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Mind Screw / Live-Action Films

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... Huh? Big baby bubble?

"A mental mindfuck can be nice!"
Dr. Frank N. Furter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book, on the other hand, is vastly more comprehensible.
    • Allegedly a sizable voice over was recorded, but Kubrick nixed it to avoid the effects of movies like Blade Runner. To be fair, it probably wouldn't have had the same effect and cemented Kubrick's directorial style, but it would have probably given the audience a clue as to what was happening.
    • A popular urban legend (later confirmed by Arthur C. Clarke himself) goes that, after the premiere, Rock Hudson stormed out of the theater yelling, "Can someone tell me what the hell I just watched?"
    • You may not have heard of the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, although—or perhaps because—it was largely devoted to trying to explain what had happened in the last movie. Of course, it ended up opening new questions.
    • Ironically, its status as an enormous mind screw helped it grow in popularity with the counterculture at the time after a large number of regular moviegoers had been driven away by the incomprehensibility of it all. Reviewers who had initially given it negative reviews due to the weirdness on first viewing grew to like it on later viewings.
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    • The prologue and ending of the original book of 2001 are significantly longer than their movie equivalents for the same reason. There was a lot of 'splaining to do.
  • Across the Universe can be anywhere from "slightly confusing" to "incomprehensible acid trip on film", unless you're a Beatles fan and have some basic knowledge of the '60s counterculture movement.
  • Apocalypse Now. The whole film is a surreal Vietnam War experience, full of horrors that transform sane men into madmen.
  • The indie film Archie's Final Project aka My Suicide is a bit of a mind screw. The whole movie is meant to be a school project made by the main character, who is a teenage boy with a movie obsession and probably several mental illnesses. The first hour or so has a lot of slightly obscure movie references and a lot of random animation, images, and voice overs that don't really make sense, especially not the first time you watch it.
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  • Arizona Dream by Emir Kusturica. Insanely weird characters? Check. Odd dreams? Check. Flying fish?! You bet! So, what exactly happened in the movie? Well, it sort of varies.
  • Barton Fink. Granted, nothing The Coen Brothers have done is completely straightforward, but when John Goodman is on a shotgun rampage through a burning hotel screaming "look upon me," and no, it does not make sense in context, you start to wonder what you've gotten yourself into. He's just showing you the life of the mind.
  • The very end of A Bay of Blood, with the main killers being shot to death with a shotgun by their 8-year-old son, and his sister commenting, Gee, they're good at playing dead, aren't they?.
  • Being John Malkovich. The film revolves around the discovery of an inconspicuous, boarded up doorway in an office building which turns out to be a portal which allows any individual who enters it to see through the eyes of actor John Malkovich for a short space of time, raising all sorts of philosophical questions about the nature of the human mind and existentialism in the process. It only get weirder from here on in.
  • One complaint about the Bewitched movie is how it got a little too meta for your average Will Ferrell comedy. Basically some people want to make a reboot of the original Bewitched, except it turns out that the actor they pick to play Samantha is an actual witch. And then suddenly the family members from the original show start to appear to the two leads to offer advice (with the two just acting like they're actual family members until they suddenly disappear.) The movie finally ends with the actors who play Darren and Samantha getting together and moving into the actual Bewitched house, across the street from the actual Bewitched neighbors.
  • Black Swan. What's real, what's a hallucination, and what's a visual metaphor? In this movie, it's hard to tell, and increasingly it's hard to tell if there's even a difference. Did the movie even happen at all, or will Nina wake up screaming 5 minutes after the credits? Mind screws are a recurring theme in all of Darren Aronofsky's films.
  • The Butterfly Effect is a sort-of mind screw. Is he traveling through time? Moving across alternate universes and adapting to the memories of the version of himself in the new universe? Is he just nuts and then one day finally gets the help he needs? Is the end really just another delusion? These last two possibilities are subverted in the DVD release alternate ending in which he goes back to when he was in his mother's womb and commits suicide with his own umbilical cord before even being born, with the implication that his mothers' multiple stillbirths before him were due to the similar circumstances.
  • Generally most of John Carpenter's films are pretty straight forward in their delivery. A partial exception would be The Thing (1982), which despite having a narrative that's more or less easy to follow really leaves out a lot of crucial details that the audience is left to fill in. To this day fans of the movie still debate on who got to the blood, whether Blair was infected before or after he was locked up (which depending on how you look at it can provide wholly different interpretations of his actions over the course of the film), how Fuchs ended up being burned to death outside, and most of all whether the Thing really was defeated, or if perhaps one, both, or neither of the survivors have been assimilated. Also helps create an EXTREME case of Paranoia Fuel and Nightmare Fuel.
    • This is nothing when you look at the final installment of the "Apocalypse Trilogy", In the Mouth of Madness. There's a reason why it's a former trope namer. It starts off with the character being brought into a mental institution, and his story starts off straight forward- a simple investigation into the disappearance of a horror writer due to release the titular novel. Then things get weird when it becomes clear that the books have a weird impact on readers, and he stumbles across a town that shouldn't exist and the writer tells him he's a fictional character created for his novel, and then his partner is literally written out of the story. By the end of the movie, you can't quite tell for certain one way or another who's sane, who's insane, what's real and what's fictional. Is the protagonist real, or is he merely a figment of a writer's imagination? Was the world really destroyed by Lovecraftian monsters or was it something else? Did the entire story even happen or is it all in his head?. To make things even more baffling, the final scene has Sam Neil's character walking into a movie theater to watch the film adaptation of the book the entire movie has been centered around. It turns out The Film of the Book is actually the movie we've just finished watching.
    • While essentially a straight forward story, Big Trouble in Little China could be considered a minor version of this trope as well. The film gives only a bare minimum of exposition for what is going, which even then only comes midway into the film after numerous unexplained supernatural events have taken place. The Big Bad Lo Pan has three different appearances throughout the film (one as a decrepit old man, another as a normal middle aged man on the street, and yet another a 9 foot tall wizard) never explaining how or why he changes between each one. The film also seems to assume the audience will be able to figure out how Chinese Ghosts work on their own, while at the same time totally making up its own mythology.
  • The 2004 film Casshern had no explanation for the ending or for the various Deus ex Machina moments that appeared throughout the film. For example, giant metal bolts of lightning that: Started the plot, transported the hero right to the point he needed to be with no question from anyone, and conveniently provided the final chamber with a giant hole in the wall.
  • The opening scene of The Cell has J-Lo riding across the Namibian desert in a wedding dress, dismounting and then looking back on her horse which has turned into a chess piece; and then approaching a boat that is half-buried in the sand and a boy who turns into a werewolf. Later on the film involves a schizophrenic serial killer who drowns his victims, augments their bodies so they look like dolls and then masturbates whilst hanging himself above them by chains attached to metal rings in his back; an albino German shepherd; a horse getting sliced up sushi-style; a collection of doll-like, corpse-like women inside display cases behind glass panels attached to crude machinery that jerks them about in grotesque, sadomasochistic sexual poses; a female bodybuilder; a demon-like man with purple curtains attached to his back; Vince Vaughn getting his intestines pulled out and spiraled around a rotisserie; vultures; peacocks and J-Lo dressed as the Virgin Mary. Justified on account of the fact that the majority of this takes place within people's minds.
  • In Cemetery Man, Francesco Dellamorte Can't Get Away With Nuthin', and all of his murders are pinned on someone else. This is because Francesco isn't real, but is an imaginary construct of Franco. Fantasy bleeds into reality, and Franco begins to murder people in his insanity. Or maybe the dead are actually rising, the film isn't very specific on details. The entire movie takes place in a snow globe.
  • Clean, Shaven is largely about providing a more objective look at schizophrenia and it's effects. Although the plot is straight forward, it's a mind screw because uses a lot of unusual/disturbing images and sounds to give us an insight into the protagonists condition.
  • Cloud Atlas: Each story initially appears to be set in the same universe as its predecessor. This is toyed with when Frobisher questions the veracity of Ewing's journal, then completely undermined when Cavendish receives Rey's story as a the manuscript for a fictional novel. Yet connections between the characters seem to bridge this fiction-reality divide, such as the shared birthmark of Frobisher, Rey, Sonmi, and Zachry (in the book, the last character chronologically with the birthmark was Meronym). Similarly, the reader is led to believe that all of the protagonists are one reincarnated soul, marked by the distinctive birthmark, but this is disputed since the lifespans of Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish should overlap... unless they're two aspects of the same person, since they're the exact same age. Her being a fictional character in his universe might be a more significant barrier, unless she was real and "Half-Lives" is a story based on her adventures — which is entirely possible. The film implies this possibility more heavily than the book, because in the film the "Half-Lives" manuscript is written by Javier Gomez, the same kid who routinely drops in to visit Luisa and doesn't shut up about mystery tropes.
    • Cavendish and Luisa Rey may actually be of exactly the same age: she was born in 1947 (would turn sixty-five in 2012), and Cavendish is "65 and a half" in 2012. Can one soul be divided in two?
  • The Color of Pomegranates, a Soviet-Armenian film loosely based on the life of 18th century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova. But instead of being a straight biography, it's an artistic film comprised mostly just a bunch of bizarre scenes that don't make much sense to anyone not familiar with Sayat-Nova's poems.
  • David Cronenberg's works:
    • Naked Lunch is a lot less disgusting than the book it's named after (it actually borrows from a large part of the works of William S. Burroughs), but only slightly less confusing.
    • eXistenZ is Philip K Dick-like in the mind screw department. It features a VR game within a VR game within a VR game within a VR game, the characters openly question whether they're still in the game at every level (and for bonus points, compare real-life to VR), switch sides multiple times, and reference things that happened at other levels.
    • A slightly lesser known but still messed-up film of his- Videodrome starring James Woods and Deborah Harry. At first it's just messed up, given it involves the protagonist discovering a "realistic" TV program in which "contestants" are taken into a room where they are tortured and eventually murdered. As you'd expect, it's real. But things just get really weird when it starts messing with his mind and he starts hallucinating. By the time it's all over you're can't be totally sure how much of what you've seen is real and how much is in his head.
  • The horror film Cube intentionally offers no real explanations to what the eponymous Cube is and why the characters were placed in it. It just developed by itself, with one architect behind it saying "Because it's here. You either use it, or admit it's pointless" (which, in and of itself is pretty mind-screwy). The sequels, however, make things worse with their attempts to actually explain things somewhat, as none of the three films are made by the same people and can't seem to agree on essential points ++ Cube 2: Hypercube being the worst offender in this area.
  • Director of Cube, Vincenzo Natali, also made Nothing, a Stoner Comedy about non-existence. It's fairly straightforward in its own way, but still...
  • Dead Man, an acid Western with Johnny Depp, is a very otherworldly film, during which few things happen and most of the dialogues are just plain weird. It's even pointed out in frustration by the protagonist at one point.
  • Eagles Gathered is set in the underworld, which doesn't function according to normal human logic. Bob the (maybe) angel randomly switches bodies without warning, plot threads appear and disappear without warning or explanation, and the main characters' plans only work when they're completely incoherent. And that's the least of it.
  • The Netflix-exclusive short film Example Show, re-released under names such as Example Short 23.976 Clear Show, Example Short 23.976 Burned In Timecode Remote Content and other strange titles. It involves lingering shots of the Netflix building gardens and a model train carrying toy penguins as the actor/director runs around doing random stuff and eventually quoting Julius Caesar. Word of God says that it was short made by a freelancer meant as a way for people streaming from Netflix to test their video players. The short has been subject to much Memetic Mutation, usually along the same lines as "Three Wolf Moon."
  • A particularly heart-wrenching example in the film The Father, as the film is told from the perspective of an elderly man suffering from dementia. What begins as a simple domestic drama slowly descends into Surreal Horror as the reality around him keeps changing, and it becomes harder and harder to understand the things going on around him.
  • If the narrator being Tyler all along in Fight Club is not an example of that, then I'm a Martian.
  • The point of the CRS company in the David Fincher flick The Game is creating these.
  • After a certain point in the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the opening shot is redone, starting off a long medley featuring the three central characters merging into one and walking naked down an alleyway.
  • The Guards, a 1965 Norwegian film by director Arne Skouen, telling the story of a soldier who neglects his duties because of a moral responsibility for a psych ward full of children with psychological problems. The story revolves around a court martial held afterwards, but to be fair, it is not certain whether the whole trial is in the soldier's head, or if he and the other adults working in the ward are actually as far out as the children they tend to. And then there is the oldest charge, a fourteen year old girl, Creepy Child and psychic to boot. The movie ends with a spectacular Gainax Ending. It tends to be the biggest Mind Screw ever made in Norway.
  • This short film adaptation of the Maurice Ogden poem "The Hangman". Also doubles as Surreal Horror.
  • Heart of Darkness (1958) is an odd, odd adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novella. What makes it a Mind Screw is the second half, which turns on a couple of weird, unexplained symbols (particularly the main character's ironclad determination to hold onto the bus fare he brought to the jungle with him). It finally builds to a Gainax Ending in which he seemingly teleports back to England. The story probably involves a Vision Quest, but that's never made explicit.
  • Several of the Hellraiser sequels have shades of this, especially Hellraiser: Deader.
  • Hulk is a comic-book related example with the heavy symbolism from each of the characters, especially David Banner. The dogs also count alongside the conflict.
  • I Love Your Work isn't as extreme as others on this list, as a simple "I guess it was all in his head" makes sense of it as a whole, as the ending makes that seem like the most likely explanation. But some scenes are still pretty odd.
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus requires multiple viewings in order to completely wrap your head around exactly what happened. Why did Tony's face change every time he entered the Imaginarium? What even is the Imaginarium? What actually happened to the characters?
  • I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' attempt to quantify the existence of Bob Dylan by presenting him as SEVEN SEPARATE CHARACTERS, including a woman, a small black child, and Billy the Kid. If you have an extensive knowledge of the man, then the metaphorical touchstones are fairly easy to follow. But if you're only a casual fan, entire chunks of the movies will leave you stonefaced or confused, especially about how they relate to Bob Dylan.
  • Inception is not as mind screwing as one would expect. But the whole plot is about putting an industrial heir through one massive mind screw to mess with his free will. First he is put into an artificial dream where he gets kidnapped by people wanting the codes to his father's secret safe, which he handles quite well. But then he gets put into a dream within the dream where he is approached by a stranger who claims to be part of his subconscious and they are both in a dream and under attack by kidnappers who wants to steal his company secrets. Then the laws of physics start to no longer apply correctly and he no longer takes things that well. Also, the main character who is putting the man through the mind screw is having some lingering doubt that he himself is dreaming and his mind being screwed with.
  • Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 is one big mind screw. Just one example is when the cult murders the heroine's boyfriend and somehow cleans up the apartment in the short time it takes her to get the cops over.
  • Jacob's Ladder, a surreal Dying Dream, is a Mind Screw from start to finish.
  • Dalton Trumbo's film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun was done largely by making the film one big mindscrew, caused by the character's explosion-induced loss of his ability to see/hear/speak (as well as his limbs) inducing nightmarish visions inside of his head to pad out the film.
  • The collected works of Mr. Charlie Kaufman.
    • Adaptation is about a guy trying to write a screenplay, but the screenplay is the movie that you are watching, so the movie is being written as the movie is playing out as the character writes it. It's also set in real life but it's not.
    • Synecdoche, New York is an absolute Mind Screw from start to finish. From the ridiculous jumps in time to plays within plays within plays to a woman living in a perpetually burning house before dying after 30 years from "smoke inhalation".
  • Works by Richard Kelly:
    • Donnie Darko, to the extent that members of the cast can't agree on whether there is a legitimate Time Travel story, or just a handful of psychedelic delusions. In the DVD commentary, the director owns up to the fact that even he doesn't really know what's going on and that the plot probably can't be explained without resorting to divine intervention.
    • Southland Tales somehow manages to be even more violently insane than his first. It was supposed to be part of a massive multimedia experience (that never really panned out), but it would take a damn lot of graphic novels to explain what on God's green Earth was happening at any point during that movie. Read all about it here.
    • The Box tries to be more understandable.
  • Land of the Blind: Either Joe imagined most of the movie before he got put into the reeducation camp and then prison, or the regimes are very good at covering their tracks. Also, the reeducation itself.
  • Last Year at Marienbad, considered one of the most famous mind screws in French cinema. The film has no discernible plot other than apparently two people who may or may not have had a affair a year ago in Marienbad (German name of a Czech city) meet each other again at some sort of elite social gathering. Other than that, it plays out like some sort dream over loosely connected scenes. People still have no idea what exactly it was about, but the cinematography was beautiful.
  • The Lighthouse is a heavily symbolic dark comedy filmed in black and white. Several surreal events occur without a reference for time and even the circumstances of the main characters are questionable.
  • The Lawnmower Man involved a lot of this. Not only is there a very strange VR section involving (at the time) state-of-the-art CGI, there are drugs, a main character having his brain transformed and losing control of himself, and an ending involving something like a messianic ascension that is never explained. Compared to some films on this list, it is still pretty straightforward though.
  • Lucy, whose director expressed influence of Inception (as seen in Lucy's mental powers which start breaking the laws of physics) and 2001 (cavemen, plus a Going Cosmic ending). And like The Lawnmower Man, the protagonist gets a brain transformation that culminates in ascendance, only with more weird philosophical dialogue. Not to mention at times the film cuts to some documentary footage...
  • David Lynch's films. Mulholland Dr. for example. Or, to an even greater degree, Eraserhead.
    • Lost Highway where on one hand characters transform into each other. On the other hand the first scene is repeated later from a different view: Fred, who answered the entryphone in the first version, rings the bell in the second one himself. So instead of an expected Once More, with Clarity! it turns out to further support the Mind Screw.
    • Inland Empire makes Mulholland Dr. seem sensical. As Laura Dern's character describes the events of the film: "I'm trying to tell you so you understand how it went. Thing is, I don't know what was before or after. I don't know what's happened first... and it's kinda layin' a mindfuck on me.”
    • Mr. Lynch is so well known for his Mind Screws, that he had to title his one non-maddening movie The Straight Story. And it's still kind of weird.
    • Heck, even his films that actually have a comprehensible plot like Blue Velvet or The Elephant Man have their share of mind screw moments.
  • Marebito by Takashi Shimizu, the director of Ju-on; The Grudge. A man obsessed with fear finds his way into a warped underground labyrinth world, is menaced by "Dero" ("Detrimental Robots"); and rescues a feral girl who turns out to be a vampire, who he keeps chained up in his apartment, and feeds by killing other people and draining their blood. But is that really happening? Do any of them actually exist? Is the girl real, perhaps his own daughter who he abuses and treats like an animal, while he kills people to feed his own delusion? Or has his detachment from reality actually enabled him to stumble into a real alternate, quasi-supernatural world? The ending completely refuses to resolve any of these questions; leaving them up to the viewer to answer.
  • Marketa Lazarová has an Anachronic Order storyline on crack. Most people have to watch the 3 hour film a few times to make sense of what the hell is going on. Couple with that random pagan lesbian dream sequences, ethereal monologues, strange symbolism and just good old fashioned weirdness and the film can be a heady experience for the most focused of viewers.
  • The Matrix:
    • The sequels have a mild case of it, anyway; in the first movie, Morpheus took the time to explain what was going on.
    • Not mild with the Architect in Reloaded...
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats is full of this, but is played for laughs. The final scene in particular stands out.
  • Japanese auteur Takashi Miike, when he's not being the master of extreme violence and gore, is a master of the Mind Screw. His most mind-bending film, however, has to be Gozu. Disappearing corpses, a river without a bridge, creepy transvestite waiters, unreliable guides with bizarre skin conditions, young women giving birth to full-grown men, middle-age women selling breast milk, an almost deserted former fishing town, Yakuza who live in a junkyard, an American reading her dialog from a cue card, and a huge minotaur wearing baggy underwear. And that doesn't even begin to describe how twisted this movie is. The strangest thing is that it all makes perfect sense when you realize it's all a symbolic representation of the protagonist's inner journey, told with symbolism from both Japanese and Greco-Roman mythology, and represents his coming to terms with his own homosexuality and love for his Yakuza "older brother", and his "rebirth" as a new person.
  • The Monkees movie Head. A Deconstruction of the TV Show, plus an anti-establishment acid trip. Literally written while high on pot.
  • The 1965 science fiction horror Monster a-Go Go attempts to pull off a mind screw at its climax, although as with everything else in the film — acting, special effects, sound recording — this fails utterly. In brief, director Bill Rebane ran out of money before he could finish the film; the footage was was later purchased by producer Herschell Gordon Lewis, who finished it as cheaply as possible, with extra scenes shot a year later and some spurious narration. The end result was a disjointed, haunting mess, in which characters we don't know talk at great length about a threat we never see. The kicker comes at the end; after sixty minutes of plotless meandering, it finally seems as if the radioactive monster has been cornered, in a sewer. The army are called in, and we watch some soldiers dressing themselves in radiation suits for five long minutes. But just as it seems that some action is about to take place, a cosmic switch is pulled. There was no monster. "There was no trail. There was no giant, no monster, no thing called "Douglas" to be followed."
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Figuring out the meaning of life is easy compared with figuring out the meaning of this movie. In fact they were so busy mind screwing the viewer that they forgot to actually convey the meaning of life, having to hastily throw together a bunch of cliched platitudes at the end. Perhaps the only part of the movie that made an ounce of sense, and it was given the least thought.
  • Michael Jackson's Moonwalker can be seen as a mild case of this. We have one segment, where Michael is chased by clay-mation characters, so he turns himself into a clay-mation rabbit and drives away from them on a motorcycle. And then, it turns out that the rabbit (Spike) is real, and Michael and he has a dance contest! Then we have the music video for "Leave me alone", which is heavy enough with symbolism to come across as hopelessly surreal. And then starts the last segment, where Michael suddenly has the ability to turn into a car and a giant robot!
  • The ending of The Ninth Gate has famously caused some confusion among viewers.
  • A Page of Madness, a deeply trippy 1926 silent film from Japan.
    • The film is shot and edited very elliptically, with a deliberately obscure Mind Screw style that bears an obvious debt to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It doesn't help that there is not a single title card in the film. This is because in the silent era in Japan films were accompanied by a benshi, a sort of narrator who would provide live description and commentary of the film as it played.
    • The custodian appears to beat the head doctor to death during an attempt to break his wife out of the asylum. Later the doctor is shown to be alive and well, and the custodian is still working at the asylum.
    • Some shots, like the early scene where the wife sees a specter of her husband or later shots in which the custodian is seen transparent against the background, even seem to suggest that the custodian might be a ghost.
    • Towards the end of the film there's a scene in which the wife, who has been broken out of the asylum by the custodian, is attacking her daughter, who is cowering in the back seat of a car. It's hard to tell how they got to that point, though.
  • Paranoia 1.0 (often known only as One Point O) is as mind-screwy as it gets. A man (Jeremy Sisto, no less) receives empty packages while constantly dozing off in front of his computer: he's trying to write a program to meet a deadline, but he's constantly falling asleep and receiving empty packages... and developing an increasingly unhealthy craving for "Nature Fresh Milk". The apartment complex is full of people who have cravings for equally irrelevant things and there is a landlord that watches everything. Everything in the movie (e.g. what the empty packages are, why the landlord has an equivalent craving for packed meat, etc.) is explained in a logical and sensible manner — that is, until the movie decides to crank up the mind-screw-gears to twelve hundred and then flat out breaks the gauge and lets the whole thing explode. Thus, you just face an ending that leaves you wondering what you just watched.
  • Performance. When the sudden Music Video follows perfectly...
  • The Swedish film Persona (1966) features an actress who goes mute, except maybe she really isn't but wants to get away from her life. Her nurse wants to become the actress because she hates herself, and maybe she did. Or didn't. The actress also has a son that is involved... somehow. The opening scenes feature dead bodies, a sheep being stabbed with a knife, and an erect penis. What does all this have to do with the rest of the film? No idea, as it's even more out of place than the rest of the movie. Anyone who says they get what's going on is lying.
    • The abstract images which open the film are probably an homage to Un Chien Andalou. Bergman realized his work no longer seemed as groundbreaking as it once had, so he was announcing to the world his intention to go deeper into stylistic experimentation.
    • Bergman purposely put in a film break to give viewers a moment away from the surrealism.
  • The movie Pi (π) has a paranoid mathematical genius, Hebrew numerology, conspiracies, neurological headaches, the secret name of God, and the protagonist taking A Drill to his head to escape all this crap. To top it off, it's in black and white. And is scored to techno music.
  • Pink Floyd's The Wall. Especially "The Trial" in which the main character is put on trial by his inner demons, which is portrayed in a grotesque and psychedelic musical animated sequence.
  • Primer, thanks to Time Travel, Second-Hand Storytelling, and a case of The Ending Changes Everything. There is an explanation for almost everything that happens, but you have to watch the movie at least twice to put all the clues together.
  • Guy Ritchie's Revolver. It involves a formula that supposedly allows the main character to win any game, a blood disease that disappears for no apparent reason, a crime lord apparently being the same person as the voices in everybody's heads... Yeah.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show: An asshole and his fiance (that he takes the time to remind everyone of) end up entering a castle inhabited by generic horror movie servants who work for a transvestite Tim Curry who somehow creates a Frankenstein's monster only for a zombified Meat Loaf to ride a motorcycle out of a giant freezer to sing a song while dry humping his girlfriend only for Tim Curry to slaughter him and then apparently marry the monster only for a narrator with no f***ing neck to introduce Tim Curry having sex with the asshole and the slut followed by the musical sex scene of the slut seducing the monster when the paraplegic, Nazi kool-aid man crashes through the wall and announces that Meat Loaf is his nephew and sings about how much of a disappointment Meat Loaf was and this introduces musical attempted rape followed by a musical orgy in a pool and-wouldn't you know it — a musical dance where the servants reveal that they are aliens and kill transvestite Tim Curry, Meat Loaf's girlfriend, and the monster and then fly the castle off into space.
    • Bonus points for Dr. Frank N. Furter supplying the page quote.
  • Rubber: Even once you get past it being a seriocomic horror movie about a tire with telekinetic powers, it's got nultiple fourth walls and is determined to break all of them.
  • The Science of Sleep: Due to the main character's constant and confusing dreaming it's hard to keep up with what is a dream and what isn't. And did that time machine actually work?
  • Shrooms: Regarding Tara's apparent visions of the future, and it is also left unclear as to whether the story of the children's home is real or not. It is also left open to interpretation just how aware Tara is of the murders she commits.
  • If you don't know the twist in The Sixth Sense you will experience the most thorough fucking of your mind ever. The protagonist died five minutes in. The other protagonist knew the whole time and kept it a secret. The wife has been grieving this entire time. It's not so much that the twist in question happened, but that the audience realizes immediately how much sense it makes.
  • The ending of Snuff Movie makes it impossible to know if any of the events the viewer just watched actually happened, or if any of the characters are who they seem to be (or even exist in some cases).
  • The scene in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet watches himself on a VHS tape. He got so confused that he cannot grasp the concept of "when".
  • The Star Wars Holiday Special has quite some moments of mind screw, largely thanks to the fact there's absolutely no subtitles for non-human creatures' languages (such as the wookies). For instance, we'll perhaps never know what were the tiny circus-performers like things the little wookie was watching, let alone the white swimming things that appeared in the machine that grandpa wookie was watching.
  • Stay: It all makes sense at the end the entire film is the product of Ethan's dying mind absorbing his immediate surroundings, but through the course of the narrative, good luck trying to make sense of anything.
  • Suspiria (1977): the plot is nothing else than a "witches doing evil wizardry after being discovered" kind of thing. The bizarre lighting, scary soundtrack, eerie camera angles, buckets of blood, and macabre scenery, though...
    • There's no plot twist in Suspiria. It's a coven of witches. They don't even try to hide that fact, which arguably makes the film even weirder.
  • The South Korean film, A Tale of Two Sisters. Two sisters, Su-Mi and Su-Yeon, move to the countryside to live with their aloof father and Wicked Stepmother after their mother's death. Su-Mi is very protective of her sister, as it is implied that their stepmother abuses her. And then there's a scene that takes place right when dawn is breaking, Su-Mi awakens to a ghost crawling on their bedroom floor, proceeds to stand up and get on the bed in a rather creepy glitchy manner, and then a freaking bleeding arm comes out of the ghost's vagina. Su-Mi wakes up to find that Su-Yeon has started her period, on the same day as the stepmother's. It's later revealed that Su-Yeon was dead the whole time and Su-Mi promptly flips her shit about it. Later, she discovers a trail of blood leading to a bloody burlap sack, which is implied to have Su-Yeon in it. Su-Mi attempts to try to cut the bag open when her stepmother comes along and knocks her out with a freaking statue. Later, Su-Mi's father tells the stepmother to take her meds (which is shown throughout the film), but then it turns out that it was Su-Mi that was taking anti-psychotics and is put into a mental facility. As the film comes to a close, it is revealed that after Su-Mi argues with her father and stepmother, she storms outside in a fit and Su-Yeon runs upstairs to cry, where her mother comforts her until she falls asleep. When Su-Yeon wakes up. she discovers that her mother had hung herself in the wardrobe, and in a fit of panic, she knocks down the wardrobe and inevitably dies.
  • Most films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, including Solaris, Stalker, and The Sacrifice. Also, The Mirror, to which Tarkovsky commented that even he himself didn't understand the full meaning behind some of the scenes.
  • The ending of Time Bandits as well as every other Terry Gilliam film ever made.
    • "Don't touch it! It's Evil!"
      • Completely... It's an ok although odd movie until the final battle and everything after. Then we were all WTF just happened?
      • What do you mean? The ending of Time Bandits couldn't be simpler: God finally catches up with the bandits right as the Evil Genius is about to kill them and escape from his prison within the age of legends. God destroys the Evil Genius; rehires the bandits, telling them it's time to get back to work repairing all the holes in time, and sends the boy back to his home. A charred fragment of the Evil Genius' corpse comes through the time-hole with him, however, and his parents are killed when they touch the fragment, which also causes their house to catch on fire. One of the firemen who comes to put out the fire is the physically identical reincarnation of Agamemnon. What part of any of this is the least bit mysterious?
    • Brazil is a prime example of this. It's about a man living in a corrupt bureaucratic government who uses his dreams as an escape. It gets difficult to separate what's real and what's not, especially at the end when he's going insane as his best friend tortures him. In the original ending, at least.
  • Jim Henson (yes, THAT Jim Henson) made a overly symbolic (and Oscar-nominated) short film called Time Piece. Scenes include a caveman in an office, Jim Henson's head on a serving tray, and the only dialogue in the movie is Jim himself saying "help" about 3 or 4 times.
    • He also made a humorous but bewildering teleplay called The Cube (no relation to the Canadian film and its sequels). It's about a man trapped in a cube shaped room. He has no idea where he is or how he got there. Other people can enter and leave freely, but he cannot. People change into other people, objects appear and disappear, bizarre philosophical interpretations of his situation are suggested and dismissed, and when he gets cut he bleeds strawberry jam. Is he dead? Insane? Part of some twisted psychological experiment? Or is he really just a character in a television program? In a way this film deconstructs this trope, as an overabundance of explanations are provided by other characters, though which (if any) is the truth is never revealed.
  • In the original Total Recall (1990), Quaid describes the real plot of the Big Bad as "the best mindfuck yet." And then Hauser shows up on video chummy with Cohaagen... The real mindfuck — for the audience that is — is the ending, which forces the audience to ask themselves if the entire movie did or didn't take place in Quaid's mind. On second viewings... it's still not clear. Fairly well done for what is otherwise a fairly standard action movie. Word of God is no help on the matter. In fact the director has said both interpretations are consistent with the facts, and it was set up that way on purpose.
  • Un Chien Andalou. Just try to read the Other Wiki's synopsis. Word of God says that was entirely deliberate. Quoting Luis Buñuel on the rules he and Dali set for them selves in writing the script: "no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted." and "Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis."
  • The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) — French hippies on a quest (with Pink Floyd soundtrack)
  • Jean-Luc Godard's film Weekend.
  • Westworld is an odd case in that it almost makes sense, and keeps setting itself up as if for The Reveal. By the end, we've still got a decadent amusement park where a bunch of Ridiculously Human Robots started killing people for no apparent reason. Add in gallons of What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?, and you've got yourself a headache.
    • -and then it's remade as 'Jurassic Park'.
  • while the Canon ending of ‘ ‘ Film/thewizardofoz’’ states that it was all a dream, it can be quite difficult to know what real and what’s not. Especially since the ruby slippers sent dorothy at the exact same time she woke up.
  • What the #$*! Do We Know!? is a major, major offender of this one. If you can make some sense out of the cryptic, convoluted Technobabble about Quantum Mechanics, Religion, Life, the Universe and Everything, you'll see how this movie easily beats Serial Experiments Lain in terms of head-trippiness, even though even The Other Wiki agrees it's all just quantum mysticism mixed with the ideas of some new age school. According to Intuitor, it also completely messed up Quantum Physics, horrible research, biases and scientific inaccuracies destroyed any hope of correct science.
    • Here's the key: there is a middle-aged woman doing her best attempt at a deep male voice partway through the film. The name given on screen is "Ramtha". Her cult funded the entire movie.
    • Additionally, David Albert, the Camberidge Physics/Philosophy professor who appears in the film, has gone on record stating that the filmmakers have selectively edited his interview to make it appear that he endorses the film's thesis that quantum mechanics are linked with consciousness when really he is "profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness."
    • What the Bleep's Mind Screw ability depends on your gullibility.
  • In The Wolfman (2010), Did Gwen really visit Lawrence in the asylum? Or did Sir John for that matter? Is there some hidden symbolism behind the razor and all the candles everywhere?! Plus all the symbolism and foreshadowing in the hallucination sequences. Perhaps Lawrence just imagined the whole movie!
  • The genre blender Xtro. Best summed up by this review:
    "Bizarre alien horror movie about an abductee who returns three years later in alien form in order to abduct his son. He goes through several transformations, one of them by impregnating a woman through her mouth and gorily emerging a short while later as a full grown male. He transforms his son by sucking on his shoulder, who then joins him in bizarre activities like melting phones, creating a killer midget clown and stuffing the babysitter into a cocoon so that she can lay eggs. No, this movie does not make any sense."
  • Zardoz, quite possibly the only film to begin with a giant stone head coming out of the sky, declaring the penis to be evil, and throwing a bunch of guns out of its mouth. The movie just gets weirder from there.

Alternative Title(s): Film


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