(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the movies mentioned and these movies all deal with mature themes. Drug use and explicit sexuality seem to be the most popular. You have been warned.)
In the 10-year plus history of the #MarvelCinematicUniverse, every hero and villain we have been introduced to has been a misfit of science in one way or another. #DoctorStrange, however, is the first in the series to delve into the murky realms of magic. Even Thor dismisses claims that Asgard is a land of magic, strictly speaking.
Instead of the more whimsical, pagan-inspired magic system of another recent movie franchise, #Marvel and #Disney seem to have opted for a more plausible (in context, of course) blend of comic book science and the LSD-inspired psychedelia from the early days of the comic series itself in Doctor Strange.
It's this psychedelic approach that we are most interested in today, because it is the (pun intended) strange imagery that permeates throughout the movie that leads to some of its most thrilling sequences and begs the question: Is there anything else like that out there?
Yes, there is. While these sort of consciousness-bending, time-warping, reality-flaying visual and storytelling tropes are decidedly rare in big-budget Hollywood filmmaking, there are countless movies out there that have walked this intrepid path before. You want something trippy and surreal? Here are a handful of movies that will make for a great double or triple feature with Doctor Strange.
1. John Dies At The End (2012, USA)
OK, so there's this new drug on the streets called Soy Sauce, a living narcotic that gives users the power to see things no one else can see and remember things that haven't happened yet. Or it turns them into giant space bugs — it isn't entirely clear.
This is movie with a true "stoner flick" feel to it. Homicidal mustaches, ghosts that communicate through hot dogs, a parallel universe with machines made of meat, and drug dealers with magic powers. Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft made Dazed and Confused and you'll have some idea of what this movie is like.
We are told all of this from the unreliable, rambling perspective of David Wong (Chase Williamson) as he relates to a reporter (Paul Giamatti) the story of how he and his hapless buddy John (Rob Mayes) were chosen by the Sauce to save the universe. From what? They have no idea, but they might not be the heroes of their own story. No spoilers. You want to pair Doctor Strange with a horror movie or a nice comedy? Look no further.
Directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep)
2. Run Lola Run (1998, Germany)
If the time distortion and looping aspects of Doctor Strange appealed to you, then #RunLolaRun is where you want to go next. Lola (Franka Potente) is the girlfriend of a low-rent crook named Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) who has misplaced a bag full of money as he was on his way to deliver it to his boss. Desperate, he calls Lola for help.
- She has 20 minutes to save his life.
- The story is told in real time.
- The movie is 80 minutes long.
Think about that for a second and you would probably think the story moves at an agonizingly slow pace, but you would be very wrong. Run Lola Run moves at a breakneck speed from start to finish, with quick MTV-style editing and a surreal mix of live action and animation.
How does this work? It tells the same story multiple times, with each attempt to save Manni's life turning out differently (but always tragically) then resetting. Why this happens is never fully explained. Is she playing out the possibilities in her head? Does the god-like soccer referee narrating the movie have something to do with it? Alternate universes?
In the end though, it doesn't matter. What does matter is the movie's boundless energy, cinematography, themes of fate versus free will and the strange way that, no matter how fast the world is spinning out of control, sometimes the best way to keep up is to stop.
Directed by Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas, Princess and the Warrior)
3. Enter The Void (2009, France)
Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that most unashamedly can be called psychedelic. Focused less on the narrative and more on the viewing experience itself, it draws inspiration from eclectic places such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the experimental films of Kenneth Anger. #EnterTheVoid tells the story of Oscar, a strung-out American drug dealer living in Japan after he is shot by police in a grubby toilet and follows his journey through the afterlife. The movie is presented from first-person perspective as one long, unbroken shot, in very creative ways.
After he dies, Oscar experiences flashbacks of his entire life, from birth to death, showing him the trail of decisions that led up to his death in a hallucinatory blast of pulsing light and color, then moves to a floating view of the days after and the consequences of his decisions, especially on his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and her harrowing downward spiral. Then, finally (if this wasn't surreal enough) we follow him through his rebirth.
Is all of this real? Is it a all drug trip (he is on DMT when he dies, leading to some of the film's most interesting visuals), or the last gasp of oxygen in a junkie's brain? Even director Gaspar Noé seems to take the more grounded approach, but we the viewer are forced to take the experience at face value, and what we get is a ride unlike anything ever filmed before. This isn't a movie you are going to "like" in the strictest sense. The visuals are assaulting and disjointing at times and possibly seizure-inducing at points, the main character is an absolute moron and his relationship with his sister goes to some weird places, but you are promised an experience you won't soon forget.
Directed by Gaspar Noé (Love, I Stand Alone, Irréversible)
4. Lost Highway/Mulholland Drive (1997/2001, USA)
We are going to consider both of these movies from director David Lynch because they are so thematically similar, but it's worth saying off the top that #MulhollandDrive is the most popular of the two, and for good reason. Seen today, #LostHighway comes off as a kind of prototype for Mulholland Drive, but both share a similar cryptic, darkly comic, mind-bending tone that plays with the very core of both reality and identity.
In Lost Highway, Bill Pullman plays Fred, a musician who receives strange visions of a mystery man who records him in his sleep. One day, he wakes up to find a tape of him hovering over his wife's dead body and is arrested for her murder. While in prison, he experiences a kind of mental (and physical) break that leaves him living the life of a man he's never met before, where his wife (Patricia Arquette) is now the wife of a psychotic gangster (Robert Loggia) and the chaos that unfolds asks many questions about Fred's life but offers few answers. Is the mystery man (Robert Blake) an aspect of some long-held guilt? Is he seeing a fractured vision of the past? Did he, in his new body, leave the messages for his old self to find? Who knows.
Mulholland Drive has a similar temporally-disjointed narrative, but is a more straightforward mystery story. Naomi Watts plays Betty, a woman who moves to Los Angeles and meets an amnesiac woman who calls herself Rita hiding in her apartment. It follows a murky dream-logic narrative style, jumping around in time to tell side vignettes that at first seem to have nothing to do with the main story, but involve some of the same characters. Often living different lives. The end result is an experience that leaves you wondering, for awhile anyway, what is real and what isn't.
Despite all of the hallucinations, dream logic, strange imagery and typical David Lynch weirdness, Mulholland Drive is probably the most normal and straightforward movie on this list, and probably the most plot-driven. If you want something more grounded after a flashy superhero film, follow Doctor Strange up with one of these two.
Directed by David Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man)
5. Pi (1998, USA)
The directorial debut of Darren Aronofsky and shot in black and white for a budget of less than $70,000, Pi is the story of Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), an obsessive and paranoid mathematician who subscribes to the belief that mathematics is the language of the universe — a belief that everything in reality can be expressed in numbers and graphed. On a large enough graph, even the most complex set of data reveals patterns. A blend of science and mysticism that probably sounds familiar to Doctor Strange fans.
Working in a nest of wires and outdated computers in a crummy Chinatown apartment, Max is hired by a shadowy corporation to analyze and map the hidden patterns of the stock market using a mysterious new computer chip when he stumbles onto one of the great mysteries of the universe — a pattern behind all patterns that crashes both his computer and him. When he wakes up, he is left with nothing but a strange 216-digit number. This number, as revealed when he tries to find the code again within the Torah, by a group of Qabalists, might very well be the long-hidden true name of god. Now, both the Qabalists and the corporation want the number for themselves and will stop at nothing to get it, but it was Max who was given the number. What is he going to do with it?
If you are left in the mood for something dark and edgy in the way that only 1990s independent cinema can offer, shot on the cheap with a manic, choppy pace with arresting, grainy visuals, and an iconic soundtrack, you've found what you were looking for.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream)
If you've already seen Doctor Strange, you can indulge your inner comic book nerd by exploring some of the awesome Easter Eggs hidden throughout the film:
Check out more original Movie Pilot videos here.
What other trippy films do you think best compliment Doctor Strange?