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Top 10 Movies That People Still Don't Understand

VO: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
Script written by Garrett Alden. We still don’t get it! Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 movies that people still don’t understand. For this list, we’ll be going over the films with confusing plots or that involve specific events that continue to puzzle viewers even years after the fact.
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Top 10 Movies That People Still Don't Understand

We still don’t get it! Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 movies that people still don’t understand.
For this list, we’ll be going over the films with confusing plots or that involve specific events that continue to puzzle viewers even years after the fact.

#10: “Under the Skin” (2013)

The story of a woman, or something masquerading as one, abducting men in Scotland, “Under the Skin” has gotten under many of its viewers’ skin because of how ambiguous it is. Little explanation is given for the woman’s actions or even who or what she is, though she’s clearly otherworldly. The dialogue is sparse and the characters don’t even have names. “Under the Skin” definitely has thematic messages though, as most critics seem to agree that it’s about inverted predation, the lustful, desirous (and usually predatory) male becoming the victim, and that it also addresses the larger concerns of purely physical attraction.

#9: “American Psycho” (2000)

“American Psycho” follows Patrick Bateman, a superficial businessman, whose veneer of normality hides a twisted, depraved, and murderous monster. When he’s not envying his colleagues’ business cards, Bateman unleashes his repressed rage on women, animals, and one of his rivals. However, the ending throws us a sharp left turn when it’s revealed that Bateman’s rival, who we saw him graphically kill, is supposedly alive and well. Our doubts are reinforced by the discovery of Bateman’s notebook, which is filled with violent imagery - suggesting that some, if not all, of his deeds may have been in his head. But where do we draw the line between reality and fantasy? Audiences are still wondering.

#8: “Synecdoche, New York” (2008)

Filmmaker/writer Charlie Kaufman is known for unusual stories, but arguably his most confusing is “Synecdoche, New York.” The film depicts a playwright whose physical and emotional turmoil are offset by his play, which begins to blend in with his real life. The setting, as well as which actor is playing which character, changes throughout the play and the film, which makes keeping track of it all difficult. However, part of the title, “synecdoche” means “a part that represents the whole,” so interchangeability is kind of the point – everyone is everyone, and everywhere is everywhere. At least, that’s what we think it means… you tell us.

#7: “Donnie Darko” (2001)

While some point to Richard Kelly’s ambitious, sprawling film “Southland Tales,” as the most incomprehensible in the director’s repertoire, “Donnie Darko” is arguably more accessible in its confusingness… if that makes any sense. The movie follows the eponymous protagonist over the course of a month as he’s guided by a man in a rabbit suit to avert the world’s end. While the interactions Donnie has with his friends and family are fairly straightforward, the explanation for why everything is happening is not spelled out, at least not in the theatrical cut of the film. The director’s cut makes the time travel element more explicit, and if you want to understand it, definitely watch that version.

#6: “Pi” (1998)

Psychological thrillers are prone to intricate plots that can be hard to understand, but even by the standards of the genre, “Pi” is incredibly difficult to pin down. The debut of director Darren Aronofsky, “Pi” follows Max, a number theorist whose obsession with an apparently divine number leads him on a convoluted journey. Max suffers from paranoia and hallucinations, making the line between delusion and reality very ambiguous, right down to its rather vague ending. The film explores several religious and existential themes, which, when added to all the mathematics stuff, culminates in a film that goes over most viewers’ heads.

#5: “Cloud Atlas” (2012)

The Wachowskis aren’t exactly known for clarity when it comes to their work, but this adaptation makes their other stuff seem simple. An ambitious sci-fi story told across centuries, “Cloud Atlas” follows several groups of characters whose lives seem connected, especially since actors play multiple characters across the tales. Whether they’re reincarnations of one another is somewhat unclear, and the fact that some of the stories are referred to as fictional in the context of other segments leaves many uncertain as to what’s real. Interconnectedness seems to be the major theme though, so, real or not, they, and we, are all part of the same story.

#4: “Primer” (2004)

Nobody really understands time travel. All we have are theories, really, and even those can be difficult to wrap our brains around. “Primer” depicts two friends who invent time travel and the fallout of their attempts at manipulating the past. Typical time travel weirdness ensues, with multiple versions of the characters encountering one another and themselves, as well as branching timelines. Little of the technical jargon is dumbed down either, so unless you’re versed in engineering, a lot of details can be hard to follow. Director Shane Carruth’s follow-up, “Upstream Color” is weird too, though for entirely different reasons, and ultimately “Primer” is the one you’ll find yourself most often revisiting in hopes of understanding.

#3: “The Tree of Life” (2011)

Ostensibly a primarily visual story about a man named Jack, as well as his boyhood experiences, “The Tree of Life” is also interspersed with imagery of the creation of the universe and Earth’s development. With its sparse dialogue, and seemingly random but beautifully shot footage, “The Tree of Life” is definitely an arthouse film; and those aren’t for everyone, since they’re often open to interpretation or accused of being pretentious. Whether it’s pompous dreck or a brilliant cinematic commentary on the universality of existence… or both, we’ll likely never have a definitive answer.

#2: “Eraserhead” (1977)

We could have easily filled our list with David Lynch’s filmography: the director is the king of surreal filmmaking. However, we don’t think he’s yet topped his feature-length debut, “Eraserhead,” at least when it comes to confusing people. The bizarre story of a wild-haired man contending with a threatening industrial environment, his girlfriend, and his horrifying mutant child, “Eraserhead” is a weird and often upsetting film to watch - and it’s one that we’re not sure we want to understand. That being said, it does capture the stress of parenthood well, in its own weird way.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

“Mr. Nobody” (2009)

“Predestination” (2014)

“Mulholland Drive” (2001)

#1: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

A seminal science fiction movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one trippy trip through space. The film is presented in three sections, first at the dawn of man, next on a manned spaceflight, and lastly in a strange locale experienced by the last surviving astronaut of the aforementioned journey. All are connected by a mysterious monolith. “2001” tells its story primarily through music and visuals, so it’s very thematically driven rather than story driven, though the middle portion is fairly straightforward. Whether you understand it or not, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is absolutely captivating from its beginning to its surreal and grandiose end.
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