We take a look at five of the most confusing films in cinema history…
5. Mulholland Drive (d. David Lynch, 2001)
This is the classic ‘what on earth is going on’ movie from the past twenty years. Starring Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring, the film explores the relationship between an aspiring actress named Betty and a nameless, dark haired woman who is seemingly suffering from amnesia. As the pair struggle to piece together the identity of this woman, who begins calling herself Rita (after Rita Hayworth), the film is interrupted by several totally surreal, unrelated plotlines, and the chronology of the story is uncertain at best.
Watts plays Betty, but later in the film she plays another character named Diane Selwyn. The relationship between Betty and Diane is also uncertain – many have argued that Diane is the ‘future’ Betty after being beaten down by living in Hollywood for too long, while others believe Betty to be Diane’s projection of a happier and more successful life. The film was nominated for, and won, several awards at the time of its release but to this day remains one of the most avidly talked about films within the world of film criticism – it seems that everyone perceives it slightly differently.
4. Weekend (d. Jean Luc Godard, 1967)
Weekend is definitely not the kind of film you will ever forget after seeing for the first (and in the case of most people, the only) time you see it. As is par for the course with Godard, the narrative of the film is far from straightforward. He abandons chronology, narrative structure and any sort of character development in favour of a completely disjointed, and at times very violent, exploration of ‘plot’ and deliberately refuses to follow any traditional rules of script writing or direction in order to take the viewer out of their comfort zone. Sections of the film play on a loop, and it includes a famous 8 minute tracking shot of a traffic jam, ending with a horrible scene of a car accident, with the victims sprawled across the road. Add to that a sprinkling of literary references, political undertones and a group of thieving cannibals, and you just about have the gist of it. Suffice to say, the film leaves you with a feeling of complete bewilderment no matter how many times you manage to get through it.
3. Platform (d. Zhang Ke Jia, 2000)
There are different levels and types of confusing films. Platform is a sneaky one and the oddball of this top 5 list. The film is almost three hours long and is set over a time period of ten years. It explores the lives of a group of amateur theatre performers and the storyline is said to reflect the social and economical state of China at the time (it is set in the 1980’s). However, as the film has been deemed ‘contemplative’ cinema, it works at rather a slow pace. So rather than the crazy narrative confusion of something like Weekend, Platform is more puzzling in that so little action actually takes place over the course of the three hours that it’s difficult not to begin over-thinking what is actually going on. Having said that, the film was named the Second Best Film of the Decade at the Toronto International Film Festival Cinematheque in 2009, which proves that a film doesn’t have to be action-packed or dramatic to catch the attention of the critics.
2. Inception (d. Christopher Nolan, 2010)
A lot of the more confusing movies out there are not particularly mainstream. Countless indie films from the past few years have adopted the ‘narrativeless’ form. On occasion however, with the right cast, crew and budget a hugely complicated film slips through the net and becomes a huge success – and part of that is because of the thrill of working out what is going on. The truth is, however, that despite claiming to love the complicated narrative of a film like Christopher Nolan’s 2010 success story Inception, we’re pretty sure the majority of people who own it on DVD aren’t in any great hurry to run out and buy the next film on this list. Which takes complicated plot lines to a whole other level…
1. Last Year at Marienbad (d. Alain Resnais, 1961)
Ah, Last Year at Marienbad. This film is definitely one to watch if you want to make your brain really work. For a start the characters have no names. At a gathering in a hotel in Marienbad, a man and woman become embroiled in a power struggle over an affair which may or may not have happened. The woman (referred to as ‘A’) is in Marienbad with a man (M) who appears to be her husband or partner, while the other man (X) insists that they had an affair there the year before. The woman refuses to acknowledge this, claiming never to have met the man before. Chaos ensues. This film has been interpreted in an infinite number of ways and, much like Mulholland Drive, every viewer seems to take something different from it.
These are just a handful of the films with mind-boggling plot lines, but there are many, many more! Let us know what some of your favourites are via Twitter!