I haven't actually seen "Inception" yet, but the word from every one of my colleagues is that it's quite a trip. The trailers paint enough of a picture in that regard already.
This is hardly the first example of Hollywood burrowing into your brain and screwing with the way you think, however. There's a lengthy history of mindf--k movies out there, stories which keep you guessing all the way through. So as these final few unbearable days tick away before the release of "Inception," why not settle in and appreciate some of our favorite WTF-filled predecessors.
There's no better place to start than with the undisputed king of the mindf--k, Alfred Hitchcock. "Psycho" is the obvious choice here, but I've always preferred "Rear Window." An accomplished photojournalist (Jimmy Stewart) in stuck in his New York apartment with a broken leg during a particularly hot summer. To pass the time he stares out the window and observes his neighbors throughout the day. And that's how he comes to suspect that one of his neighbors -- RAYMOND BURR! -- is a murderer. The ending isn't as unpredictable as you might expect, but Hitchcock, master craftsman that he was, keeps you guessing the whole way through.
How does one talk about "Jacob's Ladder" without spoiling the big twist? Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam veteran who witnesses a horrific event during his tour of duty. As his unit prepares for a big offensive, something snaps among the men and all hell breaks loose. The story then flashes around in time, giving us glimpses of the titular Jacob's life before and after the war. The truth of what's really going on is quite shocking, unforgettable for those who have seen the film. You know the big secret in "The Sixth Sense"? Something like that, a twist that puts a new perspective on the entire film.
"The Thirteenth Floor"
Full disclosure: I haven't personally seen "The Thirteenth Floor." But my co-workers here are insisting that it must live on any list of favorite mindf--k movies, so here goes. You're basically looking at a murder mystery penned at the dawn of the Information Age, when Virtual Reality was still very much a "thing" (remember "Lawnmower Man"?). A computer tech bigwig is found murdered and his friend and protege is a top suspect. He didn't do it of course, but he's going to have to explore cyberspace to prove it. None of that can prepare you for the big twist, but I've been assured it's quite the doozy.
"In the Mouth of Madness"
If you've ever had any doubts about John Carpenter, look no further than "In the Mouth of Madness" to see his genius at work. Yes, "The Thing" is excellent, and "Halloween," and "They Live" and any number of his other films. But "Madness" exudes this really creepy vibe while proudly wearing its H.P. Lovecraft influence out where everyone can see it. And then it ends, and you have to shake your head and take a little walk, the better to process the terrifying thing you've just seen. When star Sam Neill sees what he sees in the final moments and breaks down into maniacal, raving laughter... it's not a moment you forget very easily.
"The Usual Suspects"
Who is Kaiser Soze? Understand that and you understand the basis for the mindf--k at work in Bryan Singer's stellar heist mystery "The Usual Suspects." This movie must be watched at least twice. Once to take in the basic story and a second time to digest that same story from a completely shifted perspective. You don't learn the truth until the very end, and it's a stunning revelation. Perfectly staged, perfectly performed and perfectly explained. And the best part? Even after you know the secret, it's still a helluva a fun ride to take every time.