Top 10 Mindf**k Movies
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
If you're not quite feeling yourself today, maybe you're, er, not...
(PLEASE NOTE: This article, which was published here last year, seems to have become a casualty of this week's site upgrade. I hope to restore all comments - Ed)
Mindfuck: An idea or concept that shakes one's previously held beliefs or assumptions about the nature of reality. (Urban Dictionary)
Though mentioned in the lyrics of The Rocky Horror Show, 'mindfuck' entered the cultural consciousness with Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi outing Total Recall…
ARNIE: “I’ve got to hand it to you, Cohagen – that’s the best mind-fuck yet.”
The late Philip K. Dick (Total Recall was based on his short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) was the mindfuck-master, and the cream of his short-stories frequently feature people who discover the world is not quite as they thought. In Blade Runner, Rachel’s discovery that her memories are cut-and-paste copies of her employer’s niece’s life is a fairly typical P.K.D. event. Dick was obsessed with solipsism, the notion that our reality is informed only by senses that can be manipulated, and works such as Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch explore the narrative potential of these possibilities.
The best of hack-novelist John Franklin Bardin’s secret ‘quality’ work is also a great literary mindfuck – in his 1946 novel The Deadly Percheron, a respected psychiatrist wakes up one day to find he is actually a disfigured patient in a mental institution, and must decide if his memory of another life is part of his sickness or the key to his salvation.
Heading for the bargain-basement section, probably the most famous and outrageous mindfuck in popular western culture was when the producers of Dallas decided to reincarnate a dead character when the actor wanted back into the role, and Bobby Ewing famously stepped out of Victoria Principal’s shower and nullified all the events in the previous season of the show. Not even Emma Samms’s alien abduction in The Colbys could top it.
Let’s look at some of the best movie mindfucks...
WHY NO SHYAMALAN OR LYNCH?
This list is about movies that sprung mind-fucks on viewers who weren't necessarily expecting them. Lynch and Shyamalan practically have contractual obligations to mess with their viewers' heads.
THIS FEATURE OBVIOUSLY HAS SPOILERS...BUT IT HAS A MAJOR SPOILER FOR SHUTTER ISLAND, SO BE WARNED!
10. The Machinist (2003)
There's a part of me that wishes Christian Bale hadn't gone quite so far in losing weight to play the tormented factory worker in Brad Anderson's stunning tribute to Hitchcock. It's hard not to look at him and consider the practicality (and arguable insanity) of what he is putting himself through for a movie. Still, it made for good publicity, and - if you can see past this gimmick - The Machinist deserves it. Trevor Reznick's quest to find out what evil forces are pursuing him lead him to a terrible truth about himself, and what terrible event happened to him a year earlier to rob him of all of his sleep and most of his will to eat. And those few friends he has left are not all they seem either...
9. Shutter Island (2010)
Scorsese's noir thriller would be higher in this list, except that its final series of psychological grenades plunders so many other sources, including The Game (see #8), A Beautiful Mind (#4) and the is-it-real-yet ambience of Total Recall (#1). The 1950s setting also channels Bardin's The Deadly Percheron pretty closely. Leonardo DiCaprio is the federal marshall who's seeking a missing mental patient in a remote and mysterious government mental institution, but seems to have been brought there specifically to be admitted as a patient and to stop him uncovering a regime of brutal experimentation. The final scenes with Ben Kingsley and Mark Rufalo are reminiscent of the mind-games at the end of Total Recall between Schwarzeneggar and Ronny Cox. Is DiCaprio being set up, or has he actually been a looney inmate at the island for years, inventing his clandestine investigation to avoid a terrible personal pain in his life?
8. The Game (1997)
The ennui of tycoon Michael Douglas’s life is broken by an unusual gift from his brother – participation in a life-altering game run by a Quitters Inc.-style company that seems to have the power to change an implausible number of real-world events. You’ll either be gratified and ‘made whole' by the ending of David Fincher’s typically off-beat thriller, or you’ll be throwing popcorn at the screen in disgust.
7. Paycheck (2003)
Philip K. Dick provides the base story as well-heeled reverse-engineer Ben Affleck gets paid to steal other manufacturers’ ideas and then forget that he ever did it (by chemically burning out memories in his brain). At the end of an unusually long and lucrative ‘blank period’, our hero finds that he seems to have conspired against himself, and sacrificed his huge paycheck [sic]for a few meaningless baubles. Only the envelope full of old tat can tell him why he did it…
6. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Tom Cruise is the publishing heir fighting old-fart rivals on the board of directors in Cameron Crowe’s enigmatic sci-fi thriller. Not only did the initial marketing of the film not make clear that it was a PKD-style mindfuck, but in fact it takes well over an hour before it becomes clear that the film is science-fiction at all, as we begin to suspect that a mysterious cryogenics corporation may have something to do with the gaps in Cruise’s perception of the chronology of his tortured life. Rewarding, but you have to stick with it.
5. The Matrix (1999)
There is no sequel.
There is no second sequel.
Coolly named office-monkey and freelance hacker Thomas Anderson finds that the 1999 he knows is just a computer-generated fiction designed to keep a genetically-harvested mankind in nasty green slime so that their bio-power can fuel the machines that have risen against them. The moment when Neo ‘pops’ is probably the best cinematic example of the kind of abreaction a mindfuck of this magnitude would actually cause when it sinks in.
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Russell Crowe plays tormented savant mathematician Jon Nash in Ron Howard’s biopic of the schizophrenic Nobel-winning scientist. CIA operative Ed Harris and college-pal Paul Bettany are the tormenting figures who may or may not actually exist. The moment where Nash is implanted with a 'radium'-style counter sends most people with an IQ above double figures scratching their chins, knowing that this is a true story, but if you let it go, then the ultimate discovery about Nash's 'associates' is quite a shocker.
3. Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher directs again, in a now-classic mindfuck thriller that went a long way to changing the direction of the genre. IKEA-loving loser Edward Norton is dazzled by his new friend, the unconventional and insurrectionist Tyler Durden, who has plans to zero Western society by a physical assault on the West’s banking system. The unlikely pair seem to have little in common – by the end, we find they have literally everything in common…
2. Memento (2001)
Dark Knight auteur Christopher Nolan made his name with this gritty Californian Film Noir, which finds assault-victim Guy Pearce unable to remember anything for more than five minutes, yet determined to solve the mystery of who killed his wife by tattooing clues on his body. Matrix veteran Joe Pantoliano makes his second venture into mindfuck territory as the cop apparently helping Pearce out – or is he…?
1. Total Recall (1990)
Arnie is the lowly construction worker dreaming of affording a trip to mars in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 action/sci-fi outing, an ingenious adaptation and extension (by Alien creators Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett)of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Ultra-violent but also ultra-clever, Dick's ideas –as in Paycheck- are so dazzling as to overcome the film’s many shortcomings.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR:
TOP 10 MINDF*** TV EPISODES
Dark City (1998)
F For Fake (Vérités et mensonges, FR, 1974)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
La jetée (1962)
Open Your Eyes (1997)
Solyaris (1972) / Solaris (2002)
The Jacket (2005)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
The Science Of Sleep (2006)
The Tenant (1976)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Waking Life (2001)
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