Have you ever watched a film that’s so mind-blowing, you have to spend a good few hours afterward working out what actually just happened? If so, you’re not alone. There are a number of pretty incredible films out there that are pretty brain-boggling upon first, second, and sometimes even third viewing. Whether it’s the use of inexplicable time-travel, a distortion of what ‘reality’ really means, or a plot that’s just too intelligent to handle, a ton of movies have made confusing their audiences their main aim.
Thing is, there’s a reason why most of these highly confusing films are critically acclaimed. Their main point, as hard as it may be to figure out, is often incredibly poignant. Most have a lot to say about the so-called ‘human condition,’ and some even show a glimpse into what could be a dangerous future for the human race. A couple also happen to star Leonardo DiCaprio, which always helps. How many of these mind-blowing movies have you watched? If you’re ready to make your brain ache in the best way, read on…
2010’s Inception had everyone wondering if they were living in a dream, or a dream within a dream, or a dream within a dream within a… You get the picture. It didn’t help that by the end of the movie, we still weren’t sure whether Leonardo DiCaprio’s character had actually woken up. Christopher Nolan basically had all of us questioning whether anything we experience is real. But then, what is reality? Okay, my head’s starting to hurt a little bit again. While Inception is an amazing film, don’t watch it if you want to emerge with all of your mental faculties intact.
Memento is (ironically) one of those movies that stick in your mind for quite a while after the credits have rolled. It follows an amnesiac, Leonard, trying to solve the brutal murder of his wife. However, things are complicated by the fact that the entire film is split into two halves: one running in chronological order, and one running in reverse. Scenes from these two timelines are interspersed until they finally meet near the end of the film. Keeping track of what’s actually going on is a difficult task — but it’s definitely worth it. Memento is an excellent film that’ll leave you with all the emotions.
14. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Most of the 1968 cult classic sci-fi flick 2001: A Space Odyssey is standard futuristic space-film fare. There’s a creepy murderous robot picking people off; the U.S. has colonized the moon, you know, the usual stuff. However, things get SERIOUSLY weird towards the end of the movie. It starts with a lengthy sequence that’s basically just a psychodelic drug trip and ends with a giant fetus floating around space. Yep. It’s as bizarre as it sounds. The whole episode is meant to have some kind of significant message about the birth of new life, but it mostly just leaves people baffled. The giant fetus is also kinda terrifying.
13. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Even the title of this film is a bit mind-boggling. Have you ever tried to work out what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind actually means? It’s all very deep – as is the film itself. It revolves around Joel and Clementine, a couple who separately choose to have their memory of the other erased after their relationship ends.
Their story is told in reverse, as the audience moves backward through Joel’s memories as they are being erased. The film raises questions about whether forgetting painful memories is really a good thing or not.
12. Pan’s Labyrinth
Pan’s Labyrinth is a movie that’s both fascinating and nightmare-inducing. This Spanish-language Oscar winner is a blend of fairytale motifs and life in Francoist Spain, and will ultimately rip your heart to shreds. However, it’ll also totally blow your mind along the way.
The dark fantasy world that the lead character, Ofelia, encounters could well be ‘real’ to her. But it also represents the imaginary world that a lot of troubled people eventually retreat into. It blends the lines between reality and fantasy so expertly that even the viewer isn’t sure which is which. Despite its creepy monsters and tragic ending, is a film that everyone should try to see at least once.
11. Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is one of those movies that’s so meta it actually hurts. However, it also happens to be critically acclaimed and hugely popular to this day. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it revolves around a puppeteer who finds a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich behind a filing cabinet in his company’s office.
Things escalate quite rapidly, with ‘Malkovich’ sleeping with and impregnating a woman while the puppeteer is apparently inside his mind. Without spoiling too much, this mind-boggling film will stop you from wanting to be someone else ever again. It’s the ultimate “be careful what you wish for” tale.
10.The Sixth Sense
Well — duh! This 1999 movie about a child who has the power to interact with ghosts blew its audience’s mind not necessarily because of the subject matter, but because of the huge twist that comes at the end of the movie. Spoiler alert: there’s nothing like realizing the protagonist of the movie you’re watching has been dead the whole time. Even the character himself didn’t know! It makes you look at the film in a whole different light. Oddly, it also makes you wonder if being able to see dead people isn’t necessarily as creepy as it sounds. After all, the child gifted with the ability eventually manages to use it for good!
9. Shutter Island
Before Leo was messing with everyone’s minds in Inception, he was doing exactly the same thing in Shutter Island. The latter is another film that makes you question what is and what isn’t real, although arguably in a more sinister way. Without spoiling too much, a lot of the characters turn out to be someone entirely different to who they seem, and the whole thing is set in an asylum for criminals. You can’t get much creepier than that. It even delves into the topic of mind control, as well as considering just how ‘real’ the delusions of an insane person must seem. It’s one of those movies that’ll give you a lot to think about in its aftermath.
8. Ex Machina
As sci-fi movies go, Ex Machina has to be one of the most terrifying – and plausible – out there. If you’ve ever worried that artificial intelligence will eventually take over the world, this film will definitely strengthen that fear. Throughout Ex Machina, there’s a constant uncertainty as to who’s a robot and who’s human. You can never tell exactly who is manipulating who and what each character’s end goal is. The AI character, Eva, is frankly the stuff of nightmares. Aside from her actions, the appearance of a robot with a completely human face is just a bit strange. All in all, this movie will totally convince you that technology needs to be stopped before it goes too far.
2004 cult classic Primer is one of the most head-scratching time travel movies out there. I’m not even going to try to explain how it all works, but basically, time travel has the potential to screw up A LOT and probably shouldn’t be attempted — ever. It’s hard to keep track of all the present and future selves of the film’s characters, but it’s ultimately a pretty gripping movie. Just don’t expect to understand the time travel mechanism the first time around, or even the second or third. Also, try not to be too amused by the fact that according to this film, time travel is ultimately discovered accidentally in somebody’s garage.
6. Enter the Void
While Enter the Void was one of the most divisive movies of 2009, it’s undeniably a mind-bending trip-fest. When extensive DMT-trip psychedelic sequences AREN’T the weirdest part of a movie, you know you’ve got a winner. Enter the Void tells the story of Oscar and Linda, two siblings living in Tokyo. Oscar is a drug dealer and Linda is a stripper – so far, so wholesome, am I right?! Midway through the film, Oscar is shot by the police and the rest of the action is witnessed from his out-of-body-experience perspective. He just kind of floats above Tokyo for a while, and we get to join him for the ride. I’m not going to spoil the ending because frankly, it’s too strange and gross to discuss. If you want to get really weirded out for a while and be left with brain ache, watch this film.
5. The Matrix
Ah, The Matrix, the original mind-blowing film of recent times. If it didn’t make you wonder whether we’re all living in a simulation, you’re lying. While the second and third movies in the trilogy are best forgotten about, the original is endlessly rewatchable. Not only will it give you a full-blown existential crisis, it’ll also make you want to someday be as cool as Morpheus. Keanu Reeves nailed it as Neo and Carrie-Ann Moss epitomises a strong, badass woman as Trinity. Question is, would you take the Blue Pill or the Red Pill? It’s a difficult one, for sure!
4. Black Swan
This twisted ballet-themed movie made us all look at Natalie Portman in a very different light. While at first glance, Black Swan looks like nothing more than a film about two competing ballerinas, upon closer inspection it’s way more mindblowing than that. As Portman’s character loses grip on her sanity, it’s no longer clear what’s real and what’s a product of her delusions. It’s a terrifying depiction of what mental illness can do to a person. It’s not a movie for the faint-hearted, but Black Swan is powerful nonetheless.
3. The Machinist
The Machinist is perhaps best known as the movie that led to Christian Bale‘s striking foray into method acting. He lost a significant amount of weight – reportedly around sixty pounds – to play Trevor Reznik, the titular machinist who becomes emaciated after suffering from severe insomnia. The viewer spends most of the movie trying to work out if Trevor’s going insane, what’s a delusion and what’s the truth, and why he developed his insomnia in the first place. The climax of the film is pretty mind-blowing and says a lot about the extent to which guilt can warp a person’s mind.
2. A Beautiful Mind
Based on the life of prestigious economist John Nash, A Beautiful Mind is a harrowing account of the effects that paranoid schizophrenia can have on the mind. The apparent ‘realness’ of a lot of Nash’s hallucinations is both terrifying and incredible. While the main character descends into madness, the viewers are taken on a trip with him. But the even better thing about this movie is that it’s more than just a plot-twisty thriller. The story of how Nash overcame his illness is remarkable and inspiring. While the movie has been criticised for its numerous inaccuracies in the chronology of Nash’s real-life, it’s worth a watch if you take it with a grain of salt.
1. Donnie Darko
99% of all people who’ve seen Donnie Darko came out of it wondering what on earth they’d just witnessed. It’s not that it’s a bad film – quite the opposite, in fact! It’s just mindboggling and strange on a number of levels. Did the events of the film transpire in a vision, a dream, or in reality? What the heck was with that giant creepy rabbit? While critics raved about Donnie Darko, most people were left with more questions than answers after watching its twisted plot. The only thing that’s certain is that the movie proved what a remarkably talented actor Jake Gyllenhaal is.