Ever walked away from a film feeling confused? A little brain food once in a while is a good thing – cerebral movies films challenge our intellect. They’re a necessary component of a balanced cinematic diet.
But some movies are so opaque they need several viewings to be understood, like the entries on our list of 10 movies that you need to see twice to understand. Spoiler warning!
If you wouldn’t listen to Pink Floyd backwards, then watching a two-hour movie that begins at the end and ends at the beginning probably sounds unappealing. That’s the sum total of Memento, a story told in reverse by an unreliable narrator.
It’s a mind-bender like most of his movies, but the clues to unraveling Memento are woven throughout its structure. Since Memento’s release, Christopher Nolan has become Hollywood’s go-to guy for brainy blockbusting.
Time travel is always a tricky concept. Even very good time travel stories stumble over their own continuity. Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys avoids the worst pitfalls of the genre by keeping it simple, relatively speaking.
Plagued by cryptic dreams, prisoner James Cole is sent back in time to prevent a viral outbreak that wipes out most of humanity. The movie comes full circle, and we learn that as a boy Cole saw his older, time-traveling self gunned down in the airport where the climax occurs. By trying to save the world, James walks into his inevitable doom.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick is a legend in the movie world, and his most widely recognized film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is every bit as iconic as he is. It’s an homage to mankind’s evolution throughout the eons and arguably the best movie about space exploration ever filmed. It’s also long and complicated. 2001: A Space Odyssey clocks in just shy of three hours and packs so much detail that you can’t watch it once and grasp everything. You’ll understand the film (apart from its divisive ending), but you won’t totally “get” it, either.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 detective yarn plays like a glib, stoner-influenced riff on a Carl Hiaasen novel. That’s pretty much the life of hippie private eye Doc Sportello in a nutshell.
Doc leads a hazy life, he takes on three separate cases that end up intertwining. What do a missing real estate mogul, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, and a supposedly dead musician have in common? Nothing, but also everything. Make sure to block off time for multiple consecutive views on Blu-ray.
If you’re a Fight Club devotee, beware; we’re about to break its first two rules. When the time comes for the big reveal in David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk book, everything theoretically makes “sense.” The unnamed narrator and Tyler Durden are two sides of the same disassociated coin.
The moment we learn the truth of Tyler’s true existence, Fight Club unhinges. What, exactly, is going on in Norton’s scenes with Brad Pitt throughout the whole movie? Flashbacks hint at the narrator’s lunacy, but try watching the film with the truth in mind; every moment Norton and Pitt share on screen becomes even more interesting.
The Tree of Life
There aren’t many directors in the world who make movies like Terrance Malick. The director’s flicks are enigmatic. Even his most straightforward movies, Badlands and Days of Heaven, require extra viewings.
In The Tree of Life, Malick tells the story of Jack (played by Sean Penn), a middle-aged man reconciling his childhood memories. The plot takes viewers all the way back to the Big Bang, tours through the Cretaceous period and eventually arrives at the present in Waco, Texas. How does the birth of the universe and the extinction of dinosaurs shape the meaning of Jack’s existence today? The moments show the dueling paths of grace and nature but the connection isn’t apparent in a single viewing.
8 & ½
Federico Fellini began his filmmaking career shooting movies that captured authentic life experiences. So his 1963 masterpiece, the dreamlike 8 & ½, represented a surreal change of pace for the director.
But truth is stranger than fiction. Fellini takes flights of fancy in 8 & ½, but he includes autobiographical notes, too. The story of Guido Anselmi is similar to the story of Federico Fellini. Guido’s struggles in his latest project, a science fiction picture, as well as his marital woes and mental strife, often reflect Fellini’s own personal troubles.