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Top 10 Mindf**k Movies

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If you're not quite feeling yourself today, maybe you're, er, not...

Great mindfucks we have known

(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)

 

Cnristian Bale skipping lunch again in '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)

Leonardo DiCaprio in '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)

Michael Douglas in '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)

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)

Penelope Cruz in '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)

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)

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)

Edward Norton talking to himself again in '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)

Who doesn't like a good list? (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 gets a cheap holiday in '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.

Links: Jumpcut


BY THE SAME AUTHOR:
TOP 10 MINDF*** TV EPISODES

Top 10 Mindf*** TV episodes


Also consider:

Brazil (1985)
Dark City (1998)
F For Fake (Vérités et mensonges, FR, 1974)
Frailty (2002)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
La jetée (1962)
Open Your Eyes (1997)
Saw (2006)
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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Comments 

 
#1 hey! luke 2010-11-17 18:15
dude you need to not give away the ending in the description!
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#2 Comments MA 2010-12-05 09:35
We are hoping to still restore the thirty or forty comments that used to be on this thread - sorry it's taking such a long time.
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#3 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies meh 2010-12-13 07:38
A min***** list without Primer, borringg
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#4 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies Tomas 2010-12-15 06:42
The real mindf--k here is that you made this list and there isn't a single Cronenberg flick to be found.
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#5 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies Richard Cosgrove 2010-12-15 11:18
Quoting Tomas:
The real mindf--k here is that you made this list and there isn't a single Cronenberg flick to be found.


I'd imagine the same disclaimer for Shayamalan and Lynch applies to Cronenberg - a mindf--k experience is not only expected from a Cronenberg flick, but practically guaranteed. :-)

Richard Cosgrove
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#6 Also not to forget.. Lea 2010-12-16 15:52
ExistenZ
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#7 What about... Kleonika 2010-12-17 10:02
Mulholland Drive? I've seen that movie 5 imes - and STILL have no idea what went on....
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#8 Where's Jeff 2010-12-21 21:56
Dark City?
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#9 Mindf&*k Movies Bezzr 2010-12-22 15:44
Yup pretty much agree there but where was Pi?
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#10 Primer Gene 2010-12-22 23:47
Quoting meh:
A min***** list without Primer, borringg


Yep. Primer is a big miss here. I just watched it two nights ago and realized I would have to watch it a few more times.
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#11 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies I Said 2011-01-09 22:12
Fear and Loathing Las Vegas should definitely be in there. That film is pure mind *****ing. lol
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#12 why Paycheck and not Chyper? mba2386 2011-01-15 18:23
which is much better made, but more or less the same thing?!!?
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#13 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies thomrob 2011-01-21 09:08
Jacobs Ladder FTW.

2-10 should have been Cronenberg.
:)

"Possesion"?
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#14 serious bits missing here AndyB 2011-01-21 18:09
ummm..

Mulholland Drive - I mean, the DVD came with postcard clues to help you figure out what was going on. Not that they helped much.

The Usual Suspects - it wasn't him all along, was it? Then who was Pete Postlethwaite?

You could include Jacob's Ladder and Angel Heart, but maybe in some of these the mindf**k is just a super special twist.
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#15 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies robthom 2011-01-23 08:51
Angel heart was a cute one.

And a precious document of prime Rourke along with Barfly before he took the handsome version away from us forever.



BTW: I was thinking about Zulawski's "Possesion" (I cant stop ever since I recently saw it), in the context of this list.
And I'm not sure that I've really got it figured out (like any good mind *****), but I suspect that its LITERALLY about a mind/Id *****?!
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#16 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies jake 2011-02-02 18:24
YOU FORGOT DONNIE DARKO
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#17 Otnemem Apathygrrl 2011-03-30 17:02
I gotta say I am a huge fan of this category of movie. I love movies that play with my brain and really make me think about what I "know". In the urban dictionary, underneath the word "mind*****" there should be a picture of Memento. That movie is the ultimate mind*****. That movie broke my brain... shattered it like a snowglobe. It is brilliant in every aspect. Sheer genius. I sat there for nearly two hours after the movie was over just reeling from the bombshell that was dropped on my head, shouting "OMG! OMG! O... M... G!"
You had mentioned Joe Pantoliano in your description but you forgot to mention Carrie Ann Moss, who is also in The Matrix.
Personally, I would replace Vanilla Sky with The Usual Suspects because it's a far better movie, the mind***** is much greater, and, most importantly, it doesn't have Tom Cruise.
I'd also add Identity to your list of honourable mentions. along with the ones that other people have pointed out.
In addition, I would like to say that The Sixth Sense does deserve a place on the list because when it first came out people were not expecting a mind*****. Of course, people know now what to expect from his films but at the time the Sixth Sense came out they didn't. I remember seeing it opening weekend. The whole audience had no idea what they were in for. You could hear everyone gasp in shock at the end. It was great.
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#18 Seriously? Bill Bobaggins 2011-04-05 19:44
Videodrome?
A Clockwork Orange?
Pans Labyrinth?

Those are mind****s. How did movies like Total Recall or The Matrix make the list??
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#19 OK list, and V. 2011-04-11 04:12
not an authoritative Top 10 by any means. A bit of a FAIL for not listing Mulholland Drive in the top 10, and a number of pre-1990's classics in the top 10 or as an honorable mention, ranging from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari which probably started them all, Hitchcock's Vertigo and Fellini's 8 1/2. Also, for picking Vanilla Sky over Open Your Eyes.

An honorable mention should also go to Inland Empire for having a self-referential mindf*ck in its screenplay.
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#20 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies aidan 2011-06-08 11:47
Persona by Ingmar Bergman has to be the most epic of all mid*****s
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#21 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies Mert 2011-06-12 02:41
I can't believe 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't included, and even more so that no one mentioned it :/
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#22 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies Jon 2011-06-15 10:32
Quoting Mert:
I can't believe 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't included, and even more so that no one mentioned it :/

I agree, I just watched it and it made me search for a mind***** list just to make sure it was included or at least mentioned
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#23 shutter island Marc 2011-06-22 03:35
if you've seen William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration, you've figured out the mind***** in Shutter Island. I actually called the ending from seeing the trailer, having seen the Ninth Configuration. same basic story, same basic 'reveal' at the end, except in the Blatty version, the nutcase things he's a psychiatrist trying to cure mental patients, and in the Scorcese film he thinks he's a cop investigating mental patients.
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#24 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies JWS 2011-12-01 10:15
Ummm.......where was ALTERED STATES?? That movie is one helluva mindf--k trip!!!
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#25 love primer... shakenbake 2011-12-07 22:10
Quoting meh:
A min***** list without Primer, borringg

this movie is definitely not on the same level as primer or mul. drive but i always get a kick out of the movie "Frailty"
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#26 The Prestige Hier Blomkvist 2012-05-01 13:50
The Prestige with Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine is also a splendid mind *****.
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#27 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies Moe 2012-07-28 01:55
great list i like most of those movies :P just one thing tho... WHERE IS THE ILLUSIONIST!!!??? :P one of the most mind blowing movies i ever saw and Edward Norton is just brilliant in it
otherwise great list and ty got some films to watch now :P
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#28 RE: Top 10 Mindf**k Movies momsroo 2012-10-27 07:35
So glad "Shutter Island" was included in the list. My taste in movies tends to be conventional, so even though my husband and I walked around for 2 days saying, "What a mindf*** of a movie that was!" I nonetheless figured "Island" was too conventional to be mentioned.
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#29 A better list: Slick 2013-04-26 14:13
Shrooms
Waking Life
Donne darko
A Scanner Darkly
Platoon
Jacobs ladder
Memento
The Machinist
Dead Man's Shoes
Eraserhead
MooChild
Wistful Pirate
Raising Cain
Jacobs Ladder
Naked Lunch
Tetsuo
Existence
'Death to the demoness Alegra Geller!'
Repulsion
Repo man
Blue velvet
Tommy
Butterfly effect directors cut
Akira
Ghost in the Shell
Seconds.
Week-End.
The Adjuster
El topo
Video drone
Abres Los Ochos
Lost Highway
12 Monkeys
Picnic at hanging rock
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