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The Mind Twisters (8 Movies No One Can Watch Just Once)

April 15, 2014 | By

The best aspect of this genre is the faith the film-makers place on the audience’s intelligence and wit. No unnecessary dumbing down, a complex story more on psychological aspects and a frustratingly convoluted script.

These are films that

a) give you glassy eyes,

b) hang your lower jaw, and

 c) force the words WTF out of your mouth.

There is a better word for Mind-Twister, in lines with the word that just came out of your mouth, but etiquette insists I stick to Mind Twister. I wish there was some cool sounding German name for this like Bildungsroman (psychological picture of the protagonist in novel/film), or Schadenfreude (my all time favourite phrase, being happy at other’s misery). For the record, this is my favourite genre of films.

These are films that give you glassy eyes, hang your lower jaw

These are films that give you glassy eyes, hang your lower jaw

I classify Mind Twisters (or WTF films) as per the following criteria:

i.      The best aspect of this genre is the faith the film-makers place on the audience’s intelligence and wit. No unnecessary dumbing downs, a complex story more on psychological aspects and a frustratingly convoluted script. The dialogues are non-patronising and explanations are kept to a minimum.

ii.      Sometimes the frames are not time-dependent. Our brains can perfectly see reason when events, however complex, unfold with passage of time. We can understand the psyche of the protagonists/antagonists and as a result understand the film. But, if the scenes start to skip between time frames without giving any prior warning (like flashback or subtitles saying “after 7 years”, etc), the brain gets muddled up trying to fit the story in a single timeline, cannot do so because the actions make no sense and as a result we undergo actions a, b, and c described earlier.

iii.    There are however, many films which purely play with your mind and rational thinking. Right vs Wrong, Truth vs Lie, Real vs Imaginary… Many times the lines get blurred and you are forced to THINK rather than SEE.

iv.     There is another way of classifying Mind-Twisters. The number of times one has to watch the film to understand what the hell that was all about. For me, the watchability meter to classify a mind twister should not be less than 3.

So here are eight such Mind Twisters that I have watched till now and undergone the above actions a, b and c. I have watched many of them close to 4-5 times to really really understand the hell that was going on and enjoyed every minute of it.

This list is not exhaustive as the honorable mentions at the end will tell you. There are many more left that I have to watch and I request you to please help me add to my collection.

Primer 

(2004)

Primer (2004) is available on Amazon

Primer (2004)
Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan
Directed by: Shane Carruth

I thought this was some low budget action film considering the fact that primer is something one finds in a bullet.  But I was very mistaken. This is a film of two friends Abe and Aaron, who try to reduce the weight of an object. Although they succeed in their experiment, they find that the object travels to and fro in time for about 1300 times.

They decide to try it on themselves. They travel backward in time, after having checked the stock prices prior to the travel, invest in rising stocks and come out of the time travel, richer.

Now, the hitch is that both the versions of Abe/Aaron, I will call them ‘Prime’ and ‘Derivative 1’, exist simultaneously at a certain point of time. Pretty clear till now?

Well, this is where the twisting starts. At some point, Aaron Derivative 1 incapacitates Aaron Prime and continues with the time travel experiment. They manipulate the stock market, their families’ lives and start to unravel psychologically. By the end, there are three versions of Aaron (Prime, Der 1 and Der 2) and two versions of Abe (Prime and Der1) living and Aaron Der 2 has gone to another place to fabricate a time travel machine for more than 1 person.

Time travel method in Primer by Tom–B Based on previous work by MJL Source: derivative work: Tom-b (talk) under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Time travel method in Primer by Tom–B
Based on previous work by MJL
Source: derivative work – Tom-b (talk)
under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

The film is unapologetically intelligent. The dialogues are crisp and sometimes completely baffling (It actually took me some time before I realised that palladium found in catalytic converter is also used in superconductor experiments.)

The explanation of time travel was good, although the director did not bother to explain it too much (contrast this with a 5 minute monologue of Max on definition of Pi in ‘Pi’).

The film NEEDS to be watched with subtitles, because 15 minutes into it, you can get lost as ever. I actually watched it 5 times, understood zilch, then foraged the internet for blogs and forums on Primer discussions. Looks like I was not the only whacked out viewer! There are tons of websites on the internet that explain (or try to) what all went on in the film.  Here is a link that gives the timeline of the whole film.[The Primer Universe]

The film was written, directed and acted by immensely talented Shane Carruth on a shoe string budget (7000 USD)[ Primer (film)]. As for the movie, a resounding 5/5 and additional 2 pts for assuming (wrongly of course!) that I am an intelligent audience!

Number of views: 5, Points: 7/5!!

Note: Similar storyline was adapted in Looper (2012) starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (with bad kohl smeared eyes). As usual, being a Bruce Willis movie, it has more guns and fights than the real paradox of time travel. After watching Primer, Looper felt like a baby toy.

Points: 1.5/5

Rashomon

(1950)

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Fumiko Homma
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa (Director)

Sometimes, when you watch a film, you are amazed by the intelligence and pathos of the director/scriptwriter and his/her attitude towards the audience. Rashomon is one such film. I have always been a great admirer of Akira Kurosawa films (Drunken Angel, Seven Samurai).

One can do a PhD research on his films, well, him and Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, Shyam Benegal, Ritwik Ghatak, … the list of epic directors is too long.

Rashomon is a film about an incident, a rape of a noble-woman and murder of a Samurai, which is explained in different and contradictory stories by four people involved in the incident namely the bandit, the woman, the Samurai’s ghost and the villager. Although, the villager’s version seems to be the most plausible one, still the ending is left open for personal interpretations of the viewer.

What I liked most about the film was the character and motivation of the Woman. She is, by far the strongest element of the whole film. The film is very engaging, in spite of the language barrier, Toshiro Mifune is amazing as the bandit. The watchability of the film is high because one cannot understand the nuances and the gravity of the dialogues in just one viewing. I have seen the film more than 4 times and everytime, I find something new to think about.

Number of views: 5, Points: 5/5!!

Memento

(2000)

Memento (2000)

Memento (2000)
Starring: Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

This film was made by another of my favourite directors, Christopher Nolan (Inception, Insomnia, The Dark Knight, The Prestige).

The story is about an insurance investigator, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) whose wife was raped while he was hit on his head and suffered from Retrograde Amnesia (short term memory loss).

Leonard creates a separate reality of himself and the world around him where he searches his wife’s killer based on polaroids that he takes during his journey. There are may people around him who manipulate his condition.

However, at the end he realises he himself may have killed his wife (for a brief period only) and has already killed her rapist. But due to his condition, the cycle starts again.

I request all who still haven’t seen “Ghajini” yet to please see Memento first to appreciate intelligent and engaging filmmaking. This film holds the maximum number of watches for me, 7 whopping times!!

Leonard creates a separate reality of himself and the world around him where he searches his wife’s killer

Leonard creates a separate reality of himself and the world around him where he searches his wife’s killer

There are two storylines of the same protagonist. The B/W scenes move forward in time, while the coloured scenes move backward, both chronologically. The scenes are alternate, i.e.  B/W(i) – Colour (n) – B/W (i+1) – Colour(n-1) – B/W (i+2) – Colour (n-2)… where i = Scene no. 1.

At one point where, B/W(i+k) = Colour (n-k), the scene transitions from black and white into colour and becomes the prelude to the first scene of the movie. So basically, what you have been doing is watching the film backwards. Cool, huh? I bet it will take more than one viewing to get a hit at it.

Number of views: 7, Points: 5/5

Barton Fink

(1991)

Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink (1991)
Starring: John Turturro, John Goodman
Directed by: Joel Coen

The fact that this film is directed by the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, Fargo, Burn after reading, The Big Lebowski… the list goes on) is enough to categorise it into Mind-twister genre. It’s a “noir-comedy”(??) film of a famous theatre scriptwriter Barton Fink who experiences writer’s block after being invited to Hollywood to write a boxing film.

He stays in a dilapidated Hotel (Earle), meets his mysterious yet friendly neighbour, Charlie Meadows, who keeps saying he has a story to tell and is ‘definitely’ not an insurance salesman. There is murder, detectives, an irritating mosquito, burning down of a hotel and a head in a box… or is there?

The film starts off comfortably, the scenes of Barton with the big shot Hollywood producer are awesome. Barton also meets other people like the writers, directors etc.

Suddenly, with the discovery of a dead body on his bed, the whole thing becomes frustratingly twisted. One is drawn into the mayhem and gradually reality and imagination get blurred.

John Turturro as Barton and John Goodman as Charlie are amazing. Again, the movie is left open ended. It is not clear what happens to Barton in the end and how/why did he meet the girl in the poster? Was it all a dream, hallucination or something to do with his writer’s block?

Coen Brothers being Coen Brothers, they leave you to stew in your own brain juices…

Number of views: 3, Points : 4.5/5

Mulholland Drive

(2001)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive (2001)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring
Directed by: David Lynch

I am not big fan of acclaimed director and surrealist David Lynch, after watching Eraserhead (Couldn’t stomach the film). So didn’t expect much from Mulholland Drive either.

But after 4 watches, the film immediately got classified into must watch Mind-Twister genre. Please do not read any spoiler alerts before watching the film. I assure you will be pleasantly befuddled and can live off the discussions in many dinners.

Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an aspiring actress in LA takes in an unknown woman who calls herself Rita (Laura Harring). Rita is suffering from memory loss and has completely lost her bearings. Betty is extremely talented and becomes a favourite of many directors and producers. But an underworld boss controls the casting of heroines of films and pushes his protégé, replacing Betty.

Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive
Pic: Amazon

Rita gradually starts to remember a few things, when there is a marked transition from the smooth and clear storyline to a totally unusual track.

Suddenly, reality and imagination collide and the audience is shocked awake into a new world of Betty, Rita and all other characters of the film.

Although, the film is not open ended and after a few viewings, one understands the whole story, but the journey towards the realisation is just too good.

Number of views: 4, Points: 4.5/5

 

American Psycho

(2000)

You must be wondering by now what’s wrong with this woman? She glorifies slasher and gore-fests claiming them to be intelligent! But once you watch this film, rather twice, you will understand what I mean.

American Psycho (Uncut Version) (2000)

American Psycho (Uncut Version) (2000)
Starring: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux
Directed by: Mary Harron

On the surface, this is a terribly violent R-rated film about a sick and severely disturbed 25-something banker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), who goes on a killing spree, completely loses it and at the end realises that it all might have been a dream. That’s your first watch.

Later, you concentrate more on the monologues/dialogues and the nuanced acting. The first scene where Patrick Bateman admires his body and lists out his moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner and his apparent disgust at low status people suggest a man not sure of his own sexuality. He has an apparently vast knowledge of hit records but they sound as if he remembered them by rote.  He is disgusted at the yuppie culture while still struggling to be a part of it, he always tries the game of one-upmanship with his colleagues (the famous visiting card scene), he undergoes gradual decay of morality and finally spirals downward into complete chaos.

American Psycho (Uncut Version) (Killer Collector's Edition) (2000)American Psycho (Uncut Version) (Killer Collector's Edition) (2000)

Of course, all the killings, hackings and gore-fest are in his head
Pic: Amazon

Of course, all the killings, hackings and gory stuff are in his head, but I think they are symbolic of the death (killing) of what we hold right and true.

At the end, he is indistinguishable from his colleague Paul Allen. Isn’t it the same with all of us? Our ambitions, status seeking nature, moral dimensions, apathy make us all the same. I feel we all have a little bit of Patrick Bateman in us.

In the end, he says “This confession has meant nothing”. I found it a highly intelligent film, despite being R-rated.

Number of views: 4, Points: 4/5

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(2004)

This movie is essentially a love story. And a very beautiful one too. Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) fall in love. However, with time, they realise they are not suitable for each other and decide to part ways.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet
Directed by: Winslet Michel Gondry

Clementine gets her memories of Joel erased through some procedure. When Joel gets to know this, he also decides to erase all his memories of Clementine. However, during the procedure, he realises that he still has feelings for her and struggles to hold on to her memories.

The whole movie revolves around Joel’s struggles to remember Clementine, in any way possible. He even tries to smuggle her into his childhood memories so that they are not erased. I wonder whether Christopher Nolan got inspired by this movie before making Inception.

At the end, although having forgotten each other, memory-wise, they still harbour unknown feelings for the other. As the film’s tagline says, “You can erase someone from your mind, getting them out of your heart is another story“. I watched this film long back and needed one re-watch to make any sense out of it all. Still, this is one of those rare romantic Mind-Twister films.

Number of views: 3, Points: 4/5

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The Nines

(2007)

The Nines (2007)

The Nines (2007)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis
Directed by: John August

Ok, a confession! I haven’t understood this film yet, so it’s pretty much still a confusing film for me. The film is in three parts, played by the same actors.

Part 1: Gary (Ryan Reynolds) is an actor who is under house arrest and cared for by his Agent Margaret (Melissa McCarthy). He falls for his neighbour, a single mom who promises to get him “out of here (the house?)” He is obsessed by the number nine.

Part 2: Gavin (Ryan Reynolds) is some kind of TV producer/writer writing a show for his best friend (Melissa McCarthy). He lives in a house where Part 1 Gary is kept under arrest (parallel universe?). He continuously finds things which Gary (Part 1) leaves around believes himself to be haunted.

Part 3: Gabriel (Ryan Reynolds, again) is a game designer with a wife Mary (Melissa McCarthy, again) and a daughter. They get stranded in a forest and Gavin goes to get help, meets the same woman who was his neighbour in Part 1.

She says that he is not a human being, but some kind of a God, who has fallen in love with a human being (Melissa apparently), and keeps reincarnating back to the human world to be with her. That the forest woman is apparently an angel who has to bring God, back to where he belongs… Duh?! I still don’t know what to make of this film.

Number of views: 2, Points: 2/5 (incomplete)

There are many honourable mentions and 4-5/5 films which I have omitted, thanks to my laziness. However, I do plan to develop them at a later time.

12 Monkeys

An amazing time travel film starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt

Inception

Christopher Nolan. No introduction required, I suppose

Cube

A psycho slasher film but with some mathematical mind twister.

The Prestige

Christopher Nolan again.

Moon

A time loop mindtwister starring only Sam Rockwell

Triangle

The big brother of moon, with loads of violence and killings (not for the faint hearted)

Matrix

This trilogy and the symbolisms are worth a research paper. Can someone fund me?

Identity

A classic mindtwister …. and many more. Please add to my collection.

Debarati Bhattacharjee is a Member of Moviemaniacs Facebook Group. The opinions shared by the reviewers are their personal opinions and does not reflect the collective opinion of Moviemaniacs Facebook Group or Silhouette Magazine.

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Debarati Bhattacharjee is a scientist by profession. When she is not working, which is often, she watches movies and reads books, and dreams of going to exotic lands. She is an avid traveller and frequently dreams of a parallel universe where she is a hot shot travel writer for Discovery/NatGeo/Lonely Planet.
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