Most films 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, and such movies are often addressed 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 kinds of movies. The following films are the ones that mess up the viewers’ mind in the best possible way.
30. Dogtooth (2009)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, ‘Dogtooth’ is a Greek absurd psychological drama that centers on a family where the mother (Michele Valley) and father (Christos Stergioglou) have kept their three children, two sisters (Angeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) and a brother (Christos Passalis), confined in their isolated house. Using sexual pleasure, fear, and misinformation, the parents have managed to keep them totally secluded from the outside world since they were born, and they have no idea what lies beyond the walls of the compound. Will they be able to get out? To find out, you may stream the Prix Un Certain Regard-recipient film here.
29. The Lobster (2015)
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, and John C. Reilly, ‘The Lobster’ is an absurd dark comedy directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Set in a dystopian future, it centers on a group of single adults who are brought to a hotel and made to find a partner within 45 days, failing which they will be turned into an animal of their choice. There are rules to be followed as well, which a guy named David needs to keep in mind because he knows he risks falling in love with a dangerous, unhinged woman. A competitor for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, ‘The Lobster’ is no less than a study/dissection of human behavior and relationships when put within four walls. You can stream it here.
28. 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 director Bradley King has done a remarkable job of creating tension and apprehension throughout its duration. Also, this movie happens to be his debut directorial venture. You can stream ‘Time Lapse’ here.
27. Triangle (2009)
This Twilight-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 that is worth every minute of your time. You can stream the film here.
26. 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 the 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. You may watch it here.
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25. 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 rainstorm 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. You may watch it here.
24. Predestination (2014)
‘Predestination‘ is a befitting reality of how time-travel movies are made, and how uncertain they are. It embodies a timeless traveler, revolving in time between 1945 and 1993 in search of the fizzle bomber. The movie portrays Ethan Hawke as a “temporal agent” and Sarah Snook as his “predestination.” The opening scene itself is a paradoxical start as it combines a time-loop of 3 generations. By the time ‘Predestination’ comes to an end, you are left with a bedazzled mind. You can watch it here.
23. Vanilla Sky (2001)
One of Tom Cruise’s not-so-early ventures, ‘Vanilla Sky’ tells the story of spoilt rich brat David Aames Jr., whose newly formed relationship with his best friend’s friend Sofia isn’t taken lightly by his lover Julie for obvious reasons. This ends in her crashing the car that she and David are in, killing herself and leaving David’s face disfigured in the aftermath. As David goes deeper into depression, accompanied by his prosthetic mask, he begins to unravel as well. This unraveling is what makes for the rest of the mind-fucking experience that the movie offers, including a man telling him that he is all-powerful, lucid dreaming, cryonic states, and the subconscious. A must-watch for all, this movie can be streamed right here.
22. Get Out (2017)
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, LaKeith Stanfield, and Lil Rel Howery, ‘Get Out’ is a psychological horror film directed by Jordan Peele. It centers on Chris Washington, an African-American guy whom his girlfriend has brought to meet her family members at the latter’s secluded mansion in the woods. While the black working staff duo doesn’t raise Chris’s eyebrows, this perception slowly starts to change as he feels that there is something not right about them. Slowly, things get even worse, and Chris starts to believe that there is something sinister going on and he has no idea what and that he has to “get out” by any means possible. To find out how he does it, if at all, you can stream the film here.
21. Gerald’s Game (2017)
Based on a Stephen King novel, ‘Gerald’s Game’ stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood and is directed by Mike Flanagan. This movie is an example of how things can go from ‘nothing can be better’ to ‘things can’t get worse.’ When a husband and wife try to rekindle their sex life at a secluded retreat to prevent their marriage from falling apart, the husband dies of a heart attack while the wife is left in bed with her hands cuffed to it. Now starts the game of survival. Amid fear of a wild dog, seclusion, darkness, and hallucination, the wife has to figure out a way to get out of the cuffs and leave the house as soon as possible. The movie takes a dig at the viewer’s ability to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not and offers a gripping watch. You can stream it here.
20. Source Code (2011)
From Duncan Jones, who previously directed ‘Moon,’ ‘Source Code‘ is a movie that leaves us more than perplexed at the end. Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Colter Stevens is a pilot and a part of a 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. You can check out the film here.
19. 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 that 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. Feel free to check it out here.
18. Mr. Nobody (2009)
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, it results in one hell of an interesting film full of absorbing visuals and intriguing possibilities. The film got butchered by the critics, but I don’t believe them. This film is for the ages. You may watch it here.
17. The Prestige (2006)
Another Christopher Nolan gem, ‘The Prestige’ is a psychological period drama based on Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel of the same name. Set in Victorian London, the film stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two friends/rival magicians who fallout after a tragic accident during one of their shows. What follows is the persistent struggle of the two to outrank each other through their “magical” experiments, especially the magic of teleportation. It is the extent to which both are ready to go to achieve the feat and the prestige that makes the movie attractive and scary at the same time. You can stream this masterpiece here.
16. 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. You can watch the movie here.
15. Coherence (2013)
‘Coherence,’ a story of eight friends at a dinner party who 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 the existence of multiple simultaneous realities at the same time. A fascinating film based on an even more fascinating idea. You can check it out here.
14. 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 the first viewing itself are either lying or are just being smart-asses. 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. You can stream it here.
13. 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. You can stream the movie here.
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12. The Gift (2015)
With the 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 that starts 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: 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 to them, attempting to have a say in their private, personal moments, making their lives uncomfortable. You can stream the film here.
11. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Directed by Spike Jonze, ‘Being John Malkovich’ stars John Malkovich, John Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Cameron Diaz. Puppeteer-turned-filing clerk Craig Schwartz undergoes a bizarre experience when the tunnel he finds behind a filing cabinet brings him inside the mind of actor John Malkovich. This 15-minute visit is turned into a business by Craig and his peers who start selling trips for $200 each. Meanwhile, Malkovich has a psychedelic experience as he is unable to make sense of the new world that he is suddenly subjected to, one that is taking new shapes now and then. To see what this eventually results in and get a trip inside John Malkovich’s mind, you can stream the movie here.
10. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Directed by Adrian Lyne, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ features Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Danny Aiello. As straightforward as the plot is, Lyne manages to give it a shape that cannot be explained in words. Using different kinds of imagery and symbolism, he upholds the trauma of Vietnam War returned veteran Jacob Singer, who is slowly descending into insanity. Those close to him try to help, but this time, the war Singer is fighting is with himself. Hallucinations and delusions abound; only he can figure out how to come out victorious. Can he do that? To find out, you can stream the film here.
9. Eraserhead (1977)
A David Lynch directorial, ‘Eraserhead’ is a body horror film; body horror is a horror subgenre that showcases gruesome discomforting violations of the human body. Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Judith Anna Roberts, and Jack Fisk, the movie is set against the backdrop of an industrial wasteland. It tells the story of a miserable guy named Henry Spencer who has to handle the trouble of the hideous mutant baby that his lover has given birth to and his visions that include a weird lady stomping sperm creatures, his head popping off, and being made into erasers. A cult surrealist venture that speaks of the fears of parenthood, ‘Eraserhead’ is one of the best works if not the best work of Lynch. You can watch the film here.
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8. 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. 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 occurs in their lives during the final act?
‘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. You may watch the film here.
7. 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.
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. You may watch ‘Shutter Island’ here.
6. 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 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, it’s 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. The final couple of 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. You can watch ‘Donnie Darko’ here.
5. Interstellar (2014)
‘Interstellar’ is dense with ideas like black holes, wormholes, the theory of relativity, the 5th dimension, and the 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.
‘Interstellar‘s complex storyline could have turned it into some sort of docufiction but 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 on several occasions, but that doesn’t stop the film from being a spectacle of the highest order. You can check out the film here.
4. Memento (2000)
‘Memento‘ teases, tests, and challenges its viewers like very few films manage to do. However, the ultimate strength of ‘Memento’ may not lie in its jigsaw narration but rather in 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 — could come back again to make such intimate, striking pieces of art.
Telling a revenge story with a protagonist who knows less than the audience does, Nolan utilizes his backward, forward, 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. Feel free to check out the movie here.
3. Mulholland Drive (2001)
A film that is discussed even today, ‘Mulholland Drive,’ quite simply, offers the greatest cinematic mystery of all time. David Lynch’s best work to 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 that will stay with you forever. Featuring one of the all-time great performances by Naomi Watts, ‘Mulholland Dr.’ is truly a mind-blowing experience.
Lynch’s masterpieces are 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 of the underlying mysteries that reign supreme in the dark corners of the world. Perhaps it is a study of human sexuality. You may watch the film here.
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2. Inception (2010)
‘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?
1. Tenet (2020)
This Christopher Nolan directorial is perhaps his most mind-fucking venture yet. A storytelling marvel, ‘Tenet’ deals with not one topic but many and incorporates each of them in a gripping globe-trotting espionage in signature Nolan style. Some of these topics are time manipulation, reverse entropy, temporal turnstiles, and a temporal pincer movement. As far as the story is concerned, it is moving both forward and backward in time, and we get to see both of these in real-time. Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh, the film offers the perfect mind-fucking experience, if there is any sort of thing like that. You can stream it here.
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