Some films can be more ambiguous than others, that’s not too say that everyone won’t understand these films but they are in some way complicated or ambiguously abstract, leaving us arguing about how a film ended, what must have happened, or they have a mind blowing, ‘the penny drops’ moment, where all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place (Fightclub). Here at HTF we have compiled a list of (arguably) some of the most mind melting films. Feel free to comment with any films you think should have made the list.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
10. Twelve Monkeys- Terry Gilliam (1996)
In a dystopian future Bruce Willis is sent back in time with a mission. He must find the cause of the nuclear winter that has taken hold of the world. In return for his co operation on his return he will be released from the mental asylum that keeps him captivated. Once he arrives in the past his claim to be from the future is unsurprisingly disputed and the time travel seems to have altered him slightly so it’s not entirely clear at first if he is from the future or just plain crazy. The film thankfully wraps everything up nicely at the end-despite the end actually being the beginning of the film.
9. Fight Club- David Fincher (1999)
Maybe an obvious choice but the twist towards end is mind melting enough to put this straight on the list. As an audience we have as much idea what is happening as the nameless protagonist and apathetic narrator (Although from the amount of I am Jack’s references it’s a fair enough assumption that he is called Jack- So we will just call him Jack). The penny drops when we realise that insomniac protagonist and the wild card-soap sales man, are in fact the same person. Polar opposites of each other, Tyler Durdan (Brad Pitt) is a manifestation of everything Jack wishes he was.
8.Black Swan- Darren Aronofsky (2010)
Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan revolves around a ballerina (Played by Natalie Portman) suffering from schizophrenia, paranoia that accompany her relentless fixation on becoming the black swan. As the story progresses the fabric of her reality becomes torn and even as an audience it is unclear to us what is her hallucinations and what is real with an ambiguous ending that could be real or just another hallucination.
Unanswered Questions: Was the ending another hallucination, or was it real?
7. Pi - Darren Aronofsky (1998)
Another Darren Aronofsky film makes into the list, this one follows mathematician Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), plagued by crippling cluster headaches and the belief that everything in the universe can be explained by numerical patterns (hence the title Pi). The high contrast visuals add to the surrealism and perspective of Max whilst we try and figure out whats going on as his hallucinations get worse and people start to circle in to find out what mathematical knowledge he knows.
Unanswered questions: What exactly did Max actually discover?
Memento follows the life of a man suffering from anterograde amnesia, which significantly hinders his mission to avenge his wifes killer. With no ability to make new memories he must constantly keep some kind of record of the people he meets, the people he can trust and any clues which further him in his quest to find his killer- Polaroid photos, an incomplete police report and even tattoos. What’s interesting is the film itself is shown out of chronological order, with a black and white sequence and a colour sequence throughout and eventually the film’s ending is actually it’s beginning. Slightly confusing right? There’s a Youtube video of the film in chronological order that might make a bit more sense but it’s much better in my opinion to watch it as director Christopher Nolan intended.
Questions left unanswered: Was Leonard the same person as Sammy Jenkins?
5. Inception- Christopher Nolan (2010)
Various graphs have been drawn up by fans to explain the dream structure and a vast amount of theories surround the totems and ending of the film. One interesting theory points out that Cobb’s wedding ring is only on his finger in some scenes and that this signifies if he is in reality or a dream. Cobb is an untrustworthy narrator and just like the notoriously unreliable narrator in Fightclub, we can’t trust him.
One of the other surprising things about Inception is that some of the shots you might of thought were purely CGI, actually involved a lot more practical effects than it may seem. The market stall scene, where architecture student Adriane (Ellen Page) realises they are in a dream, actually uses high pressure CO2 canons to shoot the fruit into the air. Also the dramatic and gravity defying hallway fight sequence was filmed in a bespoke revolving hallway made especially for the film. Even the Penrose stair set illusion, amazingly was created without CGI (apart from the removal of some necessary rigging). Check out the making of video for the Penrose stair case below.
4. Stay- Marc Forster (2005)
The whole film is a dream like journey through the suicidal eyes of the protagonist named Henry, the twist being that the whole film is actually Henry’s thoughts during his dying moments, following a car crash- the same car crash we see at the start of the film. Surreal transitions between shots and it’s kafkaesque storytelling, brings this film to our list. The film garnered some pretty bad reviews despite starring Ryan Gosling and Ewan McGregor but personally I think it is quite a good film, just needlessly overcomplicated at some points.
3. Primer- Shane Carruth (2004)
A refreshing take on the time travel genre, making it sound so scientific that it almost sounds possible. As events progress the traveling takes its toll on the two main character’s. An extremely confusing film with past and future character versions and characters sometimes reenacting scenes we have already seen in place of their past selves, using earpieces to try and match the dialogue. Primer is hard to make sense of on the 1st watch but definitely a good indy sci-fi film and is worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of working out time travel theory.
2. Vanilla Sky- Cameron Crowe (2001)
Vanilla Sky is pretty damn confusing. From the outset nothing seems simple, I was thinking ok here’s the classic plot device of showing a character going about his day to day life (Tom Cruise), intertwined with a flash forward narrative running parallel which makes us wonder how he ended up in prison but then all of a sudden it becomes something else completely. Sure it makes sense at the end when everything is explained but throughout most of the film it is mind meting enough to put it at the no.2 spot.
1. Mulholland Drive- David Lynch (2001)
Mulholland Drive takes the number one spot as HTF’s most mind melting film. This film like many David Lynch films is confusing as hell. An array of enigmatic and peculiar characters and seemingly unrelated storylines, it’s hard to keep up and there is definitely an explanation for it all but the more you analyse it, the less it seems to makes sense. Originally it was conceived as a TV sereis pilot but after being rejected Lynch decided to add an ending but not an explanation and mould it into a feature length film. There are various theories on the films story and David Lynch himself refuses to explain the film, as he thought it should be up to the audience to figure out what they think it means.
Questions left unanswered: How much is an imagined dream sequence? What the hell was that weird thing that the weird guy saw after he left the cafe? Was Rita an actress as well? that would make sense of the scene where they are talking about a replacement actress. Who is listening in on the actress conversation?