Even a good storyline can’t save a movie if it’s poorly executed, and several dozen movies are a perfect example of this. This does not mean that a film story has to be a thousand pages long. Some movies get by perfectly with easy but effective storylines that leave room for a lot of excitement and entertainment.
Some films, on the other hand, decide not to take the easy way. Whether it’s because writers enjoy playing with their audience or just a stylistic choice, these types of films often have plots so difficult to follow that they require at least a second viewing to fully understand them.
10/10 ‘Interstellar’ (2014)
Interstellar tells the story of a bleak future for humanity as sandstorms devastate the Earth and make the planet uninhabitable. With a mission to find a new place to live, a group of astronauts embark on a journey into the deepest corners of space to find a planet suitable enough to be called home by humanity.
As the group travels through some of the most dangerous folds of space, the flow of time warps and leaps back and forth for decades at a time. Eventually, time comes full circle, right at the beginning, before abruptly leaping forward a century into the future. Although the film explains how this all happens, it’s not exactly easy to understand the first time around.
9/10 ‘Life of Pi’ (2012)
Life of Pi it’s simple enough at first glance, but it’s the second glance that makes it complicated. With a young man lost at sea with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a tiger, it seems like an innocent, if heartbreaking, story of survival in impossible conditions.
The final twist is that the animals may not have been there all along. Pi (Suraj Sharma) provides rescuers with two very different accounts of his trip, both of which seem feasible. Pi initially says the animals were there, but when he is not believed, he later states that the animals were instead replaced by his mother, a sailor and a cook. Even today, many still argue which account was real because it is never explicitly stated. The film allows its viewers to choose what reality was.
8/10 ‘Memento’ (2000)
I remember was the director’s second film Christopher Nolanwhich he also directed Interstellar. It features Guy Pearce like a devastated widower trying to track down the man who killed his wife. While it looks like a relatively simple mystery movie, the fact that the timeline is all over the place doesn’t make it very easy to follow when first viewing.
Obviously, the killer isn’t quite what the public thought he would be, and his identity is only revealed towards the end. Unfortunately, the film is noticeably confusing for those who have only seen it once. If one looked at it a second time knowing the ending of the twist, he would understand a lot more about the film and appreciate it more.
7/10 ‘Oblivion 2013)
Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as Jack Harper, one of the last people left on Earth after an alien invasion made the planet uninhabitable. His job is to fix the broken drones so they can protect the aquatic farms and hunt down the remaining aliens who still roam the wastes. He is helped by his wife, Vika (Andrea Riseborough), who acts as its communications manager. They report to someone named Sally (Melissa Leone), a human being aboard a space station orbiting the Earth filled with the rest of humanity.
It is only when Jack encounters a crashed spaceship that his entire world turns upside down. The woman who survived the impact claims to be his real wife, and that’s when the memories of him come back to him. Throughout the film, each ascertained truth is stripped away, one by one. New truths are revealed and things get incredibly confusing in the middle. It’s a solid sci-fi movie, but it requires at least two views to fully understand it. It’s not nearly as simple as it looks on the surface.
6/10 ‘Caché’ (2005)
Caché, Also known as Hidden in English, it is a French crime film that has been debated for over a decade. It features a small suburban family who one day receives a mysterious package containing a VHS tape. The contents of the tape are filled with hours of footage from the family home. For months, the family receives anonymous mail, all filled with tapes containing details about their daily routine that many would not otherwise know.
With paranoia ravaging their family, they desperately search for answers. The viewer, in turn, also becomes desperate, as each lead seems to lead to a dead end. Unfortunately, the film never gives an answer to the audience. Not directly, however. The answer can only be found by paying close attention to the small details hidden in the film. This, of course, guarantees more than just one view, as many of these details are of the “flash and you’ll miss it” type.
5/10 ‘Annihilation’ (2018)
Natalie Portman plays Lena, an Army veteran and biologist who receives the news that an anomaly known as The Shimmer has appeared on Earth. Her husband was one of the few to be sent to The Shimmer and the only one who returned. Unfortunately, she returns to a coma and cannot account for what she has seen.
Lena then leads a team into the mysterious region in search of the missing expedition. In The Shimmer, animal life has changed and time does not flow normally. Things get weird when Lena arrives at The Shimmer’s source, when it is revealed that nothing is as it seems. The nature of the anomaly is something otherworldly, so otherworldly that it can perfectly copy any form of life. Which begs the question, who was real in the film and who was an imposter?
4/10 ‘Shutter Island’ (2010)
Leonardo Dicaprio stars inside Shutter Island, a detective film centered on an asylum just off the coast of New England. DiCaprio plays Teddy, a troubled American detective sent to investigate the island to search for an escaped patient who appears to be a murderer.
The film inevitably ends, as many complicated films do, with the revelation that everything the public has known is a lie. The ending looks relatively simple. However, there is a lot to insinuate into its subtle details. This makes the ending rather ambiguous and confuses the details of the rest of the film even more.
3/10 ‘Bird’ (2014)
Birdman it was one of the first films to use the unconventional but brilliant choice of making the film look like it was made all in one take. It features a retired actor trying to get back into the industry by writing and starring in his own Broadway production.
While the “all-in-one-take” style makes it seem like the audience won’t miss anything, there is a lot to lose. Also, some parts are downright baffling. For example, the drum beat soundtrack that appears to be added in post-production (like a regular movie) comes from a street drummer appearing in random locations. Strange, almost hallucinogenic choices like this one make the film difficult to understand. But that’s what makes it so fun.
2/10 ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)
One of the first films to be incredibly stunning, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a science fiction film with a small crew of space explorers sent to Jupiter to find the origins of a strange man-made object under the surface of the Moon. A SuperComputer helps them with a horrible personality, which becomes a source of worry and pain.
What confused the audience was her finale, which is the final shot of a fetus in a kind of embryo floating in space after a series of bizarre twists. A lot of it is symbolism, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier to follow.
1/10 ‘Beginning’ (2010)
Christopher Nolan strikes for the third time in this jaw-dropping cinematic masterpiece. Start protagonist once again Leonardo DiCaprio, this time as a dream seeker. The plot of Start revolves around study and the untapped potential of dreams. Like many other alternative reality films, this film ends in a way that leaves viewers scratching their heads, wondering if what they just witnessed was real or was, in fact, a dream.
This is further contorted by the fact that through the film’s complex web of plots, the dreams it contains can occur within other dreams. It becomes a mess of dreams within a series of others, to the point where reality itself becomes questionable.
KEEP READING: The Movie’s Best Ambiguous Endings: From “Inception” to “The Green Knight”