Sunday, March 9, 2014

Enemy and 5 More Mind-Boggling Movies

Guest contributor Kate Voss looks at a handful of films that messed with the minds of their viewers.

Recently DirecTV started exclusively offering the new Jake Gyllenhaal film Enemy, in which he plays an ordinary man who discovers he has a double. As his character struggles to discover how exactly his identical doppelganger came into existance, director Denis Villeneuve does his best to sufficiently scramble your brains with his intensely vague, surreal portrayal of the plot based on the 2002 book The Double by Jose Saramago. It's a great film, with wonderful acting and a completely unique approach to storytelling but, if you choose to watch it, expect to be confused, bewildered, and perhaps a little delirious afterwards. In honor of this fantastic film, let's take a look at some other mind bending films that have made names for themselves by leaving audiences asking, "Wait... What just happened?"


Let's start with the basic premise of this film: a team of dream stealers are able to infiltrate minds in order to implant ideas or extract information from a person's subconscious. It's an idea that's both highly interesting and deeply horrifying. Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play a duo of "extractors" who enter their client's business rival's dreams to retrieve corporate information that will potentially help their client stay one step ahead in the business world.

The extractors are then asked to plant the idea of dissolving the competitor's business into his mind. DiCaprio and Gordon-Levitt's characters decide to enlist a team able to create an intricate dream labyrinth, which they will enter as a group. The film then becomes too complex and surreal to adequately describe in a short blurb, but the real confusion starts when we learn more about Dom (DiCaprio) and the story behind his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard). The viewer spends a vast majority of the film wondering if it is all taking place in the mind, or if the team is back in real life. If you have hopes that the end will finally answer all the questions, you're bound to be disappointed.


This 2001 film written and directed by David Lynch started as a television pilot for ABC. After seeing the pilot, television executives rejected the idea, but Lynch continued to film it, this time as a single, full length movie that combines a series of stories taking place in Los Angeles within the film industry. The result is signature Lynch: dark, surreal, generally confusing, and brilliant.

In her first major film role, Naomi Watts stars as aspiring actress Betty Elms, who arrives in L.A. to stay with her aunt. When she arrives she finds a strange woman who broke into her aunt's home after getting in a car crash on Mulholland Drive. The woman (Laura Harring) decides to go by the name Rita, as she is unable to recall who she really is. As the two women try to piece together who Rita actually is, they begin to develop a romantic relationship.

Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated subplot, director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is being pushed by the mob to cast an unknown actress (Melissa George) in his new film. After leaving the set he finds his wife with another man and she throws him out. He discovers his line of credit has been closed by his bank and he's broke and without a home. The two storylines come together in a bizarre turn of events that leaves you wondering if you're watching a film within a film, a dream, or actual reality.


The Matrix is essentially a classic in the mind-bending genre by now. The film tells the story of a future world in the aftermath of a war between humans and the intelligent robots they created, which resulted in the robots harvesting the humans' bioelectricity and entrapping their minds in "the Matrix" which is a simulation of the world in 1999.

When hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) enters the Matrix and learns what it really is, he is praised as "the One", who is prophesied as the hero that will end the war between the humans and robots. He works alongside his newfound allies Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to fight the government agents who have branded them terrorists. The team must navigate the digital reality and fight the forces trying to stop them from starting a rebellion and freeing the entrapped humans.

It's a film that offers both the brains of a sci-fi film and the brawn of an action film. As we become more and more dependent on technology and the internet, one could even say the film takes on a whole new context than it did when it was originally released in 1999, which makes it even more disturbing and confusing.


This film starts with a romance between strangers Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) who, despite being complete opposites, feel an intense attraction to each other. We soon discover that Joel and Clementine aren't strangers at all. In fact, they were actually in a relationship for two years.

We discover that after a major fight between the two, Clementine had gone to a facility with the ability to completely erase unwanted memories. There, she had her entire relationship with Joel erased from her mind. When Joel discovers this, he makes the decision to have the same done to him. While Joel is in the procedure room we are able to learn what their relationship was like through his dreams. However, because large portions of the film take place in the mind, its setting and the scene itself are often random, as if the two years stored in Joel’s mind were put into a blender and spat back out. At its core it is a love story, but the often surreal settings and erratically pieced together plotline often leaves the viewer wondering when, where, and if any of it actually happened.


This 2009 film by Lars von Trier toes the line of art film, horror, surrealism, and sadism, while leaving the viewer both unsettled and intrigued. The story starts with a couple known only as He and She (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who have just lost their son. She collapses at the funeral and spends the subsequent month in a psychiatric hospital, despite her husband’s reservations about her treatment. When she returns home he attempts to treat her himself through exposure therapy at the couple’s cabin.

The story follows her growing madness and often leaves audiences confused as to what is real and what is being imagined. As the woods come alive in dark and menacing ways, She becomes increasingly violent, and partakes in masochistic sexual behaviors that she often forces her husband to join in on. It truly depicts not a person's, but a couple's, descent into complete madness from grief. Viewers will be bewildered, and sometimes repulsed, by what is happening, but yet still want to know how it could all possibly end.

Kate Voss is a film and entertainment blogger for who writes about everything from classic comedies to the latest underground horror flicks. She lives and works in Chicago where she can often be found holed up in her bed watching Netflix.

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