There are some movies that set up their own confusing and mysterious mythology in the first few minutes and then just dive right in for the rest of the movie. You don’t know where it’s going and you can’t quite piece together what you’re seeing, but you’re hooked, because you have faith that the director will tie everything together in a neat bow and all will become clear. But sometimes, it doesn’t all become clear. It only gets more confusing. You only tumble further down the rabbit hole and the movies simply do not make any goddamn sense. Here are 10 movies that no one seems to be able to explain.
10. Vanilla Sky
Cameron Crowe reunited with his Jerry Maguire star Tom Cruise for this “odd mixture of science fiction, romance, and reality warp.” As with any movie that doesn’t have a very good grip on its own reality, this one is aimless and baffling and instead of inciting gasps with the big shocker moments, the film instead warrants a disgusted “Ugh, what?!” every couple of minutes. It’s an incredibly ambitious piece of cinema, and no one can fault a filmmaker for being ambitious, whether it ends up working out or not, because at least they’re trying, but with Vanilla Sky, it seems like Cameron Crowe bit off more than he could chew. And it broke him. Cameron Crowe hasn’t worked right ever since. Before Vanilla Sky, he was the guy who gave us Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Almost Famous. After Vanilla Sky, he’s the guy who gave us We Bought a Zoo and Aloha. Tragic. Roger Ebert gave a very enthusiastic review to Vanilla Sky, but even he was confused by what it was all about. His interpretation of the ending is that it reveals the movie to have been about the audience being confused the whole time, rather than being about a mystery that gets explained at the end. “To be fair, there is a full explanation,” he wrote. “The only problem with the explanation is that it explains the mechanism of our confusion, rather than telling us for sure what actually happened.”
Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is one of the most disturbing and controversial movies in recent memory. Some critics praised it as a masterpiece, while audiences gave it an F rating on CinemaScore. Either way, it was highly talked about. A lot of it is just Biblical allegories about Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel and the birth of Christ and the Garden of Eden and all that, so you can brush past a few inconsistencies, because those inconsistencies are at least consistent with one thing: the Bible. But there are a few other things that don’t make sense, like the yellow powder drink that Jennifer Lawrence keeps drinking. The movie opens with a charred house being magically rebuilt and fixed and put back together, followed by Jennifer Lawrence waking up and calling after Javier Bardem. At the end of the movie, Jennifer Lawrence burns down the house, Javier Bardem puts his orb thing back in its place, the charred house is magically fixed, and another woman wakes up in the bed and asks after her husband. It’s the kind of ending that makes you immediately go, “Ohhh, so that’s what it was all about,” and then you go home and sit with it for a little while and think about it and then realize, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t make any sense!”
8. Barton Fink
No one knows what the hell to make of Barton Fink. It starts off being a movie about a playwright who is brought out to Hollywood to write for the pictures, but what it devolves into after that is a subject of much debate. Some people see it as a film noir, some people see it as a screwball buddy comedy – heck, some people even see it as a horror movie. The whole thing grew out of the difficulties that the Coen brothers faced during the writing process of their gangster epic Miller’s Crossing. The plot of that movie was so dense and complex that they started to struggle with it. When they hit a bump in the road with a bad case of writer’s block, they decided to take some time off and write a new movie that would be easier. Barton Fink grew out of a working break, basically, but they seemed to be too relaxed to explain the recurring image of the woman on the beach and the fact that John Goodman turned out to basically be Satan. The Coen brothers have said that they didn’t mean for any single message to be conveyed by the movie, but so many different messages are conveyed by it that it’s a movie that has no substance, no identity of its own, and no answers.
7. The Game
Michael Douglas’ character in the twisty David Fincher thriller The Game has been described as a “fashionable, good-looking Scrooge, lured into a Mission: Impossible situation with a steroid shot in the thigh from The Sting.” So, basically, The Game is pitched as A Christmas Carol meets Mission: Impossible meets The Sting. And in some ways, it is a combination of those three things that really don’t go well together at all. But it’s also a bunch of weird stuff that doesn’t make any sense on top of that. The Game is a psychological thriller with an interesting enough premise for it to become a hit. It’s about an investment banker whose estranged brother shows up with a mysterious gift. He’s signed him up for a game that will drop clues into his everyday life and freak him out. As the game goes on, the lines between the guy’s real life and the game start to blur. The ending doesn’t make any damn sense and it ruins the whole movie. It’s intriguing until the very end, when the lead character hurls himself off a roof. He’s finally had enough with the game and he wants to kill himself. Then he crashes through a glass ceiling and lands on an airbag. All the characters who have been tormenting him and ‘dying’ the whole time are there, partying. His brother signed him up for the game to get him to embrace life. It’s dumb. Plus, there’s a lot of things he does that there’s no way the game people could’ve anticipated all of his moves.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The concept behind Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an ingenious setup for a romantic comedy that thinks outside the box. Instead of having a movie where two people fall in love and live happily ever after, it’s a movie where two people who were in love break up. A twinge of science fiction brings in a technology that can wipe the memory of your ex from your brain, which helps you to move on from the relationship and not get hung up on them. It’s like an abstract idea that you might’ve once had after a breakup (‘I wish I could forget about her’) taken to its literal conclusion. It’s brilliant! The only problem – and it shouldn’t even be a problem, really – is that Kaufman executed his movie idea perfectly. If someone else had come up with this idea – say, Adam Sandler – then the resulting crowd pleaser would not dig nearly as deep as its premise suggests, but at least it would be palatable. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s problem is that it does dig deep and it does make the most of its premise, which makes for one seriously confusing head trip.
5. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko is confusing and very difficult to piece together mentally, but it is a great movie. In terms of visuals and the actors’ performances and the aesthetic of the movie and how utterly original it is, this is a fine movie. It was named the second greatest independent film of all time by Empire magazine. But if you ask anyone who has seen it to explain the plot to you, then you’re in for a real treat, because it’ll be hilarious. They’ll stumble and stutter and try to make connections that aren’t there and they’ll only embarrass themselves. Jake Gyllenhaal’s title character is a troubled teen who keeps seeing recurring visions of both a rabbit and the end of the world. There’s a plane crash and a period of 28 days and some kind of vortex that forms around the Darko household and then Donnie touches the lives of various people who all become connected in some sort of supernatural way and all of that somehow ties together at the end and then everyone who’s left remembers Donnie, but don’t know how they know the other people who knew him. But if you can ignore that, it’s a great movie.
4. The Fountain
Despite having two big name stars in his lead roles, Darren Aronofsky managed to make The Fountain so unusual and confusing and nonsensical that it failed at the box office. Even with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz starring in it, his movie only made $16 million on a budget of $35 million. And why did it bomb? Because nobody who actually did see the movie could make head or tail of it, and everybody else was put off from the very beginning. Aronofsky’s goal with the movie was to make The Matrix, but instead of it being about science and technology, it would be about “the search for God.” Okay. Well, the way he went about that was to have Hugh Jackman in three different roles across three different time periods in three different parts of the movie. The first part tells the story of Tomás the conquistador as he fights an army of Mayans. The second part is about Tom the neuroscientist, who has just lost his wife. The third and final part is about Tommy the space traveler, a guy who sits in a bubble in the middle of outer space with a tree feeding him knowledge. This is when things really go off the rails. Aronofsky never pulls all of these things together in a neat bow. There’s just nothing there. It’s visually stunning, but it’s utter nonsense.
The intention with Brazil was to create a comedic and satirical alternative to the kind of dystopian bureaucratic society of the future that George Orwell portrayed in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, from the mind of the former Python Terry Gilliam. This is all well and good. The premise has promise. And while the resulting movie may have been lauded by critics and described as “a jaunty, wittily observed vision of an extremely bleak future,” and “a superb example of the power of comedy to underscore serious ideas, even solemn ones,” none of them actually want to admit that they have no idea what it’s about. It’s been named the 20th greatest British movie ever made by Total Film magazine and one of the 100 best movies of all time by Time magazine and one of the 50 Films to See Before You Die by Channel 4 and the 83rd greatest movie ever made by Empire magazine, but that’s because none of them are willing to admit that it’s actually not that great and what starts off as a promising satire devolves into a confusing mess. It seems that the only person in the world with the balls to call out Brazil for not making any damn sense is Roger Ebert. He gave the movie a mixed review and complained that it was “hard to follow.” Yes! Thank you! It is hard to follow! It’s impossible to follow! It’s all a bunch of nonsense!
2. Mulholland Drive
Someone needs to ask David Lynch to sit down and comprehensively explain exactly what the hell his movie Mulholland Drive is all about, because it doesn’t make a link of sense. There’s weird stuff like the cowboy who appears in the night to talk to a movie producers and the little man in the box and the actor’s recurring dream of a caveman who then appears to him in real life and it’s all really, really weird. This would be fine if the ending of the movie tied it all together in a really cool way and made you go, “Ohhh, that’s what it was all about!” But that doesn’t happen at all. The ending asks way more questions than it answers. It’s one of those movies that you sit through, expecting answers and resolutions to eventually come, and then it cuts to black and you go, “Please don’t let that be the end, please don’t let that be the end, please don’t let that be the end,” and then the credits start to roll and you yell out, “Goddammit!” What a disappointment. This was David Lynch’s twisted take on the film industry, man – it should’ve been some kind of masterpiece!
1. The Shining
You can more or less piece The Shining together in a very vague way. The guy who had Jack’s job before him had gone mad and killed his family, and now, their spirits haunt the place. That would explain he bartender that Jack sees and the party that’s going on during one of the times he’s down there. Well, that, or it’s all in his head. And the picture on the wall at the end suggests that Jack is a reincarnation of an earlier dude. The hotel was built on an Indian burial ground, as was the setting of seemingly every horror movie in the 1980s, so that can account for a lot of the inexplicable spookiness, like the bloody elevator doors and the fact that if Jack was a reincarnation of the last guy and looked exactly like him, the boss would recognize him. The actual “shining” is the supernatural and psychological ability that Danny shares with Scatman Crothers that means that they can communicate with the dead or speak to each other telepathically or predict the future or maybe all three. But you can’t explain the guy in an animal costume that Wendy sees going down on the guy in the tuxedo. No matter how you analyze it, that can’t even be vaguely explained. Stanley Kubrick must’ve just thought, ‘What the hell, I’ve made a movie that’s this screwed up and weird – why not go even further?’