For this list I will be ignoring documentaries (although I may pick that up again in a future post). I will be looking at entirely fictional films that leave you with questions in your head, perhaps of a scientific nature or maybe even in the form of philosophical questions and pondering. I won’t include any spoilers within this list so if you haven’t seen the film, this post will still be safe to read.
The purpose of this post is basically to be a list but I will include a very brief description with some pros and cons and in most cases I’ll mention some key elements to the film e.g. time travel. Some of these films might be somewhat slow to watch, others may have you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The purpose of this list is not to provide you with typical Hollywood films with crazy special effects, happy endings and a romantic storyline that makes you shudder with awkwardness.
Instead, this list will give you some films that will keep you up at night as you ponder their meaning and begin to question your place in the universe.Be warned: while I have included trailers for each of these films, I’d advise that you don’t base your decision of whether to watch a film or not on its trailer. Some of the trailers are just awful and really don’t do the film any justice.
The Man from Earth (2007) is a new edition to this list. I’d put off watching this film for a while because in all honesty, the story line just didn’t sound all that interesting. A man who has just resigned a few days previously abandons a leaving party and heads home to pack. Followed by his friend, he tells them the story of his life…on that has gone on for thousands of years. The film has no action, no special effects, nothing you’d expect to find in a typical great film but like many of those in this list: through a small cast and an incredible storytelling ability, this film leaves you thinking. I won’t give anything away so all I will say is that once you think that this film has blown your mind, it does it again! I’m also adding a theory for this film to my theory list which you can see here! Just make sure you’ve watched the film first!
Key elements: Immortality and philosophy.
Coherence (2013) isn’t a particularly widely known film and I wouldn’t be surprised if you have never heard of it but I would definitely recommend it. This film had a pretty low budget and most of the scenes involving the cast were improvised apart from some basic guidelines for conversation (which is sometimes far too noticeable) yet as this film begins to gain pace, you’ll find yourself concentrating on many other aspects of the film. Ever heard about Schrödinger’s Cat? Well you will have by the time you have finished watching. As a comet passes by Earth, a group of friends begin to experience some rather bizarre and sometimes unnerving events. Taking every precaution to keep themselves sane and with explanations flying left, right and center, this film reminds me of one thing in particular: ever play that game where you put a ball under one of three cups and move them around and have someone guess which cup the ball is under? If you ever wanted the same experience from a film then Coherence is the one for you.
Key elements: Multiverse theory and the many-world’s interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Primer (2004) is yet another low-budget film with surprisingly great work to show for it. I was put off watching Primer initially largely due to the quality of the film but after giving it a shot, I can’t help but recommend it to people. If you enjoy films that involve time travel, this is the one for you. There are no crazy Hollywood explosions or wild visuals; this film remains basic while requiring your undivided attention. I’ll admit that after my first viewing, I didn’t entirely grasp this timeline of this film but after a few google searches and a second viewing, I’m still completely amazed by the nature of Primer. If you could travel back in time by a few hours, days or weeks, what would you do? Perhaps you’d choose the winning lottery numbers or amaze someone with your psychic abilities? This films takes what I’d describe as a very real look at time travel in possibly the most realistic way you can in a sci-fi film. This film manages to make time-travel seem not only possible but actually normal.
Key elements: Time travel
I Heart Huckabees (2004) is nothing short of insane! Considering the pretty great cast involved in this film and its wild and whacky nature, I’m surprised this film doesn’t pop up on more lists online. Even if I wanted to describe this film to you, I’m not entirely sure that I could but I’ll give it a shot: After a series of coincidences, the main character hires “existential detectives” to tell him what these coincidences mean in terms of how he fits into the universe. This of course leads to a crazy series of events that just get more ridiculous by the minute. Other than being hugely funny and definitely entertaining, this film does propose some deep philosophical questions; all be it in a humorous and bizarre way. This film doesn’t require anywhere near as much attention as the previously mentioned films and it’s definitely a lot easier to watch.
Key elements: Our purpose in life and our connection to each other through the fabric of the universe.
Fight Club (1999) is perhaps one of the better known films in this list. I’d be surprised if anyone reading this post has managed to go through their life without at least one friend or family member pestering them to watch it. Fight Club ultimately follows a man who despite having all the Ikea furniture a guy could ever want, is beginning to feel like his life has no meaning. Every point in his life is just another fleeting moment that brings him closer to death. That is until he meets the infamous Tyler Durden which leads the pair to embark on an anti-capitalist and anti-consumerism movement that will have your blood pumping and brain thinking throughout the entire film. Of course Fight Club couldn’t have such a name without a being about a fight club and I’d love to tell you about it but there are rules in place that make talking about it impossible. Fight Club for a while now has been one of my favourite films and if you haven’t seen it, what the hell are you still doing here?
Key elements: Societal issues: consumerism, materialism, capitalism etc.
The Matrix (1999) is yet another film that almost everyone will have at least heard of, if not seen. Following the story of Neo, The Matrix plunges the watcher into a reality where everything is not as it seems. Proposing the idea that life is in fact just a computer program designed to simulate your entire existence, The Matrix is completely action-packed and has some incredible moments that will have your adrenaline pumping. Of course if this really is a simulation, then you’re watching a film about a simulation while in a simulation…sim-ception!
Key elements: Simulation theory (or at least some version of it)
Mr Nobody (2009) is a film that I’ve mentioned a couple of times on my blog (See: https://rantingravingblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/choice-can-we-make-the-right-one/) which compared to the other films is actually rather straight forward to describe: During the divorce of his parents, a young boy is faced with a difficult decision: To go live with his mother or go live with his father. What unfolds is a view at what each decision could result in and how these would in turn effect his life. Also touching on the many worlds interpretation, this films plays on the idea that for each decision we make there will be another reality where we chose the other option. I’ll admit, there are moments where this film feels incredibly slow but by the end you just can’t help but feel a sense of amazement.
As well as a trailer, I’m also going to include a video which you should view AFTER watching Mr Nobody. It’s a very well put together video which uses the voice of Alan Watts, music by Ludovico Einaudi and video from a wide variety of films (primarily Mr Nobody and actually ends with a quote from the film).
Key elements: Our choices and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
The Nines (2007) is a bit of a strange one. I can’t really describe why this film is interesting without giving away the entire plot of the film so rather than try and convince you, I’ll simply suggest you watch it. Similarly to Mr Nobody, this film does get a bit slow at times but the overall message and ideas within the film are very thought-provoking. I HATE Melisa McCarthy but I still managed to enjoy this film despite her being there every step of the way to piss me off!
Key elements: The multiverse and gods
The Prestige (2006) is an incredible film, nothing short of spectacular. I mean who wouldn’t want to see Batman and Wolverine have a magic showdown? There is something completely unnerving about this film and you’ll definitely be questioning it as you try to sleep at night. In a competitive battle of each magician’s capabilities, the lengths that each act will go to in order to out-perform the other becomes increasingly questionable. While this does feel like a long film, I assure you that every moment of patience is paid off as the film goes on.
Key elements: Magic (through science)
Honourable Mentions: These films while being thought provoking just don’t live up to the standard set by the films I mentioned above so I’ve put them in a separate category. I enjoyed all of these films but each of them had something that just let it down. I’d still definitely recommend them to people though.
Moon (2009) was a rather pleasant surprise. It’s another film on this list that just seems to fall through the cracks and avoid detection. Similarly to The Nines, I find it difficult to describe this film without giving too much away in terms of plot. This is definitely one of my favourite performances by Sam Rockwell and certainly one of the more emotional ones. Anyway, check out the trailer below and I’m sure you’ll be curious enough to watch the film.
Key elements: Morals and ethics
The Adjustment Bureau (2011): Ever wonder if the decisions you make are really your decisions? Ever wonder if things that appear random such as bumping into a stranger or spilling your coffee are actually random as opposed to pre-planned events? Adjustment Bureau leads the audience into a world where men in hats (who in the past have been referred to as angels) nudge certain people down certain paths in order to reach a particular outcome. I did enjoy this film and have seen it many times but there just wasn’t enough real substance to it. There aren’t many films where I can say I actually enjoyed the romantic storyline but this is one of them. That being said, many of the scenes in this film are over-dramatized and some of the more action-based scenes just make you cringe rather than feel excited.
Key elements: Free will
Source Code (2011) initially sets itself up as some sort of time-travel film (to some extent) in that the main character is forced to relive the same 8 minutes leading up to an explosion on a train. He has to try and work out who the bomber is in order to prevent another attack from happening in the present/future. What we soon learn is that he can in fact manipulate key elements of the past which lead to different events. My issue with this film is that while it does touch on a very interesting idea it was sucked into Hollywood’s “make-up” chair where it was soon pampered with unnecessary explosions, an awful romantic-element and just too many attempts to make the film appear exciting. What I’d prefer to have seen was a similar sort of film but with more meaning and character development as it had the potential to be much greater than it was.
Key elements: Time travel/multiple realities
12 Monkeys (1995) is a classic. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a mind-fuck sort of film but it’s definitely bizarre and interesting. The story initially begins in the future, underground, where the remains of humanity have been living in order to avoid a virus that wiped out a large number of the population. The story follows James Cole (Bruce Willis) who is sent back in time to find the origins of the virus in order to aid scientists in the present with finding a vaccination/cure. Constantly jumping through time and challenging the viewers to ponder whether or not it’s possible to change events that have already happened, we watch as Jeffrey Goines (played by Brad Pitt and is also strinkingly similar to Tyler Durden in Fight Club) goes through the process of creating the extremist group: The Twelve Monkeys. There is a TV series that is based on this film but i’ve never seen it and can therefore not comment on it. I can however say that if you want a thought-provoking film that is highly entertaining to watch, you should give this film a go.
Key elements: Time travel
Not so honorable mentions (meaning these films are NOT mind-fucks!):
Predestination (2014): While I did find this film interesting and I did feel that from a moral standpoint, it raises a lot of issues, it was just far too predictable and ultimately felt underwhelming. Is it morally acceptable to blow up a building full of 200 people if it saves one thousand? This is one of the questions that Predestination raises but rather unfortunately, it doesn’t raise it until late in the film and doesn’t go into any depth with the idea. I only added this to the list because whenever I’ve seen a list of “mind-fuck” films, this one always appears there and I just don’t think it deserves such a title.
Key elements: Time travel and morality
Inception (2010) is an incredible film and the reason I have added it here is not to portray it as anything less than a work of art. I mean it’s incredibly appealing from a visual point of view and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is just wonderful to listen to. Not to mention that the cast are great and do an excellent job of making the audience believe they are travelling through the sub-conscious mind of an unaware subject…so why is it here? Similaraly to Predestination, I often see Inception on the “mind-fuck” lists and while it is a great many things, I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a mind-fuck. It may cover rather complex ideas but that doesn’t automatically make it a complex film.
Key elements: Questioning reality
Similarly to my other posts I welcome any feedback or opinions that you may have about this post. If you have any film suggestions that I haven’t mentioned here I’d love to hear them as I LOVE mind-fuck and/or thought provoking films.
Thank for reading!