One of the joys of cinema is the space it allows storytellers to express their interpretation of big ideas, with the best directors finding ways of processing and pondering concepts based around life's big questions.
Some of the most memorable films ever made are those that stick with you for days after the credits roll. The sort of film where you spend double the amount of time reading theories and background information than you did watching the film itself. Or maybe that's just me...
Anyway, here is a collection of some of the best mind twisting movies that really are a must watch:
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
If we're going to look at the most mind twisting movies, Stanley Kubrick's cinematic masterpiece is the perfect tonic to get the ball rolling. As abstract and perplexing as it is profound and philosophical, this is a film that requires repeated viewings to fully get to grips with.
The 1968 movie was way ahead of its time, tackling the metaphysical, the meaning of life, and the future arc for humanity all within its 142 minute runtime.
2. Jacob's Ladder (1990)
The horror cult classic depicts the hallucinogenic and dishevelled mind of Jacob (Tim Robbins), a Vietnam war veteran who is suffering from flashbacks after he returns home from war.
As Jacob's world becomes a living nightmare, the viewer is pulled forcibly into his world, swimming in the depths of confusion between reality and the dream world. David M. Rosenthal has been signed on to direct a remake, starring Michael Ealy in the lead role.
3. Oldboy (2003)
I am of course talking about Park Chan-wook's South Korean original here, and not the Hollywood remake.
This is one of the best vengeance films of all time, telling the story of Oh Dae-su, a man held captive for 15 years before he's released with the intent of tracking down his captors. For those who haven't seen it, I'll avoid spoiling the twist, but all I'll say is when it arrives, it's like an atomic explosion of WTF!
4. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
The script, crafted by surrealist genius Charlie Kaufman (more from him later) perfectly captures the uncontrollable stream of consciousness we experience in the world of dreams, while also telling a fragile yet acutely authentic love story.
The frantic relationship of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) is told through sporadic clips of transient memories, replicating the mind itself.
5. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the finest actors of his generation, yet often this gem is overlooked. This is Kaufman's directorial debut, and unsurprisingly, he confronts our deepest fears head on, all the while making a mind twisting movie of epic proportions.
Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theatre director who attempts to put on the biggest show of his life: completely recreating New York. It's as mad as it sounds, but cinematically outstanding.
6. Anomalisa (2015)
Well, as we're on the subject of Kaufman, we may as well also include his latest film, the stop motion drama that was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars.
Kaufman manages to capture all the themes that run deep through his creations and portray them onto puppets, in a way that almost enhances the poignancy of the story than subtract from it. It's dark, funny at times and leaves you with a weird, indescribable feeling.
7. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan is highly skilled at being able to effectively and creatively screw with the minds of audiences, with most of his films leaving more questions than answers after they spin to a close.
Inception is another masterpiece which not only explores dreamworld, but jumps in the deep end headfirst with a propellor. The concept of lucid dreaming and the philosophical subject of reality are expressed elegantly.
8. Enter The Void (2009)
Most of the films on this list explore the concepts of death and consciousness, but perhaps none more so than Gasper Noé's mind bending exploration into the afterlife.
This is a riveting watch where Noé pushes the boundaries of cinema by creating a trippy visual and audiological experience that really is worth witnessing, as we follow the journey of protagonist Oscar as he enters the afterlife. All from a first person point of view.
9. The Tree Of Life (2011)
Overhyped, indulgent rubbish? Or a cinematic masterpiece? Upon its release, stories spread of viewers walking out in disgust. Years later, the film is now referred to as a triumph.
While it is undoubtedly abstract beyond measure, it's a film well worthy of the attention it requires; it depicts the meaning of life, relationships, time and the universe, and other recondite matters requires a degree of conceptional grey areas. Sit back, relax, and let the movie twist your mind.
10. The Fountain (2006)
Darren Aronofsky is another skilled surrealist who weaves dark philosophical tones into all of his movies. The Fountain is perhaps his most other worldly attempt at exploring the notions of consciousness, spirituality and death.
The crux of the story centers around a doctor, Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman), who is losing his wife (Rachel Weisz); in a desperate attempt to save her, he searches frantically for a cure. Beyond that, two other storylines are depicted in a nonlinear fashion, exploring the vastness of time and space.
11. Vanilla Sky (2001)
There are two reasons I was hesitant to put this on the list; firstly, the film is generally poorly received, and secondly, it's also a borderline like-for-like remake of the Spanish movie, Open Your Eyes (1997).
So why is it on here? Well, the film stays with you for days, and to fully appreciate the impact events have on David Aames, having a superstar with the stature of Tom Cruise (with support from Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz) amplifies the struggle. Mix in a quality soundtrack (including Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Bob Dylan) and you have a haunting depiction of a questionable reality.
12. Interstellar (2014)
When Nolan goes galactic, you know that the movie is going to be something to behold. What makes the mind twisting movie all the more impressive is its faith to science. Nolan is unafraid of using hardcore physics to attempt to explain events, putting his trust in the audience to stick with it.
But it's below the surface where the film really packs a punch. Chip away at the science and you find a surprisingly spiritual message about love, mankind and our ability to sacrifice for the greater good.
13. The Truman Show (1998)
Another piece of evidence to prove Jim Carrey can excel in a serious role, The Truman Show is one of my personal favorites. The concept itself is grandiose; Truman Burbank is chosen from birth to become the epicenter of a reality TV show surveilling every aspect of his life, all without his knowledge.
The delicate yet powerful performance by Carrey, as well as a tight runtime and brilliant direction from Peter Weir, creates an enjoyable and surreal film that is as captivating as it is original.
14. Under The Skin (2013)
The slow paced and peculiar movie adaptation of the 2000 novel takes a little while to wrap your head around. One thing that makes the quirky narrative all the more impactful is the effortlessly authentic backdrop, which was achieved in part by filming with hidden camera and using "non-actors" in many roles.
Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances as an extra terrestrial yearning to digest human qualities. As the title suggests, one of the films big messages gravitates around the concept that there is much, much more to a person than appearance.
15. Moon (2009)
I wanted to end with something bright and uplifting. I thought to myself: shoot for the moon. Then that reminded me of Duncan Jones' mind twisting movie, which I can't exclude from the list.
This is another film set in space, following 2001 and Interstellar, but while the previous two explore the vastness of humanity, space and time, Moon is a lot more claustrophobic. Our protagonist Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) finds himself near the end of a three year solo mission on the Earth's satellite, joined by the HAL 9000-esque robot, GERTY (Kevin Spacey).
No spoilers for those who haven't seen it, but there is a delightful and unexpected "what the hell just happened?!" moment in the film that'll leave you scratching your head.