More than most genres, or styles, or forms, or whatever you want to call it, I wrestle with understanding what exactly constitutes a “mindbending” movie. They seem to encompass everything from mainstream psychological thrillers to abstract avant-garde art films, both of which deal in uncertain perceptions of what constitutes reality, either on the part of the characters, or the audience, or both. They are, to paraphrase a very stoned Arsenio Hall, "Films that make you go, 'Whoah.'" There seems to be an even further layer of selection at work, keeping “mindbenders” somewhat close to mainstream narrative acceptability, intersecting with popular genres like science fiction and maybe intersecting on the fringes with cult movie.
The next list I’m confronting as part of this Silver Screen Streak movie challenge is Flickchart’s global ranking of “mindbenders” (brought to my challenge by Flickchart head honcho Nathan Chase), which doesn’t help me narrow down the meaning of this term. Topping Flickchart’s list of mindbenders are the massively popular 1999 dude-fave classics Fight Club (1999) and The Matrix (1999), both of which certainly qualify with their core undermining of narrative realities, followed by the more dubious inclusion of the mystery The Usual Suspects (1995), which simply contains a twist-ending. Next on the list is a great favorite of mine, Vertigo (1958), a movie of narrative surprises as well as a little trippy dream imagery, followed by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), exactly the type of confrontational, confounding and symbol-rich European art movie that is likely to be hated by the most fervent fans of the first three movies on this list. Rounding out "Flickchart’s Top 10 Mindbenders" are Christopher Nolan’s clever Memento (2000); another one of my favorites, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Nolan’s dreary Inception (2010); and finally Andrei Tarkovsky’s eternally long sci-fi wankmare Stalker (1979). There’s something in there for everyone, and maybe even a few things for no one. It's a weird list, appropriately.
Part of what makes Nathan’s choice of this list interesting to me, is that his taste falls pretty regularly on the mainstream side of the mindbender divide, but at least half of the movies that I’ll be watching — the top ranked ones that I haven’t seen yet — look like they fall more on the obscure ‘foreign weirdo pleasuring his subconscious’ side of the list. Nathan has nine movies from the Mindbenders chart in his Top 100 movies (I have two, the aforementioned Vertigo and 2001, which are both in my Top 20). He’s also got three movies from the genre in his Bottom 20.
Of the first ten movies I might be watching for the Silver Screen Streak movie challenge, Nathan has only seen two, and they're both above 75% on his chart. I daresay he would intentionally avoid most of the others.
I fully share his manic embrace/rejection of these types of movies, but often different movies based on different criteria. A clever conceit can only get me so far, and the same goes for striking visuals. Too much abstraction can numb me, and I don’t much care for trying to figure out puzzle movies; for anything longer than 15 minutes, I need something coherent and consistent to hold onto — be it a surface narrative, an earned emotion, or a thoughtful thematic through-line — to make the trickery tolerable. As with any type of material, gratuitous expression of a single note can get dull very quickly, and so it is with me for relentless weirdness-for-weirdness-sake; likewise, the brooding tone of dour self-importance, which many so-called mindbenders seem to claim as their own, is tolerable to me only in small doses.
Let’s see what’s on deck: