The late 90s had a string of interesting movies that made one feel… strange. The Matrix, Magnolia, Being John Malkovitch, Fight Club, American Beauty. Hell, even the Truman Show fit this mold. I call ’em mind-fuck movies. They aren’t necessarily great movies, and those brought-up on a steady diet of weirdness probably wouldn’t be moved by them. But each one played with reality and identity, invoked paranoia in and interesting way, and/or made the mundane seem strange by zooming in a bit too close.
There was something about those movies, and the feeling that they transmitted, that’s been lost in the past decade. But I think it might be coming back.
It seemed at first in the early 00s that the mind-fucking would continue. There was Vanilla Sky (which was actually based on a late 90s Spanish movie), and Philip K. Dick was finally getting his due. But most of those Dick adaptations sucked. With few exceptions the 00s were dominated by realism, bromantic comedies, superheroes and sequels (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stands out, but it seems a little too sentimental to qualify as a mind-fuck movie) . My favorite movie of the decade, Children of Men, was hardly a mind-fucker.
Actually, the 00s will probably be more remembered for its TV series than for its movies. We’ll remember shows like Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Dexter and Mad Men. But great as these shows are, they are hardly mind-fuck material. Lost should have been the ultimate mind-fuck epic, but it ended instead in disappointment. (I haven’t watched all of Battle Start Gallactica, but I could see someone making the case that it should qualify for the mind-fuck category. If so, it’s the exception and not the rule.)
Maybe it was 9/11, Bush Administration and the wars. Maybe it was Hollywood’s risk-adversion. Whatever it was, that surrealist buzz fizzled.
But there’s a slew of new movies coming out of Hollywood that remind me of that 90s vibe. It may have started with Inception, and there are others coming up that look like they will break the 00s mold. Movies like
The Adjustment Bureau (yet another Dick adaptation), Limitless (which looks like a Scientology metaphor) and Sucker Punch. I’m not saying any of these will be good. In fact, I’d bet against it. But each one seems like it could be a story arc or plot line from The Invisibles. I’d say that’s a step in the right direction.
Mind-fuck might be too strong a word for this new crop of Hollywood movies. I’m thinking the term “neuro-film” might be a better fit.
Whatever you call it, here’s to hoping for a better decade.