I’m not going to lie, this post is tricky to write. It’s hard to find something worthwhile to say about a movie mindfuck beyond ‘huh?’. It’s not that this sort of film isn’t memorable, it’s just that they tend to be a bit difficult to watch over and over again.
A movie mindfuck is a movie that leaves you going ‘what the fuck did I just watch?’. Some have a twist that’s so monumental that it changes the entire film and you need to watch it again immediately with the fresh new knowledge in mind. Some are a barrage of light and sound and imagery that leaves you wondering what on earth it could all mean and sends you scurrying off to research the lofty concepts it was trying to symbolise. And some leave you questioning your sanity and the very fabric of reality itself.
I had a hard time narrowing it down to one film – mainly because I’d think of one and go ‘no, that’s not weird enough’ or ‘no, I barely understood it so I can’t try to describe it here!’. So instead I’ve decided to cheat and go for a couple of bite-sized paragraphs on a couple of brain melters.
2001: A Space Odyssey
This is the biggie, especially if you’re watching it for the first time, and especially the last 10 minutes or so. The film moves at a glacial pace with Stanley Kubrick’s beloved long shots seeming to last for hours at a time as a space ship lazily rotates or a group of apes clash at a waterhole. Then the last 10 minutes are a whirlwind of sight and sound, bright colours and flashing lights, culminating in a bizarre shot that sums up the film’s themes of evolution and growth and gestation. It’s weird. It’s very weird.
Yellow Submarine is less a film and more an epilepsy-inducing surrealist art installation set to the music of The Beatles. This is very much in the ‘what the fuck did I just watch’ category, with its odd landscapes and mad characters. Don’t bother trying to follow the plot, there isn’t really one. Just sit back and enjoy the music and the bizarre lightshow. As Eddie Izzard put it in his cover of a Beatles song that sadly doesn’t appear in the film, “Just tune in, turn off, drop out, drop in, switch off, switch on and explode”.
eXistenZ is gross. But that’d to be expected from David Cronenberg, master of body horror. This is a mindbending little thriller about a virtual reality game that you access by plugging into a games device via an ugly umbilical-corded flesh console. The implications range further than ‘what if you catch a virus’ though, as with a virtual reality game good enough to feel real, how can you know what’s real? This film has a bonus in that it stars a baby-faced Jude Law before he became a megastar. If you don’t mind a bit of squick in your films, this weird little gem is well worth your time.
In The Mouth of Madness
Do you read Sutter Cane? This film is the best HP Lovecraft film despite not being based on a Lovecraft story. It does, however, deal with his themes of madness, of worlds beyond our own and of the tenuous nature of the fabric of reality. I love me some cosmic horror. This is a film that blurs the lines of reality as you watch, so that by the end you’re watching the film in the film and starting to worry that horror author Sutter Cane may have written your existence after all…
The film that launched a thousand foghorn noises in movie trailers. I nearly put The Prestige in its place, but of the two Christopher Nolan films this is the more mindbendy. A dream within a dream within a dream, layers of unreality that can be peeled away one by one as you follow the plot. This is arguably the easiest to follow out of the films here, to be honest – if you pay attention and listen, you can plot whereabouts the characters are in whose subconscious as the film progresses. Or can you? That final scene, that final shot, that spinning top…