Science-fiction is a genre that defies all human imagination. It forces the human mind to think and wander, unlike the other genres. It’s an ell-encompassing genre that covers everything from parallel universes to world destroying viruses. And then there are movies the go above and beyond. They are so convoluted and conniving they leave our brains in knots by the time credits roll.
Before we begin, this list is not going to pander to mainstream audiences. We will not be talking about Interstellar, Inception, and predestination here. So if you were expecting a typical list of sci-fi movies, this list is not for you.
Arthouse movies are not everyone’s cup of tea. Alphaville sits atop that sci-fi arthouse throne. So its a very, very niche movie. Legendary experimental film maker Jean-Luc Goddard gives us this classic. Detective Lemmy Caution is sent to infiltrate a dystopian city named Alphaville. Alphaville is governed by a sentient A.I called Alpha 60. Using mind control and brainwashing, Alpha 60 controls the entire city’s population. The movie explores several tropes like Surrealism, French New Wave Cinema, and the concept of individuality and creativity. It’s a movie that relies on a solid story and incredible concepts to drive the plot forward. And its damn interesting to watch.
From the outside, Ad Astra looks like any normal sci-fi flick. But there’s a deeper narrative, something most people will miss in their first watch. Ad Astra is not about a distant son trying to get his estranged father home. It’s about relationships across distance, the distance being in lightyears. Does a father remain a father to a son if he is no longer within the boundaries of our solar system? Where does love and passion end and madness begin? The most important part of the story is its slow, unnerving pace. You may think you have figured out the movie but re-watch it again and you will find something interesting every time.
The movie begins like a typical exploration journey. A mysterious meteor strike leads to a region of the United states being enclosed in a quarantined space called the Shimmer. Literally nothing about the Shimmer is ever truly explained. A group of scientists enter the Shimmer in search of another search party. Each of them end up dying in super mysterious ways. add to that the movie’s non linear narrative and super short foreshadowing and you have a movie as mysterious as it can get.
If you are not familiar with Kabbalah, a Jewish esoteric discipline and school of thought, do not even consider watching this film. The lead protagonist is also the narrator. He is unreliable, a paranoid schizophrenic, and talks in a language that only scientists would understand. The movie revolves around the search for a mysterious universe that could explain literally everything happening in the universe. The lead protagonist’s paranoia inserts itself into every scene, making an already harder to understand movie nigh impossible to decipher.
Upstream Color is the anti-thesis of convoluted sci-fi. It’s beautiful, well-planned and linear. A group of criminals use mysterious parasites to induce a hyper hypnotic state in their victims. The victims are then vulnerable to suggestion. They will do anything the criminals ask them to. Things become complicated when a parasite is inserted into a pig. There’s also a telepathic link between two people who believe they are in love. But later they realize they are both victims of the same parasite attack. The narrative is also extremely obscured that never gives us a definitive conclusion.
2001: A Space Odyssey
This movie is considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi masterpieces of all time. It’s also one of the most confusing sci-fi movies of all time. A Black Monolith appears out of nowhere and prehistoric humanity is taught how to use tools. Flash forward to the future and another Monolith appears somewhere else in our solar system and humans send a space-ship to investigate. Meanwhile there’s also a crazed A.I aboard the humans need to deal with. A “star-gate” scene further complicates matters. There’s also a very disconcerting space-faring baby whose true purpose is as bewildering as it gets.
Darren Aronofsky’s metaphysical drama went through a lot of hoops before it finally hit the theaters. the movie is about the human acceptance of mortality and death. There are three different storylines in one movie, each running parallelly to the other two. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play the lead characters in the three arcs. The movie is filled up to the brim with powerful symbolism that might bounce off of your heads. There’s also various historical allegories that are force fit into the movie’s non-linear pace. This movie will leave your head spinning.
The best movies do not rely in CGI or star power. They rely on clever story-telling with maximum use of whatever resources it has at its disposal. Coherence is a movie that deals with alternate realities. A comet passes over the earth and the power goes out. People attending a dinner party go to the only house in the neighborhood that still has power, leaving a note. When they come back, they find the same note in front of their home. It’s not long before they realize that the comet has opened a portal into parallel worlds. The real question is – who amongst the people that went out and came back are actually from an alternate universe.
Irony is – Sci-fi has always been a genre of high value projects. To make one, you need big pockets. but the most confusing movie of all time was made on a shoestring budget. It explores the most disturbingly difficult science fiction plot element – time travel. Two part time inventors accidentally come up with time travel technology. What follows next is literal chaos. Multiple timelines exist simultaneously and there are so many parallel version of the same time traveler that time itself could fragment into a zillion pieces out of sheer confusion.