Most of the time, I go to the movies for some pleasant mind candy—frilly enjoyment that helps me get my mind off the mundane inanities of my life. But, occasionally, sometimes I feel a cerebral craving for something mentally meatier: a good mindfuck.
What’s a mindfuck? A movie that plays with your mind, confuses you, and leads you on. It’s not just a movie with a twist ending (like M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant The Sixth Sense). Mindfucks are borderline-incoherent, dreamlike, and surreal. They’re often shot in the perspective of the main character, who might be struggling with a mental problem, or they might be dreaming. The tempo is strangely off. You wonder if what’s happening is really happening, or if they’re manifestations of the narrator’s twisted mind. The impatient and dim-witted are annoyed by mindfucks; the intellectually curious are transfixed by them. Guess which group I count myself among? *blows on fingernails, buffs them on his shirt*
Here’s my list of the top 12, along with some very basic commentary. I’ll obviously leave out the spoilers, since they are all worth watching.
1. Mulholland Drive – Anything from David Lynch’s twisted mind is bound to mess with your head, and this movie is no exception. I’m a bit afraid to watch more of Lynch’s movies, in the same way I’m afraid to try coke.
2. Jacob’s Ladder – Adrian Lyne’s Vietnam War movie is ostensibly a commentary about military testing of psychoactive drugs, but this might be one of my favorite movies of all time due to the unexplained twist ending and stunningly creepy visuals.
3. Fight Club – If you’ve ever read anything by Chuck Palahniuk, you’ll know that he integrates plot twists with gritty character development. Pair that with the brilliant direction by David Fincher, and you have a real winner in this flick.
4. Inception – Christopher Nolan’s mindbender was one of the hot movies of 2010, but, even though it was snubbed at the Oscars, is still worth a viewing if you’re a fan of this genre. A complex storyline will almost absolutely force you to have to watch this more than once.
5. The Cube – This Canadian movie has probably the worst acting of all the movies in this list–it feels like it was a bad stage production taken to movie form–but it’s still an interesting plot that keeps you guessing until the very end. It even had a sequel with even worse acting than the original.
6. The Machinist – Seeing the hunky Christian Bale wasted away was an oddly satisfying visual treat (seeing him bulk up again for Batman Begins). His lack of ability to eat or sleep properly is conveyed beautifully in the movie, so much so that when the plot turns leave you with more questions than answers, you begin to wonder if you’re just sleep-deprived or suffering from low blood sugar.
7. Twelve Monkeys – Makes great use of all the evitable paradoxes that arise when you have time travel. Terry Gilliam seems to borrow from Monty Python colleague Palin’s Brazil with all of all the sorts of weird steampunk stuff we imagine will be in the future, and that hipsters are jizzing over now.
8. The Spanish Prisoner – David Mamet’s screenplay ports over into a similarly sparse movie featuring Rebecca Pigeon and Steve Martin. Relies less on the paranormal and special effects (there aren’t any), and more on conspiracy and paranoia.
9. Eyes Wide Shut – I love the ponderous pacing of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which is just slow enough to add to the uneasy eeriness of the movie. Maybe this is what it’s like to be inside Tom Cruise’s head.
10. Vanilla Sky (Abre Los Ojos) – Cruise seems to have a thing for dramatic mindfucks. Both versions of this movie–the Spanish original, and the American remake–feature Penelope Cruz and grapple with the idea that some things can’t be bought.
11. Memento – Much like the famous Seinfeld episode, Memento‘s scenes run backwards. Considering there’s a complex mystery involved, there’s a whole lot of mental gears whirring as you watch the movie, accept the premise, and start storing scene information in an attempt to make sense of it all.
12. Requiem for a Dream – The perils of drug abuse are brought to the fore with a haggard and worn Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly. Dark, brooding, and deliberately confusing (I’m talking about the movie, not Leto), you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth, a sick feeling in your stomach, and a vow to never watch a movie like this again. Until you see the next mindfuck trailer.