While superheroes continue to dominate the blockbuster films released all year round, there’s no denying that mainstream directors have begun to incorporate surreal elements into their films, giving their works an edge in a market that can become saturated with re-hashes of the same themes in various forms. Christopher Nolan’s recent films such as Interstellar and, much earlier on, Inception, are both centred around relatively “normal” people who encounter increasingly surreal worlds/events. Coupled with a star-studded cast and strong plot, these films were met with critical acclaim – with Interstellar even scooping up a number of Oscar nominations – despite their otherwise ‘weird’ nature.
Nolan’s work definitely deserves the praise, but we’re not gonna lie: the surrealism movement has been around for a long time. We’ve compiled five of the weirdest films that we know – whether they spearheaded the movement or adapted elements to play a crucial role in their plot – but trust us, there are definitely a whole lot more out there.
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Un Chien Andalou (1929)
It’s time for a little bit of film history. Un Chien Andalou – french for “An Andalusian Dog” – is a silent surrealist short film by Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí. Yes, that Dali. It’s one of the first few films to completely negate the use of a chronological timeline, instead jumping from scene to scene much like a series of dreams. In fact, the film’s key images – an eye being sliced open with a razor blade, and a hand crawling with ants – are both from the dreams of Dalí and Buñuel respectively. While it’s pretty far off what modern audiences may find palatable, the film is a must-see for anyone interested in filmmaking and even music videos, particularly due to its use of editing to transition from scene to scene.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
Alejandro Jodorowsky has always been controversial when it comes to his films. Beginning with barely any technical knowledge of film – he was previously a theatre director – his debut feature El Topo caused a riot at its premiere in 1970, but it nevertheless put Jodorowsky on the radar. His subsequent film, The Holy Mountain, is aimed at a much more international audience, although it’s safe to say that language isn’t exactly of huge importance when it comes to surrealist films. With colourful, windowless sets and strange, logic-defying images, Jodorowsky’s film is akin to a child’s imagination gone wrong. Very, very wrong. Be prepared to be weirded out.
For those who prefer the weirdness to be kept to animation, look no further than Satoshi Kon’s hailed film Paprika. While its entire premise is already grounded in the idea of dream worlds and the subconscious, the film’s rollercoaster-ing scenes are nonetheless as striking and thought-provoking as their real-world counterparts of the other films on this list. In fact, some of the scenes may look rather familiar because Paprika served as a huge source of inspiration for Inception. Yup. See how many you can spot as you watch the film, if you’re not too haunted by the craziness that ensues from the moment you hit play.
When Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking film 2001: A Space Odyssey hit cinemas in 1968, not everyone was particularly pleased with his take on sci-fi as one dominated by mechanical advancements. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris takes a look at the effects of space travel on the mind of a man with a tumultuous past. While this film isn’t as explicitly surreal as the previous ones mentioned on this list, its restraint in the use of surreal elements only adds to its beauty. It even succeeds in bordering on being a thriller with its use of suspense and long, still shots. If this film sounds pretty familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of the 2002 American re-make of the same name starring George Clooney, but the original is always better, trust us.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
This film cheats a little because it’s more magic realism than surrealism, but we can’t deny its place one of the weirdest films to come out of Hollywood and achieve cult status. Make no mistake about the title, it pretty much tells you all you need to know about the film’s premise, but it’s also brilliant in its ability to flood your mind with questions. Plus, it’s always funny to see famous Hollywood actors playing fictionalised versions of themselves. The film definitely takes meta and self-awareness to a whole new level, with hilarious (albeit bizarre) situations. So if you ever want to know what it’s like being in someone else’s head, this film is the one for you.
Featured Image: Paprika (2006), dir. Satoshi Kon.