Nothing is more enjoyable than sitting back on the couch, putting your feet up and watching a great movie– unless it confuses you more than it entertains you. While movies are generally supposed to invoke a cathartic release from us, viewers; some directors like to use their movies to get our brains going more than our emotions. Movies like Memento, Fight Club and Mullholland Drive, are all pretty great movies, but we don’t always like to admit that we had no idea what the hell they were actually about.
Some directors are notorious for their confusing scripts and crazy cinematic concepts. What kinds of concepts are we talking about, you ask? It’s safe to say, that any film with time travel, non-linear storylines, dream sequences and dramatic plot twists tend to be the hardest to understand. David Lynch, the director of films like Blue Velvet, Mullholand Drive and Eraserhead (and many more) is known for his cooky storylines and even crazier characters. It’s no surprise a handful of his films made our list.
One of the best parts about these extremely hard-to-understand movies, is that watching them twice or even three times becomes a necessary factor in being able to fully understand them. Oftentimes, the second go-around feels like you’re watching a completely different movie thanks to the knowledge you acquired during your initial viewing. And in some cases (like pretty much every one of David Lynch’s films) we’re left more confused after the fourth watch than we were the first time. But we’ll never actually admit it.
Holy “non-linear” storylines, this movie is confusing! While Memento is definitely captivating, it is extremely hard to follow due to its mix of real time and memory sequences. Christopher Nolan’s sophomore film, Memento made quite a splash on the movie scene, giving us a taste of what the talented director was capable of. While the non-linear storyline definitely makes this movie hard to follow, it’s the use of creative riddles that really boggles our minds. When watching the movie, we’re hit in the face with answers to questions— and we have no frisking clue what the questions are. Throughout the film, we learn that the main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), has amnesia as a result of being attacked, and tries to keep track of events through the use of tattoos and polaroids—if that’s not hipster, we don’t know what is. All the more reason for viewers to impress their friends by claiming to understand this creative, aesthetically pleasing film.
14. Being John Malkovich
In 1999, Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze confused us all with the obscure film, Being John Malkovich. If anything, we loved this film for its stellar cast of talented actors. John Cusack plays Craig, a puppeteer, who is able to climb into the brain of actor, John Malkovich. Already, we’re a little confused. Aside from that weird plot, there are many other things happen with supporting characters that was just enough to make our heads spin. When Kaufman and Jonze were asked to explain the movie’s meaning, they declined to answer. Actor, John Malkovich took a stab at it telling the New York Times, “I think it’s about acting—opening the door into the mind of someone else, and how, escaping your own mind for 15 minutes, you see the beauty and fascination and eroticism even in the most boring things.” Well, whatever the movie is really about, we definitely have to watch it more than once to figure it out.
13. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko contains the perfect movie ingredients to satisfy any alternative teen with an attraction to the darker side of things. Jake Gyllenhaal plays odd teen, Donnie Darko who is well, interesting. The movie starts with Donnie being lured outside by a seriously creepy rabbit character, Frank, who reveals that the world will end in just 28 days— totally normal. For the rest of the film, we’re bombarded with strange scenes that are hard to fully understand. Many of the things Donnie is seeing are actually in his mind, making the story pretty hard to follow— not to mention it’s incredibly creepy. The music featured in the film made it even weirder. Between the Tears for Fears and Duran Duran songs, this movie got more confusing by the minute. Fun Fact: Donnie Darko was actually filmed in 28 days; the same amount of time the bunny predicted the world would end in…
12. Blue Velvet
Oh, David Lynch, no one knows how to make a weird, emotionally disturbing movie quite like you do. While we probably could have made a separate list of “15 David Lynch Movies Everyone Pretends to Understand”, just a couple of them made our list. Blue Velvet tells us a tale of Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a man who comes back to his hometown to find an abandoned ear in a field (yes, an ear). We follow his character as he takes it upon himself to try to solve the mystery of the severed ear, leading us to a strange lady (Isabella Rossellini) involved with an even stranger man (Dennis Hopper). Between the creepy, un-sexual nude scenes and awkward lip syncing sequences, this movie was pretty hard to follow. But don’t worry, we’ll pretend like we know what’s going on when our friends are around.
11. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Believe it or not, this German film from the Expressionism era is hard to understand… ok, we definitely believe that. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released in 1920 and would become iconic to the German Expressionist era and was probably one of the first actual “horror films” to ever be made. Even though there actually is a full plot and storyline to the film, its creepy scenery, odd characters– and the fact that it’s all spoken in German– make it extremely difficult to follow. The film is so notoriously odd and hard to understand, that it was made fun of in the hilarious sketch show, Portlandia. In the show, anyone who watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari would be forced to deliver the film in the mail for all eternity until they finally convinced someone else to watch it. Super weird.
Surprise, surprise–We have another David Lynch film on the list! Lynch’s first feature-length film, Eraserhead, puzzled pretty much everyone who watched it. The 1977 film follows a man, Henry Spencer, as he looks after his odd, mutated reptile-spawn. Not weird enough for you? In the film you’ll also find a floating head that spits out a sperm monster, bloody animals and a deformed woman who lives in a radiator. Eraserhead is a favorite of die-hard horror film fans, due to its icky and very disturbing imagery. Over the years the film has continued to receive nods for its creative use of sound and aural landscaping. While we all may have our own opinions on what the film is actually about, Lynch has never given an official explanation. And even if he did, would you really believe it?
9. Fight Club
In the film, Fight Club, we follow Edward Norton‘s character as he goes through his life as well, someone else… or is it? Norton’s character likes to attend support groups anonymously, even though he’s not ailed by the specific addictions or illnesses. It’s there he meets his love interest, another fake support group member, Marla (Helena Bonham Carter). Norton’s character then befriends somewhat of a reckless bada*s, Tyler (Brad Pitt) who introduces him to “Fight Club”; a club where men go to beat each other up as a form of catharsis. Towards the end of the film is when things get weird (if you haven’t seen the movie yet, beware of the spoilers that lie ahead). We learn that during the entire film, Tyler was in fact Norton’s character!
Sure, we understand what happens by the end of the film. But the hard part to understand is what the message is here. Whatever you decide to take away from the movie, we have to admit, the plot twist is pretty cool.
8. Mulholland Drive
Okay, we couldn’t help ourselves– this is the final David Lynch film on the list, we promise! Probably the most critically acclaimed film of the “Master of All That is Weird” in cinema, Mulholland Drive definitely did a number on our brains. First of all, the film follows a completely non-linear storyline, making it even harder to follow. We follow a young aspiring actress, Betty (Naomi Watts) as she befriends a woman suffering from amnesia just following a car accident on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. Following their initial meeting, there are a number of random scenes that honestly don’t make a whole lot of sense. Like the scene where the hitman kills his friend, a woman next door and a cleaner. Even Winkie’s Diner, a place featured multiple times in the film is hard to understand the meaning behind. Not surprisingly, Lynch has never explained the meaning of the film.
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Among the cool, indie movie buffs, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is always a favorite. Eternal Sunshine is one of those movies that you just have to watch a couple of times to really grasp its message. The film is about Joel (Jim Carrey), a pretty mundane, everyday guy and his relationship with the spunky, spontaneous Clementine (Kate Winslet). We watch the unlikely pair as they go through the ups and downs of a relationship– except in this film they’re not in sequential order. By the end of the movie, we gather that Joel has voluntarily erased his memory of Clementine thanks to a special memory-erasing service, but decides he doesn’t want to anymore, although it’s already too late.
Throughout his journey of getting his memories erased, Joel uses Clementine to symbolize his need to escape his everyday life and give into his impulses. After watching the film, we can’t help but wonder if even though our memories can be erased, are our feelings gone as well? Does your head hurt yet?
The 2014 Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar puzzled movie-goers everywhere with its extremely cryptic ending and non-linear storytelling. Even its lead actress, Ann Hathaway admitted to an Entertainment Tonight reporter that she didn’t fully understand the ending of the film until after seeing it twice (and reading the script almost 100 times). In the film, we watch Earth become inhabitable to humans, prompting a team of astronauts and researchers (Matthew McConaughey) to search for other planets to live on. Without giving away the entire film (and spoiling it for everyone), worm holes and different dimensions make things a bit more complicated, leaving all of our heads in a tail-spin. Interstellar definitely deserves a second and even a third watch to really understand what the heck is going on.
5. Shutter Island
If you like plot twists, then you probably loved Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Based on the best selling novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island explores the idea of being insane and questioning what’s real and what’s merely in the mind. We follow U.S. Marshall, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), as he visits an insane asylum where he learns about some pretty unorthodox medical practices that are taking place there. However, at the end of the film, it is revealed that Daniels is actually a murderer named Andrew Laeddis, who is actually a patient in the mental hospital. In an attempt to cure Laeddis of his mental problems, his doctors encouraged him to actually act out what he was imagining in order to cure him. We find out that it doesn’t actually work, and he has to be lobotomized. While everything is explained at the end, we can’t help but wonder what were really delusions of the madman’s mind and what was really happening– were there memories mixed in there too? Once we know how the film ends, we definitely need to give this flick a re-watch.
4. The Matrix Reloaded
There’s no doubt that the first film of the Matrix trilogy was by far the best. So when we learned about the second and third installment of the franchise, we couldn’t wait to watch them. While we were hoping for a lot of answers in the trilogy’s third installment, The Matrix Reloaded, we just came up with a ton more questions. One of the best parts about the original Matrix film, was the fact that they proposed extremely thought provoking theories without going into too much detail. In both the second and third Matrix films, more and more facts and details started to dilute the theories, leaving us scratching our heads.
What were some of the biggest questions we left with after watching The Matrix Reloaded? Why was Agent Smith in the real world at the end of the film if he supposedly is made up of a computer code? Or when the Oracle told Neo (Keanu Reeves) he in fact wasn’t “The One” when that was the whole reason why he’s in these movies?
3. Black Swan
After watching Black Swan for the first time, we were left with a sick, uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Watching Natalie Portman beautifully portray the obsessive ballerina, Nina, was absolutely captivating. Nina faced rejection from her classmate, Lily and ultimately steals the part of the black swan away from her– or so it seems that way. Throughout the film, we see Nina fighting a nasty rash as she grows angrier and angrier about not getting to play the part of the Black Swan. Toward the end of the film, Nina seemingly attacks Lily and takes the stage as the Black Swan– but we learn that the violent incident didn’t even happen, and that Lily in fact stabbed herself, not Nina. Okay…we’re confused. The explanation? Lily is obviously having some sort of psychotic break probably due to the intense stress she feels from her mother, her school and her unclear sexual orientation. Whatever prompted Nina to pull feathers out of her skin, we were pretty damn confused.
2. Tree of Life
The Tree of Life was released in 2011 by director, Terrence Malick and was nominated for three academy awards. While the movie was praised by critics, we admittedly had a really tough time following it– at least the first time around. The film follows Jack (Sean Penn) as he recounts his childhood with his father (Brad Pitt) and all the upsetting, life altering crap that comes with it. However, instead of simply watching scenes of his childhood, we see scenes that take place during Earth’s earliest years… so what does that have to do with anything?
It’s obvious the film was more of a work of art– or piece of poetry than it was a compelling storyline. If you’ve seen the film, you probably took from it what you could relate to, and applied it to your own life, which seems to be the purpose of the movie. Either way, the imagery was so pretty, we didn’t really mind getting lost in it.
1. 12 Monkeys
Nothings makes movie-goers more confused than a good ol’ dose of time travel. 12 Monkeys, a science fiction film that came out in 1995, was directed by Terry Killiam and featured a cast of some very talented actors. The movie takes place in the far distant future of 2035 (we’ll be there in no time, folks) where a horrible virus is taking over the world thanks to a group called, The Army of 12 Monkeys. James Cole (Bruce Willis) decides to go back in time to stop the Army of 12 Monkeys and to help develop a cure. Simple enough, right?
Between getting transported to 1996, back to the future and back to the ’90s, scenes form both the character’s past and present and creepy sci-fi-rific scenes, this movie definitely requires more than one watch. At the end, Bruce figures out who actually started the virus (it wasn’t the Army of 12 Monkeys) and dies in front of his childhood self. Are you dizzy yet?