Occasionally, you will watch a film that leaves you completely stumped. These are the kind of films that have you thinking about it for days after, and this is usually down to a complex and intricate plot which is difficult to get your head around. Some films are notorious for melting the minds of the audience, and often these films will require some further reading to understand. These mind melting films will often include time travel, parallel universes or fake realities which will leave the audience unsure what day of the week it is once the credits roll.
10. The Game (1997)
David Fincher is a hugely talented director, and he has proven that he is capable of creating some truly mind melting films (including number six on this list). 1997’s The Game is a great example of this, and it will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, it sees a wealthy investment banker (Douglas) who is haunted by witnessing his father commit suicide. For his birthday, his brother (Penn) gives him a birthday present which he claims will change his life. It is a voucher for a game where players are pushed to their psychological limit as they come to believe that their life is in danger. Douglas’s character is rejected by the game, but soon his life begins to crumble around him and he is not sure whether he is in the game or not, or who he can trust.
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Jim Carrey is not the type of actor you would associate with mind melting films, but he has two under his belt. The first was The Truman Show, but it is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that makes the cut for this list. It is a touching films that could be considered a romantic science-fiction comedy, and is sure to leave you pondering for a few days after you view it. It starts very much like a romance film, in that it sees a man and woman meet on a train and begin a romantic relationship. Things get complicated after we find out that the female character, Clementine, has ended the relationship and had a procedure to erase the memories of their relationship. A devastated Joel (Carrey) then undergoes the procedure himself, but attempts to hide Clementine in remote parts of his unconscious as he does not want to forget.
8. Coherence (2013)
Coherence has flown somewhat under the radar, but it is an excellent film which is utterly gripping as soon as things begin to get weird (and they get very weird). It begins with three couples attending a dinner party on a night where a comet passes Earth. A physicist warned about odd effects from the comet, and soon enough they lose power in the house and none of their phones are working. Looking out of the house, they notice that the whole neighborhood has lost power, all except one house a few blocks away. Two of the characters then visit the other house to see if they can use their phone, and this is where things turn very strange. It is a clever and fascinating watch, and like many other mind melting films, it is even better when you watch it for a second time.
7. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys stars Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe, and is a well-crafted and engaging film which has been known to melt a few minds. The film is set in 2027, where most of humanity lives underground after a deadly virus wiped out most of the population in 1996. James Cole (Willis) is sent back in time to find out more about the virus, but he is sent back to 1990 by accident. He becomes put in a mental institution, where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). When Cole returns to present day, he learns that Goines is suspected of being involved with the “Army of the Twelve Monkeys,” who are thought to have spread the virus. Like all good time travel movies, things get strange and complex, all before a dramatic conclusion which will have you thinking about the film long after it has finished.
6. Fight Club (1999)
The insomnia that the narrator (Edward Norton) is suffering in Fight Club makes it apparent that there is something strange going on throughout the film, particularly when Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) creates “Project Mayhem” out of Fight Club. In a mind melting twist, it is revealed that Tyler Durden and the narrator are the same person, with Tyler taking over when the narrator believes himself to be asleep. Tyler is everything that the narrator wishes he could be, but the narrator must then attempt to stop Tyler from carrying out his plot to blow up several buildings. Fight Club is an excellent film which is well told, has enough action and violence to keep you engaged, and is stylishly shot, but it is the complexities of the narrator/Tyler Durden and their relationship that make this such a classic, unique and mind melting film.
5. Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko remains a hugely popular film and a key release in the 2000s. Jake Gyllenhaal puts in a memorable performance as the title character, who is a troubled teenager that is told by a figure wearing a monstrous rabbit costume that the world will end in 28 days. When Donnie returns home, he finds that a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom and the investigators do not know where it came from. Donnie has continuing visits from the rabbit, Frank, and begins acting under his influence. Donnie also begins to enquire about time travel, and as Frank’s prediction of the world ending draws nearer, things turn even stranger all before it reaches its much debated and intriguing conclusion. It is compelling, strange, haunting and beautifully told by Kelly, and a film that will stick with you for a long time after the credits roll.
4. Memento (2000)
Any film which uses a non-linear narrative will always require concentration, but Christopher Nolan’s Memento is on another level. The story follows Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), who suffers from anterograde amnesia (he cannot store new memories) but is trying to find his wife’s killer. The color sequences of the film tell the story backwards, whilst the black and white sequences are shown in chronological order. Gradually, the two sequences reveal the entire story, which will have you on the edge of your seat from the start. It is an interesting and unique structure which Nolan uses masterfully to create tension, and it also brilliantly explores themes such as self deception, grief, perception and memory. Many consider it to be one of the best films of the 2000s, and it would prove to be Nolan’s breakthrough hit; he has since gone on to be the master of mind melting movies.
3. Primer (2004)
Primer is a challenging watch, but it is certainly an impressive piece of cinema. It was written, directed, produced, edited and scored by Shane Carruth, who also stars in the film and created it on a budget of just $7,000. It is a film where four engineers accidentally invent a machine that allows them to time travel, and it explores the psychological and moral implications of being able to do so. Carruth is a graduate with a degree in mathematics and a former engineer, and he does not simplify the science which can make it difficult to follow. Primer is likely to be too confusing on a first watch, but equally intriguing. This means that it is a film which you may get more from on repeated viewings, but it is the realism and impact that time travel has on the protagonists that make this such a captivating watch.
2. Inception (2010)
There are not many films that have sparked as much discussion as Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Nolan is known to create complex, mind boggling films, but this is perhaps his finest work, which is also stylish, action packed and features a brilliant cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy and others. Cobb (DiCaprio) is a dream infiltrator who enters people’s dreams for corporate espionage, and he becomes hired to influence a rival businessman to break up his company through a process known as inception (implanting an idea into someone’s subconscious). This must be done deep in the man’s subconscious, seeing Cobb and his crew develop dreams within dreams within dreams, and this all culminates in an unforgettable and ambiguous conclusion which still has people debating to this day. A real mind melter, there are many graphs that explain the narrative which make it (slightly) less confusing.
1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch has made a career out of melting audiences’ minds, and this is most evident with 2001’s Mulholland Drive. The film follows Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an aspiring actress who arrives in Hollywood and befriends Rita (Laura Harrin), who is suffering from amnesia after a car accident. The pair attempt to figure out what happened to Rita, who has a mysterious blue key in her purse. This is interspersed with seemingly unrelated vignettes, which eventually connect. The story shifts once the blue key is put in a box, and this is where things turn very odd and quite confusing. Most audience members are completely bamboozled once the credits roll, and Lynch himself refuses to explain the film as he believes the audience should figure out what it means. No matter what you understand of the film, there is no doubt that it is entirely fascinating and beautifully shot.