart of Nolan’s best written characters.
By far, my favorite bit of this masterwork is that its twist shows up in the middle of the story, when the past and future of the hero travel in an inverse sync finally converged, where some truths are revealed, in perhaps the best way the director has ever incorporated a twist into his films.
2. Mulholland Drive (2001)
A film that is discussed even today, around 15 years after its release, ‘Mulholland Drive’, quite simply, offers the greatest cinematic mystery of all time. David Lynch’s best work till date, ‘Mulholland Dr.’ lingers, fascinates and feels like a hypnotic narration of an extended mood opera. It is one of those films with its underlying themes of identity and delusion will stay with you forever. Featuring one of the all-time great performances by Naomi Watts, ‘Mulholland Dr.’ is truly a mind blowing experience.
I believe I’ve seen ‘Mulholland Drive’ a total of seven times now, and to say I’ve deciphered anything would be to lie to you. No, I see Lynch’s masterpiece solely for the experience of watching it, which is like stepping into a lucid dream that is unlike any other, with characters who start the film off feeling plastic and/or fake, though as they gradually grow through the runtime, they get darker, and their experiences become more unnerving. Nothing in this film feels tangible, nothing too real to be true. It is all but a fantasy, a reimagination of the perfect celebrity life, perhaps. Perhaps, it is a critique on the underlying mysteries that reign supreme in the dark corners of the world. Perhaps, it is a study of human sexuality. I can’t be sure, but it does very much feel like a film that is about every aspect it touches on, even slightly.
David Lynch went on to direct ‘Inland Empire’ (2006), which I could have included on this list had it been longer, but being a spiritual sequel to this film, I will say here that it is also worth a watch, as the final effects it has on you as an audience member is almost the same as what ‘Mulholland Drive‘ offers you, though of course, this is the better film.
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1. Inception (2010)
Almost everyone who saw ‘Inception‘ in a movie theater for the first time came out of it a little dazed. The film is only two hours long, but the discussion around it lasted for weeks. In some quarters of internet, those discussions are still going on. There is no movie on this list that fits the description of a mind fucking movie better than ‘Inception’ and that’s why it occupies the number one spot.
‘Inception‘ is concerned with the manipulation of dreams (see how a lot of these movies have to do with those things that pop into our heads when we go to sleep?) with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as the lead, a man with an assembled team, all of whom specialize in the act of entering the dreams of other people in order to influence their real life thoughts and decisions. The film covers their one such infiltration, which proves to be one of their toughest and most risky affairs. It stops becoming a question of ‘have they done it?’ and becomes one along the lines of whether the protagonists are still stuck in the dream by the end, once they have seemingly walked out of the mind of the person they entered in order to warp. The famous top scene is one of the main factors that give off this confusion. Is the final scene just a dream? Does it matter if it is?
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