Black is white, up is down, and short is long
And everything you thought was just so important doesn't matter
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 media often produce mind screws, 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 & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films — Animation
- Films — Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Visual Novels
- Web Comics
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- In The Fallen Gods, Flint has a tough time wrapping his head around enchanting a dragon skull to make a helmet.
Flint: So you're gonna take the thing that's resistant to magic...and use magic on it...to raise its resistance to magic?
- Welcome to Night Vale: The series has its moments of mind screwing scattered about here and there, but its crowning achievement of Mind Screw is episode 67 "[Best Of?]". The episode is framed as a substitute host doing a Clip Show of regular host Cecil's past highlights while Cecil himself is on vacation. To start with, every clip takes place on or near Lee Marvin's 30th birthday regardless of the actual year, some of Cecil's broadcasts predate radio itself, a Cosmic Retcon occurs mid-clip, the final clip is Cecil describing the death of his predecessor Leonard Burton, which is followed by the substitute host, Cecil's predecessor Leonard Burton, signing off. Finally, after the episode has finished and the credits and proverb have run their course, there's a lingering silence followed by the sound of a tape deck being opened. A sound that has wrapped up every previous clip up to that point.