Sometimes, a thriller just doesn’t cut it. Maybe romance has become a dry topic. Perhaps comedy lost its laugh. From time to time, we don’t just want to be mindlessly entertained, we want a movie that treats its audience with respect, that doesn’t have all the answers and leaves our mind tied up in knots. With that goal, here are seven great mind-bending films that leave you with plenty of question when the credits roll.
Be warned, spoilers below.
Edge of Tomorrow
Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow is a brilliant cross between sci-fi and action. Almost all of the film takes place over the same day endlessly repeating itself.
Continental Europe fell to aliens following an invasion in 2014. Five years later, NATO forces prepare to launch a full offensive to recapture the land. Thrust unwillingly to the front lines is Bill Cage (Cruise). Dying within moments of battle, Cage wakes up to find himself back at the start of the day. On loop through the invasion finds Rika Vrataski (Blunt) who realises his gift. The two work together to end the war by helping Cage learn to navigate the fight ahead with each death.
Edge of Tomorrow is a rather simple film that still leaves you wondering. Does each ‘day’ still happen somewhere? What does Cage experience with each ‘death’? Would he eventually forget other memories to remember new loops? The film leaves the audience to decide.
Set in 1954, Shutter Island revolves around Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). The two US Marshals have been called to a hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient.
What follows is a harrowing and twisting investigation. The staff refuse to release records, the patients tell Daniels that he is in danger and Daniels starts hallucinating his dead wife. Unable to trust anybody but himself, Daniels must attempt to unravel the disappearance of the mental patient. The only clue is a cryptic note “The law of 4; who is 67?” Can Daniels find the answers he needs before it is too late?
Source Code is what happens when Edge of Tomorrow meets CSI – weird freaky meta-physics. Once more, engage your Groundhog Mode.
Source Code follows a similar idea to Edge of Tomorrow but with a slight twist. Instead of dying to ‘wake up’, the protagonist has only a few minutes to experience reality. Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is part of a secret military experiment. The ‘Source Code’ allows him to experience the last eight minutes of another person’s life. With just these eight minutes of time, Stevens is tasked with finding a bomber threatening to detonate a dirty bomb by reviewing an earlier attack that morning.
The alternative timelines all differentiate around Stevens’ choices in the source code. The designer insists that they are not real but the ending leaves the facts somewhat ambiguous.
One of the more well-known ideas in time travel is known as the predestination paradox. Imagine that a time machine appears in your room. Future You steps out, gives you the plans to build it and vanishes again. Using the plans, you build a time machine, travel back and give Past You the plans. This is a classic predestination paradox. Neither ‘You’ created the time machine, just acted on what the other ‘You’ did.
The film Predestination takes it several steps further. The premise is – of course – based around the predestination paradox. Be warned that this is a particularly weird movie and may leave you thinking in circles.
There is a psychological trick known known as lucid dreaming. The premise is simple – you are aware of your dreams and are in complete control. A more spiritual belief refers to shared dreaming – two or more people having the same dream.
Inception takes these two ideas and mixes them together. Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and others in his line of work invade dreams and take information. To prevent losing track of reality, each dreamer carries a ‘totem’ – an object with a defining physical characteristic such as loaded dice or a spinning top that never stops spinning in dreams. Cobb is charged with implanting – rather than extracting – an idea. Many think it’s impossible but it’s the only way for Cobb to get home.
Inception finishes on a cliffhanger – Cobb’s totem appears about to indicate if the final scene is real or not before cutting without revealing the truth. One intriguing theory is that his real totem is his ring. In the final scene, Cobb’s ring indicates that he is… Well, that’s up to you to find out.
Skipping forward into the near future of 2035, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works on the moon to harvest helium-3. Bell is nearing the end of his three-year shift and looking forward to getting back home. Two weeks before he is due to ship out, Bell crashes on the lunar surface and falls unconscious. But then he wakes up back in the habitat with no memory of what happened.
What follows is a race against time, the habitat computer and the company Bell works for. Some intriguing philosophical questions arise, and the storyline is gripping to the end.
Hearing amnesia usually evokes the idea of being unable to remember old memories. This is known as retrograde amnesia. Memento will introduce you to anterograde amnesia – being unable to form new memories.
Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man out to find the people who killed his wife. There’s just one problem – the attack left him unable to form new memories. All that he has is a few hazy ideas of ‘John’ or maybe ‘James’ G, a handful of pictures and tattoos based on instructions from his past self. With his limited memory, can Shelby unravel the mystery of his wife’s killer/s? Or is there something more sinister at work?