Mindfuck Movies

At The Morning News today I quantify and enumerate my favorite brand of film: movies during which you have no freakin’ idea what the hell is going on.

Pretty much any list of this sort is going to provoke violent “this list is worthless without ______?!” reactions. (Ha! Halfway through writing that sentence someone IM’d me the link to this Metafilter thread). The last minute addition of Donnie Darko to the list was an acknowledgment of this fact, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

I decided early to not include more than one film per director. Scanners and eXistenZ and absent because Videodrome is there; Mulholland Dr. precluded Eraserhead and Lost Highway; and so forth.

There were a fair number of other movies that I skipped because of the “premillennium problem”–that is, the huge spate of remarkably similar films released just prior to the year 2000 (e.g., The Thirteenth Floor) Given that, you may wonder how The Game got on there. Well, first of all, it perfectly fit the criteria I set out in the introduction, so it wins on a technicality. And I quite enjoyed it. It’s also significant because it sort of forecasts the rise of ARGs, but I somehow neglected to mention that in my review.

Here’s some others I considered adding to the article … and that you should consider adding to your Netflix queue:

Also, if you haven’t watched the 1967 BBC series The Prisoner … yeah. You should do that.

Thanks to this site for cluing me into La Jetée, and Fipi Lele who provided a ton of great suggestions.

Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

71 thoughts on “Mindfuck Movies

  1. I second the recommendations of Naked Lunch, The Devils, Brazil.

    Naked Lunch was the last good Cronenberg movie. Virtually all his films before it are worth seeing. Everything after and including Crash is simply awful… and that includes Existenz, which looked like it was made by a nerdy Cronenberg fan who’d just discovered MUDs. I swear, sometimes I think a slimy worm from one of Cronenberg’s movies must have sucked out his brain around the time of Crash… same worm that sucked out Oliver Stone’s brain after Natural Bron Kilers (but that’s another rant..).

    Ninth Configuration was definitely worth watching, though ultimately disappointing because of its low budget and consequently poor acting talent.

    I haven’t seen Greenaway’s “Baby of Macon”, but many of his other movies, of which I’d rate “Zoo: A Zed and Two Noughts” as the best (and most mindfuckish).

    But, speaking of low budget mindfucks, I’d add “The Rapture”

    “Repulsion” and “Revolution #9” are higher budget mindfucks, and also well worth seeing.

    Zardoz was surprisingly decent…. though I would never put it in the same league as the rest of the movies above.

    Twelve Monkeys was pretty good, but it’s definitely no Brazil.

    Eraserhead is one of the worst of Lynch’s movies… down there with Lost Highway.

    I know it’s cool to like the The Prisoner, but I think it’s is really overrated. It has very little substance behind the surrealism and barely convincing paranoia.

    Bunel is also overrated. Watch Salvador Dali’s “A Soft Self-Portrait” and Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon”, for surrealism done right… (oh, and, of course, Jodorowsky!)

  2. This is a great topic and a great list. I’m not sure why Matthew says “House of Games” doesn’t quite belong – I think it fits into this genre, as would several other David Mamet movies (such as The Spanish Prisoner and Heist, both of which you’d probably like if you like House of Games).

    Also, Matthew says of Dark City: “Indeed, figuring out the kind of film you’re watching—let alone what is happening within it—is half the fun.”

    In this vein, has anyone ever seen the strange French film “Le Pacte des Loups” (Brotherhood of the Wolf)? To this day I can’t decide whether it was awesomely awesome or awesomely bad, and I just have no idea what *kind* of movie it was. It certainly crossed (jumbled?) a ton of genres.

  3. aaa: “A Zed and Two Noughts” may win just for containing several segments of a David Attenborough documentary which doesn’t actually exist.

  4. Just another fan of Primer – your description is the exact way I talk about the movie to people who haven’t seen it…”The only film I’ve ever watched watched back-to-back.”

  5. I had to stop reading the metacritic link well before the halfway point… I wanted to light most of those people on fire. Talk about being hazy on the concept. Anyway, I second, third, seventh the suggestion of The Man Who Fell to Earth. I bought the director’s cut for my former gf because we’re both huge David Bowie fans. It was so effing strange that we both looked at each other about mid-way through with a convo that was a strange combination of “what the hell is going on?”/”are you enjoying this?/”should we stop the DVD?” and our answers were all “I don’t know!”

  6. May be we need to have a virtual Jodorowsky film-fest.

    I could make this happen…we could do it “live”…Matthew, what do you think?

    I would love to see El Topo again.

  7. A third call for Marienbad, a fourth for Jodorowsky (seconding Santa Sangre). And since it’s finally on DVD, Simon of the Desert.

  8. After all this years silently reading you, glad to know you enjoyed some mindfuck movies as I do.

    But the most mindfuck so far for me was this simple movie about some Chinese immigrant to Holland and how they adapt to the life there.

    However it got more clueless, cause for fuck sake I still do not remember the title of the movie because I sat there thinking why I was left dumbfounded why the movie was made in the first place and forgot totally to remember the title.

    God help me.

  9. Liquid Sky is one of the only movies I’ve ever walked out of. It was in college, on a first date (double feature with “The Gods Must Be Crazy”). We left right after the “I kill with my c… line. I’d like to go back and watch it all the way through, just to have done so. I’ve seen, and agree with, many on your list, and I look forward to hitting the rest.

  10. Fourth for last year at Marianbad

    Also cheers for picking two of my favorites, City of Lost Children and Dark City: sidenote, the sepia /saturated color palate and cinematography in both of those makes them for me.

    In the Kaufman genre just wanted to mention: Synecdoche New York, I loved it and would only would recommend it to someone who doesn’t mind being simultaneously disturbed, confused, anxious, and depressed. Got to appreciate all of those layers.

    I also found 2046 pretty disorienting and fabulous.

  11. Thank you ever so much for adding Oldboy to the list. I have been recommending this movie to friends/coworkers/relatives/fellow bar patrons for years now, and I’m glad to think that this will get some more people to watch. There is but one word for this movie and it is: PWNED.

  12. You want a mind fuck? I was watching the movie La Jette that appeared on the list. I saw a this.
    This is my friend Erik.
    The movie deals with time travel.
    Oh yes, you’ll shit bricks.

  13. oooh, your ‘these are films you should watch but I didn’t include’ list pretty much fits the kind of slightly odd stuff that I love watching but can never explain to friends. I mean, Audition? Oldboy? A Scanner Darkly? Fantastic films, but honestly, try to explain to someone why you like them. Particularly the batshlt ending of Audition!!

  14. Of David Mamet movies, IMO The Spanish Prisoner is the only one that meets the threshold of mindful– House of Games comes closed, but those two and Heist are above all movies about cons, and in HoG and Heist, the audience gets let in on the last con. Meanwhile the Spanish Prisoner leaves room for doubt, if one is sufficiently paranoid.

    I salute the rest of the list, and I’m queuing up the ones I haven’t seen. I’m especially glad at the inclusion of Solyaris. Sadly this story has never been directly translated from the Polish novel directly to English (the book was translated via French) and I think Tarkovsky has the best interpretation– he improved on the book’s ending, which is rare. Clooney and Soderburgh’s attempt is visually beautiful and IMO not bad, but it’s a remake of the Tarkovsky movie, not a movie of the book.

    As for a Terry Gilliam movie, geez. Brazil is good, but dystopia’s not mindfuck. I think it’s a close one between the causation and coincidence bits of Time Bandits and Twelve Monkeys, and since I’m a grown-up I’d say Twelve Monkeys, but there’s a 8-year-old boy in my head that’s still a little terrified of those chunks of evil at the end of Time Bandits. “Don’t touch it, it’s Evil!”

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