10 movies that will make you question everything you know
People enjoy ruminating over the nature of reality. Philosophical, religious and scientific ideas about the universe make us question what our purpose is in the universe — if we indeed have one.
Cinema seems to be an ideal medium for exploring the intersection of reality and unreality and over the years I’ve found that many of these ambitious films have become my favorites. Many have influenced my own writing (such as the short story “Real Life,” which is included in the previous post and appears in my book Metacognition).
Here are 10 movies that will make you question the role of humanity in the universe, the nature of the universe, the nature of reality, or all of the above.
10. The Matrix
The Wachowski Brothers’ movie The Matrix is the quintessential reality-bending movie. It made an entire generation wonder if they were in “The Matrix” and sparked discussions about reality and human consciousness.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception was described by some as a mix between The Matrix and Ocean’s 11. Besides the movie’s stylistic similarity to The Matrix, Nolan manages to infuse the same doubts in viewer’s minds: Is everything we know just a dream?
8. The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain explores three storylines — one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future — that all somehow manage to tell the same story. The movie pushes the boundaries of both space and time.
7. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko, director Richard Kelly’s debut film, explores the life of a hero trapped in a tangent universe as he tries to restore the balance of nature. It’s hands-down the most fascinating exploration of destiny and fate sporting a catchy ’80s soundtrack.
6. Southland Tales
Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales never achieved the cult status of Donnie Darko, but it’s much more ambitious. The constantly shifting plot explores time travel, doppelgangers, and the end of the world, raising plenty of questions and delivering few answers.
5. Vanilla Sky
Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky cuts to the core of the nature of reality. The source material, the Spanish film Abre los ojos, came out a full two years before The Matrix.
If The Matrix took viewers “down the rabbit hole,” then David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ takes viewers down a helluva lot of rabbit holes. The film uses the backdrop of an intense, futuristic video game to ask if we can ever be sure what we’re experiencing is real.
3. Synecdoche, New York
Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, tells the story of an unbelievably ambitious play. If all the world’s a stage, how big does that stage need to be? And do all the actors know they’re acting?
2. The Prestige
Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige seems like a straightforward magician’s tale at first, but the film manages to make viewers wonder: just how extensive are the illusions that permeate every aspect of our existence?
1. The Thirteenth Floor
Josef Rusnak’s The Thirteenth Floor, loosely based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouy, explores the nature of simulated reality and asks the question, how human is human?