Horror Ten Spot: My Favorite Cinematic Mind-F*cks!

As far as cinematic mind-scramblers are concerned, it's no easy task outclassing the source material of Philip K. Dick. Dude inspired BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, MINORITY REPORT, A SCANNER DARKLY, and more, all of which challenge the way we think about futuristic identity. That said, some of the most accomplished filmmakers of the last two decades (or more) have given us work as mentally exigent as Dick's adaptations. As you know, Len Wiseman's take on TOTAL RECALL hits theaters next Friday, and as such, we thought it'd be fun to call out some of the movies that have straight up blown our brains over the years. You into it? Here now are 10 of my favorite cinematic mind-fucks!

#1. FIGHT CLUB (1999) - David Fincher

Perhaps the greatest cinematic sleight of hand...ever! FIGHT CLUB's mind-blowing conclusion of schizoid identity - a reveal that seems all too obvious upon repeat viewings - ranks among the all time "holy shit" moments in a film. Great acting, great production design...great sense of dark humor, which I appreciate a ton, but most of all...stupendous direction from equally compelling source material. Fincher takes Palahniuk's novel and visualizes it in such a visceral way, I can't imagine Chuck having a single qualm about the adaptation. Unlike THE SIXTH SENSE, also from 1999, there's very little scent of the final twist in FIGHT CLUB upon initial viewing.

#2. MEMENTO (2000) - Christopher Nolan

I remember seeing Chris Nolan's MEMENTO in the theater, after a few drinks, with my girlfriend, who not only recommended the movie, but told me nothing about it beforehand. Needless to say, when the final shot faded out (or first, as it turned out), I had motherfucking vertigo! On its own, the reverse narrative trippy as hell, but the fact our lead, our utterly unreliable narrator, is incapable of making new memories after 30 seconds or so...it flat out assaults your sense of time, space and foresight regarding what could possibly come next. A truly mind-blowing cinematic experience!

#3. EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) - Stanley Kubrick

Perhaps not overt as the rest, Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT operates on a subconscious level of profound mind alteration. In fact, it's based on a novel called Traumnovelle, which translates as Dream Story. Therefore, fractal logic and incongruous time-loops are subtly stitched throughout the actions in the film. Aside from the truly haunting Somerton orgy sequence, which is mind-blowing (among other things) on its own, the candy colored Christmas ornamentation and continued rainbow motif have been thought a metaphor for MK Ultra brainwashing. Often panned, I contend EYES WIDE SHUT is, like Kubrick's own admission, if not the master's best film certainly among it.

#4. JACOB'S LADDER (1990) - Adrian Lyne

A fever dream if there ever was one, the purgatorial hallucinations Tim Robbins endures in JACOB'S LADDER are among some of the most disturbing images ever laid on celluloid. That's quite a declarative statement, but I stand behind it. Why? The imagery is not only unnerving on its own, it's the context they're seen in, revealed in a skin-crawling, mind-shattering final shot masterfully crafted by Adrian Lyne. Not that I'd feel bad for spoiling a movie 22 years old, but if you haven't seen the flick, I wholeheartedly urge you to, as it still holds as one of the most superior psychological thrillers.

#5. LOST HIGHWAY/MULHOLLAND DRIVE (1997/2001) - David Lynch

Let's be honest, I could have easily cited the bulk of David Lynch's canon as unparalleled brain-busters, but instead I've decided to dichotomize the love toward two of his more surreal cinematic efforts. I'm not sure which brain-teaser is more challenging: LOST HIGHWAY, where halfway through the movie, our lead actor actually morphs from one physical being to another; or MULHOLLAND DRIVE, an amnesiac mystery weaving dream logic and reality in the most seamless way imaginable. A tough call, no doubt. Thing is, Lynch is peerless, and in terms of his surreal narratives, really only competes with himself. Dude's operating on a whole other plane!

#6. DONNIE DARKO (2001) - Richard Kelly

You ever listen to the DONNIE DARKO director's commentary? If not, do so and decide if what Richard Kelly turned in as a theatrical cut - a morbid curio of Lynchian and Spielbergian sensibilities - was actually intended. Given the undefined commentary and the uneven "director's cut" of the movie that came out 3 years later, I tend to think Kelly shot a bunch of shit, threw it up against the wall and said here's my movie. Regardless, DONNIE DARKO's mysticism is undeniable. Not just for the confounding time travel jargon, but for the amorphous genre tones: a teen comedy, a sci-fi thriller, a period piece, a family drama, a horror movie, etc.

#7. THE MATRIX (1999) - Andy & Lana Wachowski

More of a giant eye opener than an outright mind-scrambler, but for all intents and purposes, THE MATRIX certainly altered the way one thinks about the role of technology and the human slavery therein. The monumental reveal to us, and Neo, is really a big metaphor for our complicit role in the mind control of a higher power. The sequels obviously got a little silly and heavy handed, but the original, like many films made in 1999 (on our list as well), were challenging the notions of the status quo...of humans becoming increasingly mechanized automatons serving as little more than energy sources of a larger purpose.

#8. TOTAL RECALL (1990) - Paul Verhoeven

I wouldn't feel too comfortable omitting the very title that inspired this list, so to Paul Verhoeven's TOTAL RECALL we come. Granted, as far as a pure cinematic mind-fuck is concerned, the flick maybe a lighter version than most, but the futuristic Martian world and dizzying identity crises therein are pretty damn confounding! Of course, the technology shown and FX employed only heighten the imagination, in essence transforming our thought processes toward the wonder of what lie ahead. And narratively, we're as confused through the chaos as the main character Quaid is, with most of the fun derived from going on the journey with him.

#9. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999) - Spike Jonze

I thought I'd spike a little absurdist humor to the punch, and Spike Jonze's BEING JOHN MALKOVICH certainly packs a wallop in that department. Not only is the film a head-trip for the viewer, it's a literal head-trip for the characters in the film, who, if you haven't seen the movie, exploit a doorway into the actual brain of the already eccentric minded Johnny M. It's a wholly original premise crafted by Charlie Kaufman, and one that leaves your thought process completely jumbled. Although more emotional, the same could be said for Kaufman's ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.

#10. THE MACHINIST (2004) - Brad Anderson

Outside the brain-boggling preparation Christian Bale underwent to get into character - losing over 60 pounds to achieve a human skeleton aesthetic - Brad Anderson's THE MACHINIST plays like a grand-scale puzzle. Not unlike his romantic counterparts, NEXT STOP WONDERLAND and HAPPY ACCIDENTS, Anderson knows how to deftly dish clues and unanswered strands of info, only to pull them all together to create a cathartic "ah ha" moment in the final frames. In other words, his conclusions are often more satisfying because he DOES offer answers in the end, he doesn't leave the mystery open ended or undefined. THE MACHINIST is perhaps is best example!
Tags: Hollywood

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