There’s something uniquely satisfying about a good science fiction movie. Its right up there with good books and a glass of red wine for rainy day activities – there’s nothing quite like crawling under a blanket with Plan 9 From Outer Space on a rainy afternoon. And we can all appreciate sci-fi epics like Pacific Rim or the upcoming Godzilla reboot – those are just silly and fun. But what about those special science fiction movies, the ones that really make us think about humanity and where it’s headed, or that make us question something we’ve never thought to question – the ones that challenge us.
Those are really special visions of the future, the ones that tell us about how we live now. So here is my list of mind-bending (and mind-changing!) science fiction movies. You will perhaps notice that I have an affinity toward dark, sparse, atmospheric and sometimes twisted films, and apparently ones that feature Jude Law. If that sounds like your kind of movie, step right this way and check these out!
Six Mindbending Sci-Fi Movies
6. Gattaca (1997)
Gattaca is the story of a normal man with big ambitions, born into a world of genetic perfection. In the future, genetic engineering makes everyone beautiful, healthy, and exceptional, but leaves those born naturally in a position of discrimination. It’s a thought provoking look at what might happen to society if we decided against all better judgment to pursue eugenics through the genetic engineering of our species. It is also a tense and interesting film, dark and sparse, and strikingly detached. When romance in the future is the wooing of your partner by trading genetic information, there might be a problem. Jude Law plays a paraplegic whose identity the main character has arranged to assume.
5. Primer (2004)
Primer makes so little sense it’s fascinating. I usually don’t have any problem understanding the dynamics of time travel as a plot device, but this really honestly did not make a lick of sense in my brain. Granted, Primer is definitely a movie that needs to be seen more than once to be truly appreciated, and I’ve only ever seen it once. The movie is about four friends and entrepreneurs who invent a time machine. This opens up all kinds of moral and ethical dilemmas, but mostly confusion as to how this time machine works. Primer is just super trippy all around and immensely twisted.
4. eXistenZ (1999)
David Cronenberg has always been interested in the meshing of the human body with technology, our growing reliance and integration of technology into our lives, and what the future of our relationship to technology might be. eXistenZ investigates our obsession with gaming and the social outlet (or lack thereof) it provides for the gamer demographic. In this movie, gaming has advanced into virtual reality, controlled by a semi-organic console that we port into our very bodies. This port, located at the base of the spine, not only literally meshes the organic and mechanical, but becomes like a new, exciting sexual orifice. As the story moves on, the characters start to lose their grip on reality, until even the viewer doesn’t know whether they’re still in the game or not. Jude Law plays a marketing trainee who helps a game designer outrun assassins.
3. Splice (2009)
While the audience reception of this movie was pretty terrible, don’t let that fool you. Splice isn’t really a movie that’s meant to be enjoyed. Its purpose is to make you uncomfortable and to push the moral boundaries of science, to blur the lines between the professional and the personal. It presses buttons, and that’s part of what I really liked about it. It isn’t afraid to go where you’re afraid it will go. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get worse or that the characters couldn’t possibly do what you dread they might, that’s exactly what it does. It is a deeply disturbing and morally confusing movie, and that is obviously what turned off general audiences about Splice. For the most part, audiences don’t like to be morally challenged by their entertainment.
2. Repo Men (2010)
Repo Men is set in a future where people’s lives are saved by expensive mechanical organs, but often cut short when regular people fall on hard times and cannot pay for the life giving technology. Just as if you stopped paying for your car, a repo man comes along and repossesses your internal organs. Jude Law plays a repo man who is good at his job until his life is saved by one of these artificial organs, making him reconsider the morality of what he is doing. This crisis of conscience quickly leads to him falling on hard times and having to escape the repo man himself. While the movie as a whole is interesting enough, it’s the second half that really distinguishes itself. In a scene near the end where Jude Law and his lady love scan in their organs into the repossession center, what must be a terribly painful experience is shot like a love scene, the actors expressing pain but interacting sensually. It is particularly this scene, with its conflicting visual and situational stimuli, that sticks in the mind and transports the movie to a different level.
1. Gravity (2013)
There has perhaps never been a movie that more accurately and more strikingly conveys the open expanse of space and our helplessness in that desolate environment than Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar winning Gravity. While perhaps not entirely scientifically accurate, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson aka Buzzkill of Science graciously pointed out to us, it is a harrowing and startling depiction of human kind against the harshest of elements. One of the most striking scenes happens at the very beginning of the film, with Sandra Bullock just drifting away, farther and farther into endless black space, nothing to reach out for to stop her perpetual spin. It literally leaves you breathless.