Top 10 Mindf**k Movies

Top 10 Martin Anderson 6 Nov 2007 - 08:11
Total Recall

With more spoilers than Formula One, Martin gets out of the shower to find it was all just a bad dream...

Mindfuck: An idea or concept that shakes one's previously held beliefs or assumptions about the nature of reality. (Urban Dictionary)

Though mentioned in the lyrics of The Rocky Horror Show, 'mindfuck' entered the cultural consciousness with Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi outing Total Recall

ARNIE: “I’ve got to hand it to you, Cohagen – that’s the best mind-fuck yet.”

The late Philip K. Dick (Total Recall was based on his short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) was the mindfuck-master, and the cream of his short-stories frequently feature people who discover the world is not quite as they thought. In Blade Runner, Rachel’s discovery that her memories are cut-and-paste copies of her employer’s niece’s life is a fairly typical P.K.D. event. Dick was obsessed with solipsism, the notion that our reality is informed only by senses that can be manipulated, and works such as Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch explore the narrative potential of these possibilities.

The best of hack-novelist John Franklin Bardin’s secret ‘quality’ work is also a great literary mindfuck – in his 1946 novel The Deadly Percheron, a respected psychiatrist wakes up one day to find he is actually a disfigured patient in a mental institution, and must decide if his memory of another life is part of his sickness or the key to his salvation.

Heading for the bargain-basement section, probably the most famous and outrageous mindfuck in popular western culture was when the producers of Dallas decided to reincarnate a dead character when the actor wanted back into the role, and Bobby Ewing famously stepped out of Victoria Principal’s shower and nullified all the events in the previous season of the show. Not even Emma Samms’s alien abduction in The Colbys could top it.

Let’s look at some of the best movie mindfucks, excluding however the noteworthy Shyamalan-style ‘He was dead all the time’ conceit found in his work and in films such as The Others (2001). Here are some reality-bending scenarios that did it the hard way…

10. F For Fake (Vérités et mensonges, FR, 1974)
In this under-rated curiosity from the tail-end of the great Orson Welles’s career, the corpulent prankster presents us with a history of inventive and strange cases of fakery and fraud, and promises that "For the next hour everything in this film is strictly based on the available facts.". Trouble is, the film runs for eighty-five minutes, and Welles confesses at the end that he has been lying his head off for nearly half an hour!

9. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
‘Amnesia-chick’ Geena Davis has hired down-at-heel dick Samuel L. Jackson to find out who she was before she washed up on the New England shore and became a cookie-baking wife and mother. Turns out she was a hypertense blonde assassin, and the two sides of her personality go literally head-to-head as she struggles to unravel her past and escape old enemies who have just noticed that she is still alive…

8. The Game (1997)
The ennui of tycoon Michael Douglas’s life is broken by an unusual gift from his brother – participation in a life-altering game run by a Quitters Inc.-style company that seems to have the power to change an implausible number of real-world events. You’ll either be gratified and ‘made whole' by the ending of David Fincher’s typically off-beat thriller, or you’ll be throwing popcorn at the screen in disgust.

7. Paycheck (2003)
Philip K. Dick provides the base story as well-heeled reverse-engineer Ben Affleck gets paid to steal other manufacturers’ ideas and then forget that he ever did it (by chemically burning out memories in his brain). At the end of an unusually long and lucrative ‘blank period’, our hero finds that he seems to have conspired against himself, and sacrificed his huge paycheck [sic]for a few meaningless baubles. Only the envelope full of old tat can tell him why he did it…

6. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Tom Cruise is the publishing heir fighting old-fart rivals on the board of directors in Cameron Crowe’s enigmatic sci-fi thriller. Not only did the initial marketing of the film not make clear that it was a PKD-style mindfuck, but in fact it takes well over an hour before it becomes clear that the film is science-fiction at all, as we begin to suspect that a mysterious cryogenics corporation may have something to do with the gaps in Cruise’s perception of the chronology of his tortured life. Rewarding, but you have to stick with it.

5. The Matrix (1999)
There is no sequel.
There is no second sequel.

Coolly named office-monkey and freelance hacker Thomas Anderson finds that the 1999 he knows is just a computer-generated fiction designed to keep a genetically-harvested mankind in nasty green slime so that their bio-power can fuel the machines that have risen against them. The moment when Neo ‘pops’ is probably the best cinematic example of the kind of abreaction a mindfuck of this magnitude would actually cause when it sinks in.

4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Russell Crowe plays tormented savant mathematician Jon Nash in Ron Howard’s biopic of the schizophrenic Nobel-winning scientist. CIA operative Ed Harris and college-pal Paul Bettany are the tormenting figures who may or may not actually exist…

3. Fight Club (1994)
David Fincher directs again, in a now-classic mindfuck thriller that went a long way to changing the direction of the genre. IKEA-loving loser Edward Norton is dazzled by his new friend, the unconventional and insurrectionist Tyler Durden, who has plans to zero Western society by a physical assault on the West’s banking system. The unlikely pair seem to have little in common – by the end, we find they have literally everything in common…

2. Memento (2001)
Batman Begins auteur Christopher Nolan made his name with this gritty Californian Film Noir, which finds assault-victim Guy Pearce unable to remember anything for more than five minutes, yet determined to solve the mystery of who killed his wife by tattooing clues on his body. Matrix veteran Joe Pantoliano makes his second venture into mindfuck territory as the cop apparently helping Pearce out – or is he…?

1. Total Recall (1990)
Arnie is the lowly construction worker dreaming of affording a trip to mars in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 action/sci-fi outing, an ingenious adaptation and extension (by Alien creators Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett)of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Ultra-violent but also ultra-clever, Dicks ideas –as in Paycheck- are so dazzling as to overcome the film’s many shortcomings.

Links: Jumpcut

Arguable contenders: Jacob's Ladder, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, Life On Mars (S2/E8), The Jacket, La Jettee, Saw, Frailty, The Science Of Sleep, Waking Life, Adaptation, The Usual Suspects, Open Your Eyes, Brainscan.

Click here for a list of ALL the lists at Den Of Geek...

Disqus - noscript

Remember a couple of years ago when the twist to every movie was either "X Person is secretly dead!" or "X Person and Y Person are secretly the same person!"?



Compared with the torture porn-addled mainstream now, I kind of miss that.



And then I remember movies like Boogeyman, Hide and Seek and Reeker and ... yeah, maybe not, after all.

I can understand films like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive being left out, but I don't think something like Blue Velvet would be out of place here.


And Spidergirl, perhaps we could get the best (worst?) of both worlds and have people being graphically tortured by what turns out to be ghosts. I'm just saying, Hostel part III might be the most interesting one yet.

I love David Lynch and early(-ier)Cronenberg, but I couldn't possibly have put the narrative experiments of works like Blue Velvet or even a schlock Carpenter flick such as In The Mouth Of Madness or the very interesting Jacob's Ladder together with the 'standard' movies in this list. The audiences those movies were aimed at were WAITING to be fucked with. You could comfortably list 20 such 'marginal' works. My interest here was listing examples where realityquakes were unexpectedly introduced into popcorn-driven mainstream movies (mostly populist thrillers). So I think the omissions complained about here are a little unreasonable given the clear intent of the piece.

I think an amalgamation of the last decade's worth of horror trends could be quite cool.

A group of attractive, wise-cracking teenagers investigate a series of murders at their high school. After lots of referential genre jokes, the laughing stops as they realise that they're investigating their own murders. They're the ones who are dead! Turns out that what they thought was their school isn't actually their school; they were brought here - to an Eastern European torture chamber made out to look like a school - to be sold to American sadists for torture. We flashback for forty minutes of solid grimness - all egg whisks and rusty razors - after which several of the teens, in the present day, go all clicky-limbed and start crawling on the ceilings, dripping their lank black hair onto the remaining floor-bound teens. As the school fills up with water, we see the torturers running away in horror, but they can't escape! The walls of the school/torture-house are all bricked up. A TV flicks to life in the corner. It's a James Wan puppet! The puppet announces that it's playing a game and for the torturer's lack of respect for human life, they must perish at the hands of the soggy dead teens and the CGI water that's now up to their shoulders. There's a close-up of a drowning torturer, then Wes Craven steps out, grins at the camera and says "cut". We zoom out to reveal whole cast, some wearing prosthetic wounds, laughing and smiling. Eli Roth runs by with a dog. As we pan away, the final shot is of a hockey mask, lying discarded in the wings. A zombie hand picks it up and murmurs "Brraaaaains". Credits roll to the sound of Linkin Park mashed-up with Eastern European folk music.

Anyway, glad to see so many alternative suggestions - I stand by the list with one exception - looking back, I would definitely have swapped F For Fake for The Machinist. Brazil does have a full mind-fuck thrown in at the end, but it's not pivotal to the plot and arghhhh nooo I hate Twelve Monkeys!

Martin - don't get me wrong, I like the article - it's not a criticism. I just think that Lynch defines mindfuck. I get that it's a commercial film list, but given how Blue Velvet starts and that it followed on from Dune and Elephant Man. You drew your line of what you would include at a different point to where I would've drawn mine. I'd still quite happily spoon with you based on this list. And get this - I actually dislike Lynch's more narratively monged films.

And Craig - It's all a joke describing films like that but when there's a writers strike on and people are painfully stupid enough....all I'm saying is think responsibly. Your joke would probably gross a mint at the box office.

What about a ghost film, with the twist being that the ghosts are all actually alive? On second thought, no.

How about putting Frailty on the list? For 90% of the movie, it seems like a fairly regular traumatic childhood drama, then it goes mental. I'd also suggest Skeleton Key for the same reason.

My top mindf_ck movie is 'Jacob's Ladder'. Creepy and stylish and disturbing and heartbreaking. I usually hate Adrian Lyne movies but this movie is brilliant. Am I the only person in the world who thinks this is a great movie?

valpy - not at all. Jacob's Ladder is definitely worth a look.

Martin

I completely agree with Jacob's Ladder, but I can't believe that no one mentioned Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Waking Life, or The Science of Sleep.

What about "The Usual Suspects?" Now THAT was a mind-fuck that's STILL fucking with me from the moment I saw it when it was first released.

I am so unbelievably pleased to see Memento as #2. That movie... it BROKE my BRAIN! Seriously, in the urban dictionary under the word mindfuck there's a picture of this movie. Genius. This movie has been known to cause cases of Scanners-like head explosions.
If this list were to go on to say 15 i'd nominate the Usual Suspects & Psycho (and although you said you didn't want Shyamalan, the 6th sense kinda does deserve spot 15).

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer, without a doubt.

No Matrix nerd has corrected this article! It was red/orange goo the harvested humans were in, not green!

Seriously? No 'Primer'? Bogus list.

check out the French version of "The Vanishing"

Being John Malcovich
Lathe of Heaven (the original version)
Street of Crocodiles

"Angel Heart" belongs near the top of any such list. Saw it again recently, and it still holds up well. And man, does it ever fornicate with one's mind in a huge, creepifying way.

Um...OLDBOY OLDBOY OLDBOY.

The Machinist. Watch it.

Actually, I just thought of the ultimate mindfuck movies: The Matrix 2 and 3. Everyone was mindfucked into thinking they would be good.

Sorry to the commenter who brought it up earlier, but the 6th Sense deserves nothing. At best it was an adequately executed Jacob's Ladder derivative.

The Shocking twist/MindFuck/OH Shit! moment in OLD BOY tops Sixth Sense, Fight Club & Usual Suspects combined. I wont even hint at what it is, in case someone here hasn't seen it, but SEE IT!! OLD BOY rules. ..................(sorry if there was a double post)

Eraserhead

Remember a couple of years ago when the twist to every movie was either "X Person is secretly dead!" or "X Person and Y Person are secretly the same person!"?



Compared with the torture porn-addled mainstream now, I kind of miss that.



And then I remember movies like Boogeyman, Hide and Seek and Reeker and ... yeah, maybe not, after all.

I can understand films like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive being left out, but I don't think something like Blue Velvet would be out of place here.


And Spidergirl, perhaps we could get the best (worst?) of both worlds and have people being graphically tortured by what turns out to be ghosts. I'm just saying, Hostel part III might be the most interesting one yet.

I think an amalgamation of the last decade's worth of horror trends could be quite cool.

A group of attractive, wise-cracking teenagers investigate a series of murders at their high school. After lots of referential genre jokes, the laughing stops as they realise that they're investigating their own murders. They're the ones who are dead! Turns out that what they thought was their school isn't actually their school; they were brought here - to an Eastern European torture chamber made out to look like a school - to be sold to American sadists for torture. We flashback for forty minutes of solid grimness - all egg whisks and rusty razors - after which several of the teens, in the present day, go all clicky-limbed and start crawling on the ceilings, dripping their lank black hair onto the remaining floor-bound teens. As the school fills up with water, we see the torturers running away in horror, but they can't escape! The walls of the school/torture-house are all bricked up. A TV flicks to life in the corner. It's a James Wan puppet! The puppet announces that it's playing a game and for the torturer's lack of respect for human life, they must perish at the hands of the soggy dead teens and the CGI water that's now up to their shoulders. There's a close-up of a drowning torturer, then Wes Craven steps out, grins at the camera and says "cut". We zoom out to reveal whole cast, some wearing prosthetic wounds, laughing and smiling. Eli Roth runs by with a dog. As we pan away, the final shot is of a hockey mask, lying discarded in the wings. A zombie hand picks it up and murmurs "Brraaaaains". Credits roll to the sound of Linkin Park mashed-up with Eastern European folk music.

I love David Lynch and early(-ier)Cronenberg, but I couldn't possibly have put the narrative experiments of works like Blue Velvet or even a schlock Carpenter flick such as In The Mouth Of Madness or the very interesting Jacob's Ladder together with the 'standard' movies in this list. The audiences those movies were aimed at were WAITING to be fucked with. You could comfortably list 20 such 'marginal' works. My interest here was listing examples where realityquakes were unexpectedly introduced into popcorn-driven mainstream movies (mostly populist thrillers). So I think the omissions complained about here are a little unreasonable given the clear intent of the piece.

Martin - don't get me wrong, I like the article - it's not a criticism. I just think that Lynch defines mindfuck. I get that it's a commercial film list, but given how Blue Velvet starts and that it followed on from Dune and Elephant Man. You drew your line of what you would include at a different point to where I would've drawn mine. I'd still quite happily spoon with you based on this list. And get this - I actually dislike Lynch's more narratively monged films.

And Craig - It's all a joke describing films like that but when there's a writers strike on and people are painfully stupid enough....all I'm saying is think responsibly. Your joke would probably gross a mint at the box office.

Anyway, glad to see so many alternative suggestions - I stand by the list with one exception - looking back, I would definitely have swapped F For Fake for The Machinist. Brazil does have a full mind-fuck thrown in at the end, but it's not pivotal to the plot and arghhhh nooo I hate Twelve Monkeys!

What about a ghost film, with the twist being that the ghosts are all actually alive? On second thought, no.

How about putting Frailty on the list? For 90% of the movie, it seems like a fairly regular traumatic childhood drama, then it goes mental. I'd also suggest Skeleton Key for the same reason.

My top mindf_ck movie is 'Jacob's Ladder'. Creepy and stylish and disturbing and heartbreaking. I usually hate Adrian Lyne movies but this movie is brilliant. Am I the only person in the world who thinks this is a great movie?

valpy - not at all. Jacob's Ladder is definitely worth a look.

Martin

I completely agree with Jacob's Ladder, but I can't believe that no one mentioned Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Waking Life, or The Science of Sleep.

What about "The Usual Suspects?" Now THAT was a mind-fuck that's STILL fucking with me from the moment I saw it when it was first released.

I am so unbelievably pleased to see Memento as #2. That movie... it BROKE my BRAIN! Seriously, in the urban dictionary under the word mindfuck there's a picture of this movie. Genius. This movie has been known to cause cases of Scanners-like head explosions.
If this list were to go on to say 15 i'd nominate the Usual Suspects & Psycho (and although you said you didn't want Shyamalan, the 6th sense kinda does deserve spot 15).

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer, without a doubt.

No Matrix nerd has corrected this article! It was red/orange goo the harvested humans were in, not green!

Seriously? No 'Primer'? Bogus list.

check out the French version of "The Vanishing"

Being John Malcovich
Lathe of Heaven (the original version)
Street of Crocodiles

"Angel Heart" belongs near the top of any such list. Saw it again recently, and it still holds up well. And man, does it ever fornicate with one's mind in a huge, creepifying way.

Um...OLDBOY OLDBOY OLDBOY.

The Machinist. Watch it.

Actually, I just thought of the ultimate mindfuck movies: The Matrix 2 and 3. Everyone was mindfucked into thinking they would be good.

Sorry to the commenter who brought it up earlier, but the 6th Sense deserves nothing. At best it was an adequately executed Jacob's Ladder derivative.

The Shocking twist/MindFuck/OH Shit! moment in OLD BOY tops Sixth Sense, Fight Club & Usual Suspects combined. I wont even hint at what it is, in case someone here hasn't seen it, but SEE IT!! OLD BOY rules. ..................(sorry if there was a double post)

Eraserhead

I think Stone Phillips looks like Thomas Gibson of Criminal Minds.Do you agree?

Angel Heart.

Also Mulholland Drive

My mindf*ck double feature was 12 Monkeys followed by Basic Instinct. Took over an hour before my brain reset afterwards.

Pi

I reccomend Mr Nobody
you don't get anything until the end:)

And no mention of serial mind-rapist David Lynch? Come on now...

Also Terry Gilliam... Alejandro Jodorowsky? El Topo has to be the biggest mindfuck in cinema ever.

I always wonder why this film iisn't better known or remembered.

Good call on jacobs ladder

Scanner darkly is probably the best pkd adaption thus far.

Fallen is definitely a great movie. So grim too. Time on my side was totally subsumed for me for years because of Fallen.

Absolutely a Carpenter classic. Still always creeps me out. I found a used dvd, but I've never seen it available new.

Primer was so distressing and brilliant

Um, edit - Fight Club was released in 1999 not 1994

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