Top ten mind-bending films

Ever walked out of the cinema nursing a headache and grinning wildly? With the much-awaited Inception now in cinemas, we thought you’d like to take a peek at ten other films guaranteed to confuse and entertain.

1. The Matrix

How it bends the mind: parallel universes, breaking the laws of physics, and losing our dominance of the planet to machines.

Imagine sitting in your office and getting a phone call, that eventually leads to taking a pill bringing you into the real reality. It turns out you’re a human grown in a pod, and you live inside a giant computer program. Now add to that some Bible references, déjà vu trickery and some mind-boggling slow-motion, and you’ve got yourself a corker of a head-scratcher.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

How it bends the mind: memory erasure, suppression, and romance in a time of amnesia.

Imagine losing someone you love, and being able to heal that loss by erasing their existence from your memory. Sounds straight-forward, surely? Not so if you happen to run into them again. More déjà vu and some seriously freaky dream/memory sequences make Jim Carrey’s adventure to find his loved one in his grey matter riveting.

3. ExistenZ

How it bends the mind: Imagine Dance Dance Revolution, with guns and spinal penetration.

The next time you’re sat playing games, imagine what it’d be like if your Nintendo Wii was actually a virtual-reality pod that plugged into your spine. Suddenly, shooting all those bad guys becomes life or death, and you can’t just “respawn” in real life. Threatening, engaging and playing on an audience getting more and more caught up in gamer fever, Existenz takes multiplayer to the next level.

4. Inland Empire

How it bends the mind: it’s by David Lynch.

David Lynch is known for making the most bizarre cinematic experiences known to man. Inland Empire is, in this writer’s opinion, a masterpiece. Combining thrilling murder-investigation, interspersed shots of odd-talking small people, rabbit-people CCTV and a clown whose mouth seems to warp in and out of reality, and you’ve got two hours of terror and confusion. Like a delay on the London Underground, then.

5. The Saragossa Manuscript

How it bends the mind: worlds within books, and books within worlds.

One of Francis Ford Coppola’s favourite films, it all begins when two men find a manuscript in a deserted house. The manuscript then sucks them into a time-warped universe, where the men meet relatives, strangers, and start changing location each time they wake up. If this sounds like a Sunday morning to you, then fair enough – but it’s a freaky ride through a dream-world – or was the real world the dream?

6. The Fountain

How it bends the mind: how doesn’t it? Chronologically jumbled narratives, another dimension involving the protagonist floating through space in a bubble with a tree in it… the list goes on.

This is probably the trippiest, but one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen. It tells the tale of a scientist trying to save the life of his wife, at the cost of their relationship. Her loss takes us into an alternate dimension as he begins to write and tattoo himself with the pen he uses, and we find him again on an island floating through space with an old, tired tree and nothing else. The bizarre but stunning visuals and moving romance between him and his beloved makes for some incredible, trippy science fiction.

7. Total Recall

How it bends the mind: Imagine having the best holidays in the world, but realising afterwards that it is just that – pure imagination.

Total Recall, like many adaptations of the work of sci-fi genius Phillip K. Dick, is all about the mind and what tampering with it can do to our perception of reality. We’re blessed with the reliable sci-fi presence of the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, cast as a man who realises he’s a mind-wiped secret agent, and heads off to find out why. The Dick short story behind all this is called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale so there’s lots of memory-induced weirdness here, and more than enough action and story smarts to keep anyone entertained.

8. Altered States

How it bends the mind: using isolation tanks that turn a bloke into his de-evolved simian self.

Everyone’s heard of isolation tanks – stick some breathing gear on, float about, sleep, be at one with yourself, man… However, what if a bunch of scientists wanted to take man back to his ape roots through the use of one of them? Lots of psychedelic colour effects in the later stages, plus a were-wolf like transition from man to ape-beast, means Altered States is a film that will chill and thrill in equal measure.

9. Jacob’s Ladder

How it bends the mind: hellish hallucinations, war-torn psychology and a slow degradation into insanity.

You know, with all the crazy things soldiers do on drugs in films, you’d think it’d be best if they stopped testing them out. However, Jacob (played by the amazingly talented Tim Robbins) is not so fortunate, and start to see bits of Hell itself making themselves known to him. It’s a scary 115 minutes of demons, paranoia and illness, and his girlfriend’s heartbreaking view of her lover’s boyfriend slipping into mental oblivion. I won’t spoil the end twist, but it’s a big ‘un, and the most mind-bending piece of the puzzle of all.

10. Moon

How it bends the mind: clones, isolation in space, hallucinations, confronting the reality that you don’t really exist in normal terms…

I saw Moon not too long ago, and I’ve got to admit – for a film largely shot on the same location, it’s absolutely riveting and full of action. A man explores the surface of the Moon that sits around his maintenance base, and crashes, falling unconscious. He wakes up at the base, heads back to the crash site, and finds… himself, still unconscious. I’ll leave you with that thought.

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