What’s reality? That’s one of the questions that humanity has been trying to figure out since time immemorial. Defining reality is difficult because it changes with perspective. What’s I deem to be my reality may not be your reality. Then, there’s existence, which in a way qualifies reality. Something that exists is real. Or is it? Probably, I have already confused you. So, without wasting anytime, let’s get down to the list of great films that have explored and questioned the themes of reality and existence.
10. Pi (1998)
‘Pi’ is notable for its covering of an array of themes including religion, mysticism and the relationship of the universe to mathematics. The story about a mathematician and the obsession with mathematical regularity contrasts two seemingly irreconcilable entities: the imperfect, irrational humanity and the rigor and regularity of mathematics, specifically number theory.
9. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Chaos theory is a mind-boggling theory. According to it a small event at some place could lead to influential events far away. When Eric Bress and Mackye Gruber made this theory into a film, obviously that was going to be something we hadn’t seen before. Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is a teenager who frequently blacks out due to unbearable headaches and is transferred to the past, where he can make alterations to his life and of others too. But when he finds out that small changes in the past can drastically change the present, Evan finds himself in macabre parallel realities. It is not a perfect film, but it is a damn interesting one.
8. Inception (2010)
When you have countless forums, articles, blog-posts, think-pieces being written about a spinning (or falling) top, it is enough of evidence of the popularity and influence of ‘Inception’ in pop-culture. ‘Inception’ made intellectual movies cool again. But above all, ‘Inception’ is on the list because it makes you think throughout the movie whether Cobb’s world is real or is he dreaming. Even the ending of the film leaves things in balance — was it a dream the whole time?
7. Synecdoche, New York (2007)
‘Synecdoche, New York’ is a difficult movie to watch, and even stomach. It is not something which needs to be understood; movies like this need to be observed, felt and reflected upon. Intensely cerebral, often-times shocking, ‘Synecdoche, New York’ would not appeal to everyone; it is a celebration of everything an artist aspires to be, and yet it is ultimately a tragedy, showing the flip-side of artistic ambition, where the real meets the unreal, plunging the artistic mind into the dark depths of uncertainty and depression.
6. 8 1/2 Weeks
Considered to be a major avant-garde feat, Federico Fellini’s Italian classic ‘8½’ is a trip down the fantasies and imagination of a confused filmmaker. Roughly autobiographical in nature, the movie is a comedic take on the tribulations that befall the protagonist while trying to make a science fiction movie. It portrays recurrent motifs and deals with deep philosophical dilemmas. The film could also be considered to be a metaphor for the quintessential artistic struggle in the face of an overtly dry and arid modernization process. The film bagged a couple of Academy Awards in 1964 – one for the Best Foreign Language Film and the other for the Best Costume Design (black-and-white).
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Undoubtedly the most authoritarian piece of work directed by the maverick filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ could aptly be described as a crazy rendezvous with mayhem and uncertainty. With themes ranging from existentialism to evolution, the British movie has acquired a cult status over the years. Inspired by a short story named ‘The Sentinel’ written by Arthur C. Clarke, who co-scripted the screenplay along with Kubrick; the movie chronicles the journey of a crew of scientists to Jupiter along with the sentient computer HAL 9000. The movie went on to become one of the biggest influences on future science fiction projects and is considered to be a philosopher’s delight. The movie landed Kubrick with the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
4. Solaris (1972)
One of the most unique achievements of global cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian masterpiece ‘Solaris’ is a calm and contemplative movie that strives to comprehend the significance of human subsistence. Principally harping on the concept of identity and self-discovery, the movie chronicles the story of a psychologist who goes on a trip to the space in order to find out what happened to the crew of a spaceship, who seem to have gone crazy. A rather complex narrative, ‘Solaris’ received the coveted Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972.
3. The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Standing out as one of the most effective fantasy films of all time, ‘The Double Life Of Veronique’ is an epitome of parallel storytelling. The film tells the tale of two young women, from two different countries, who are physically identical to each other. Veronique from France and Weronika from Poland (both played by Irene Jacob) are not related at all, but almost everything else about both of them is exactly similar. Both are good musicians and have the same likes/dislikes. In fact, both of them suffer from the same cardiovascular disease of cardiac malformation. Krzysztof Kieślowski craftily portrays the lives of two women who are so very similar, but at the same time are complete strangers to each other.
2. Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ acquaints us to the multiple dimensions of the ‘Dream City’, LA. Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an aspiring young actress shifts to the city in pursuit of her Hollywood dream. Destiny takes an abrupt turn as she runs into Rita (Laura Harring), a woman who is the sole survivor of a car accident on Mulholland Drive and is a mass amnesia patient. As the city unravels its darker side, the two women search for clues and answers in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality. A film that is discussed even today, around 15 years after its release and yet, not every question about the film has been answered. ‘Mulholland Dr.’, quite simply, offers the greatest cinematic mystery of all time.
1. The Matrix (1999)
Way more than just a movie, ‘The Matrix’ has been nothing short of a phenomenon. It changed the way people looked at the world around them and even turned them cynical. Directed by the Wachowskis, the American-Australian movie could very well be described as a living nightmare. A film that virtually introduced the rather terrifying concept of simulated reality, it asked a number of vital philosophical questions about humanity and its actual purpose. A person who has watched the movie will never be the same again. The movie clinched four Academy Awards in 2000 in the categories of Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects.
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