The Mind Screw is something that relies so heavily on symbolism or surrealism/absurdism, or failed so extremely in an attempt at regular old coherency, that the immediate response afterwards is "What the heck was that?!?!"
There are several criteria for a Mind Screw, and a Mind Screw will usually fit a few of them:
- The work looks weird due to symbolism or just general surrealism.
- The symbolism is used heavily and never explained.
- Things happen, but the work never explains how they are connected.
- Things happen without a cause, even in context. Especially in context.
- Several plot developments are obscured.
- There's a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot with several surprises. The story only makes sense when you have them all.
- The Reveal is vague, or contradicts the rest of the story.
- The Reveal is left out.
- The work is non-chronological.
- A few random scenes (such as vignettes or non-sequiturs) are added in, breaking up the narrative.
- The story has No Ending.
While some fans can make arguments over what the symbolism means, and what everything represents, many mind screws will pad themselves with meaningless sequences to make the audience work even harder. Arguments over which sequences are significant are common. Don't expect the writer to be very helpful. And if the show has supplemental materials, don't expect them to be much help either. (If, by some miracle, they are helpful, you've got yourself a Mind Screwdriver.) The more decipherable symbolism tends to focus on the perceptions people have of one another and puberty and sex. Japanese and South Korean often produce this sort of thing and particularly in the horror and psychological drama genres because Asian audiences thrive on this type of oblique, enigmatic ambiguity. David Lynch is hugely popular in Japan for this reason.
Note that the screwing is not the kind that involves romantic candlelight, long walks on the beach and the throes of passion. Unless you're into that.
Not to be confused with Mind Rape, no matter how the audience feels, nor with the Mind Game Ship, nor Mental Affair, which is a literal mind screw, nor with the literal screws in the mind of Frankenstein's monster.
Distinct from an In-Joke, which is designed to make sense to a portion of the audience.
Examples listed are works that are either intended to provoke this reaction or have provoked this reaction in a large spectrum of the audience, but one troper's Mind Screw is another troper's Fridge Brilliance.
Sub Tropes include Gainax Ending, Dada Ad, Alien Geometries. The Ending Changes Everything is an ending that does not rely on overt symbolism for its confusing nature, but has much the same effect on viewers. When this is funny, it's Surreal Humor. When frightening, it's Surreal Horror.
Contrast with Mind Screwdriver, where the Mind Screw elements get rationalized/explained.
- Anime and Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films — Animation
- Films — Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Visual Novels
- Web Comics
- Web Original
- Western Animation