As some have noted already, it’s been 519 days since Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was announced and the wait is finally over (and let us tell you, it’s worth it).
A dense, layer cake mindbender that burrows deep into the recesses of your subconscious (and heart), the MC-Escher-like implausible levels to the film will leave you disconcerted and walking around in a haze for days.
The picture which finally sees release today is heady, surreal and firmly enters the canon of the finest thought-provoking head-trips in cinema (read our review here). In recognition of this incredibly ambitious and admirable film (the internal logic alone of the script is just super impressive to say the least), we decided to collect what we called (for lack of a better title), The Best Surreal, Alternate Reality Mindbending Films (yes, a whatever catch-all title to cover the films we wanted).
“Last Year at Marienbad” (1961)
Is it a dream? An imagined reality? A mis-remembered memory? A psychological denial? Or something else entirely? These are the questions that are asked and never really answered in Alain Resnais’ still mysterious “Last Year At Marienbad” which continues to dazzle and confound audiences more than four decades after its release. The story concerns a man, X, and a woman A, who encounter each other at a chateau, X is convinced he met A the year previously at Marienbad, but the woman thinks he’s mistaken. And over 90 minutes, Resnais will weave a web of repeated conversations and the same few events approached from slightly different perspectives. But what about the shooting range scene? What do the repeated games of Nim mean? Resnais opens the doors to Marienbad and as the viewer, your best bet is to give in rather than trying to make sense of it all. But if it sounds chilly, surprisingly, its not. There is something deeply sensual and erotic about the proceedings, while also being austere and modern (the cinematography and set design is simply breathtaking) but on top of it all is an evocative exploration of the meeting place between memory and imagination.
“Mulholland Dr.” (2001)
1999’s “The Straight Story” was an unusually straightforward film for David Lynch, to the extent that it was actually released under the Disney banner. Was Hollywood’s strangest filmmaker finally settling down? Hell no. “Mullholland Drive,” initially conceived as a TV pilot, before being rejected and turned into a feature, was perhaps Lynch’s oddest work since “Twin Peaks” (although “Lost Highway” comes close, certainly) and few films have captured the feel, tone and rhythm of a fever dream as well as this. This is because the film is essentially a masturbatory, guilt-fuelled fever dream, as Naomi Watts’ Diane constructs an alternate reality after ordering the death of her lover. Terrifying, darkly funny and still managing to be one of the great L.A. movies, it’s one of our all time favorite alternate realities. And no mention of the film is complete without mention of Watts’ astonishing performance(s); almost unbearably raw, she’s never been as good since, but then we’ve seen few performances as good at all. Lynch returned to similar territory a few years later with “Inland Empire,” but despite another great performance, this time from Laura Dern, it covers similar ground, but is twice as long and half as good.
“Celine and Julie Go Boating” (1974)
A dreamy, surrealist madcap tale that is equally absurd, profound and creepy, Jacques Rivette’s little-seen three and a half hour elliptical ghost story, “Celine and Julie Go Boating” is a head-swirling enigmatic masterpiece that must be seen (if you had to ask the Criterion Collection for a list of the top 10 films they don’t own, but desperately wished they did, our bet is ‘Boating’ would be top five). Centering on two friends (the lovelies Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto, the latter of which would die an untimely death of cancer at age 42) who set out on an innocuous boating trip that takes them on a breadcrumb teasing adventure that is seemingly played out in a protracted and bizarre echoing feedback loop. While situations repeat, metamorphose and butterfly outwards, what eventually surfaces is a silly, yet disturbing spectral tale of a little girl trapped in a mansion of ghosts that must be freed from the other side. What separates ‘Boating’ from its hypnagogic cinema compatriots that generally are dark and oh-so-serious is its playfulness and joie de vivre. Rivette balances tones, reverse narratives and essentially pulls off one of the most wonderful magic tricks ever performed on the screen.