Some movies are made to touch our heart and soul with an overabundance of sentiment. They make us come in touch with our humanity and empathy.

And some films are made to touch our mind, to get our mental cogs working, to awaken and expand our consciousness. They are films that deal with questions that we are all too eager and too afraid to ponder. It is those films that signal our awakening and that push us into seeing life and our existence differently.

1. Waking Life, by Rickard Linklater

waking life

What is a dream, and what is reality? Can we actually distinguish between the two? And what does a dream mean? These are only a few sample questions of the wide range that Linklater’s film provides.

The protagonist wanders through moments, dialogues, unnamed characters-in some important scenes, he’s not even present. In another, we see a couple from another movie verse (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy from the popular romantic movie franchise “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight“), with no explanation.

It is a trippy movie. Moving from the ethereal to the real, questioning the validity of each aspect of existence, and ending up straight into an existential crisis, this movie will fill your mind with philosophical questions, the biggest one being: Is my life real?

2. Samsara, by Ron Fricke

samsara

“Samsara” is a little documentary film made in 2011, by the same people who had collaborated on two similar in terms of style and theme films in the last decades, “Baraka” and “Chronos”. The movie’s title is the Sanskrit word for the loop of continuous life. Literally meaning “continuous flow”, the word has been used to describe the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, themes and terms shown within the film.

The visuals are beautiful, and the musical score compliments them just right. The little blocks of visual narrative are linked together in an intricate flow, and the message is one of a global consciousness and interconnectedness.

3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

“Uncle Boonmee” came out in 2010 and was the first Thai film to win the Palme d’Or. The titular character, Uncle Boonmee, is dying; during the course of his last living days, he goes on a journey to explore his past lives, together with his loved ones, whether in spirit or in physical form.

The film was actually the last part of a loosely linked film trilogy, titled “Primitive”, and was mostly focused on a particular area of Thailand. However, while the other two films of “Primitive” as a project focused more on the collective memory of the area in a more political and historical manner, “Uncle Boonmee” is more like “a personal diary”, according to the director.

It deals with matters of memory, transformation, reincarnation, and the nature of things facing death. A very interesting film for those not put off by the “artsyness” of it. However, it is not only a study on dying and previous lives, but also Weerasethakul’s tribute to the art of cinema.

4. Under the Skin, by Jonathan Glazer

Under the Skin

A very recent film, released just a few months ago, with Scarlett Johanson in one of her best, if not her best, performances in her entire career. The plot goes like this: Scarlett is an alien, whose name we never find out. She assumes human form and starts seducing men, leading them to her “harvesting place”, as one could call it.

To say any more about the plot would completely ruin your experience. “Under the Skin” will leave you stunned, wide-eyed, trying to comprehend and interpret what you have seen. While the previous movies on this list deal with matters of life, death, and reincarnation, this one deals with consciousness as a human, personal experience.

The first lines in the film are our alien protagonist making sounds, learning how to speak, much like a baby. She develops a consciousness, she experiences growth and humanity and comes face to face with the experience of being human. Just watch the film. It hasn’t been called the new “2001: A Space Odyssey” for nothing.

5. Enter the Void, by Gaspar Noe

enter the void

Otherwise known as “acid on film“. This movie feels like one continuous trip, and with good reason. Noe’s use of bold, colorful neon lights and first-person perspective can really mess up our perception (I mean, the camera blacks out momentarily when the protagonists blink. Can’t get any more first-person than that).

Not only that, but after a while, the story goes even trippier; our protagonist dies, and we see his out-of-body journey through his eyes, as he travels through time and space, the tempo of the film getting faster and faster, climaxing (no pun intended) in a pretty disturbing sex scene.

The end, however, is yet another plot twist, leaving us stupefied. Was this afterlife, or just a fleshing out of the theory that when we die, our mind’s perception of time makes us relive our life in a desperate effort to survive, looping round and round? Food for thought.

6. Anything by Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky

Literally, anything. “Solyaris”, “Stalker” and “The Mirror” are a very good start, and let’s not forget “Nostalghia“. Soviet cinema has always been special, but Tarkovsky is the pinnacle of thought-provoking and reflective film-making. Childhood, dreams, memory, the metaphysical and dream-like are trademarks of his films, and not one Tarkovsky film will make you feel the same after you see it.

There is a lot of symbolism in his works, and Tarkovsky’s goal was to create a form of cinema that “sculpted time”, altering our perception and showing us just how relative everything is to that perception. He may not be the easiest filmmaker to get into, but once you try him, you’ll keep coming back, mesmerized, your mind baffled and at the same time enamored.

Sofia Papadima, LL.B.

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This Post Has 35 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mika

    Very interesting movies. I´m definitely going to see these. Thanks for the article!

  2. Avatar
    Darren Wray

    The best way for a movie (or story) to awaken an audience is for the main actor to experience an awakening, which means solving problems. Reality is a problem-solving game.

    “Stories have a character, the character has a predicament or a problem-they’re always problem-focused-and the character tries to solve the problem. In its most basic terms, that’s what a story is-a problem solution narrative.”
    http://edge.org/conversation/the-way-we-live-our-lives-in-stories

  3. Avatar
    BoodaPest

    Mr. Nobody could hold its own on this list. Parallel lives based on your life choices hits me hard in the gut. The amazing girl with whom I could have hooked up if I had not already been in a committed relationship and chalked it up to lust is always in the back of my mind. I hope my other self is having a grand life with her. Still a good list, though. Thanks!

    1. Avatar
      LuluBell

      I also think that Mr. Nobody should be on this list. It’s one of the greatest, most complex movies ever made and it’s just the kind of movie that changes you and has a great impact on you. It deals with parallel lives, determinism (every choice you make leads you to another path), the relativity of time, life before you are born and a futuristic world.

    2. Avatar
      Edward III

      I agree that Mr. Nobody is a great film with a deep message, and that it could easily be on the above list, however, all true students of film will immediately recognize it to be a direct tribute to the 1987 film Blind Chance, written and directed by famed Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski.

      The use of the departing train as the metaphor for decisions we make, and decisions we could have made, is the dead giveaway that Mr. Nobody was made with full awareness of the 1987 film, but believe it or not, Blind Chance is the deeper of the two films.

      Anyone who has not seen either film should do themselves a favor and watch both, starting with Blind Chance 😉

    3. Avatar
      Jojo

      I love Mr Nobody!! now that I think about def should be in this list

  4. Avatar
    Sohil Memon

    Great movies. I haven’t seen any of them earlier. But I also recommended to add “Lucy (2014) and Transcendence (2014)”. Similar generic movie. Thanks for this list, gonna download it now!

  5. Avatar
    Ray Pantle

    Sofia, thank you for this list. We certainly have similar taste in terms of story. The recent cult film Donnie Darko is also a must-see.

  6. Avatar
    Antonio Colon

    Where can I watch/download these movies? Including Mr. Nobody.

  7. Avatar
    Kim

    Me.Nobody, cloud atlas

  8. Avatar
    Gabby Madsen

    Donnie Darko?! Definitely life changing for me.

  9. Avatar
    Gabby Madsen

    I would also add Inception.

  10. Avatar
    andy rap cach

    thanks for making this list sofia
    ..i’ve watch “lucy” already..but your list seems more interesting…

  11. Avatar
    steppenwolf

    I would marry you on the spot just for saying “anything by Tarkovsky”.

  12. Avatar
    Lorenzo

    Sion Sono – Suicide Club

  13. Avatar
    BlackNINGENmuntU

    I havent watched all the above, downloading them asap… ive watched Mr. Nobody one of my favorites of all time… another movie aswel i would recommend is I Heart Huckabees, of course overlooking its comical undertones, its quite the flick

  14. Avatar
    David Loos

    Donnie Darko… recent? If you’ve been in a coma for the last decade, I suppose.

    The “mindbender” film genre is one that is actually recent, but few films really fit the genre’s own definition. Of the numerous wannabes (like the very recent “The One I Love” or the over-produced “Inception”) the best examples include “Coherence” and “Primer”. Others in this list are just odd for the sake of odd (or art), like “Enter the Void” or are a college freshman’s idea of profound and metaphysical – ie, “Waking Life”.

    That said, “Under The Skin” was mesmerizing, and anything by Tarkosvky really IS worth watching, for numerous reasons.

  15. Avatar
    ducon le maitre

    nice topic, terrible listing …:-) : under the skin is a pathetic movie….my list would be , among others:::: matrix 1 and matrix 2….. altered states ….contact ….2001 (a space odissey) and 2010 ….enter the void ….looper … brainstorm …cloud atlas …jacob’s ladder…deja vu …minority report …edge of tomorrow…eternal sunshine of the spotless mind …the signal…american psycho…fight club …inception…the fountain…the cell…the fall… the jacket …the quiet earth …the truman show …they live …twelve monkeys…vanilla sky …videodrome … namaste 🙂

  16. Avatar
    D

    I think Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman would be an excellent addition to the list, as well.

  17. Avatar
    Katerina

    Wonderful list, even a couple I haven’t seen. But pleease add “What the Bleep Do We Know?” 🙂 I discovered that movie just a year before Waking Life and it really opened my eyes to the fact that current science actually supports endless possibilities in the “physical” world. It is indeed mind expanding. It’s really not like a documentary, even though I suppose it technically is. Check it out! 🙂

  18. Avatar
    Katerina

    **a few I haven’t seen. My bad haha.

  19. Avatar
    fifi ingewati

    u should add “lucy” and “Transendence” in this list

  20. Avatar
    William DeSousa

    Awesome tips! I love Gaspar Noe’s work, i’ll certainly watch Into the Void. And Tarkowski… no more needed to be said, true genius. I also have recommendations: Jacob’s Ladder, with Tim Robbins. Nice movie about dream/reality, life/death. Videodrome is a very insightful movie about reality and still very current as well.

  21. Avatar
    northstar

    First and sixth movies. I believe our lives are real. However, through meditation, one can change the past which changes the present. And one can meditate and create the future.
    Second, Third and Fourth: Yup, reincarnation is real. Why would one person be born rich or beautiful or athletic and another be born opposite? See also, Edgar Cayce.
    Fifth: One can meditate and lift out and experience a trip of incredible music, colors, love.

    1. Avatar
      Baconman

      “However, through meditation, one can change the past which changes the present. And one can meditate and create the future.”

      Why do you believe that is possible?

  22. Avatar
    JR

    I’ve only watched one of the movies on this list, Samsara, and it brought me to this page. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Just go into it with a clear, open, free mind and an intent to receive some sort of message. Samsara was what I believe began my spiritual journey (only about 2 weeks ago). When I started watching the movie, I had no idea what the meaning of the word Samsara was. Not even 20 minutes into the movie, I was in such a deep meditative state and so overwhelmed by the message I received through it, (which is stated above “the message is one of a global consciousness and interconnectedness”) I had to pause the movie around the 20 minute mark. It was as if I “woke up”. For the first time in my life, I felt interconnected with not just the world, but the universe. I had to Google this feeling and I ultimately ended up reading on Buddhism. From my readings, it was what explained the state I was in the most. Coincidentally or maybe not so coincidental, it was through reading about Buddhism, I learned what the title of the film Samsara was. I am still seeking for the truth. I believe we all should. I can’t call myself a practicing Buddhist since this all happened to me a couple weeks ago, but I know without a doubt in my mind, that around 20 minutes into Samsara, I was awakened and in a momentary state of enlightenment. I can’t wait to start watching the rest of the movies listed here to help expand my consciousness. Thank you for this list and I wish all peace, love & light 🙂

  23. Avatar
    Erik

    Great list of Movies thanks for sharing love finding quality videos to expand the mind.

  24. Avatar
    accelerator

    Some other good films about human potential.. and the mind and spirit.. are:

    Altered States by Ken Russell

    Light Years Away (or – Les années lumière)… by Alain Tanner

    It’s ard to find this rare film about meditation.. but.. soon.. I will upload it to my utube channel – AcceleratorPlus

    Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach is a good film.. but the book is much better.
    The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and

    The Zero Theorem…. by Terry Gilliam

    Powder

    Brainstorm

    Flatliners

    AND.. not to be missed..

    The Dream of the Ridiculous Man by Dostoyevsky

    This is a Utopian Vision that explains the Bible’s hidden agenda.. as it goes beneath the symbolism and allegory.. explaining what the stories really mean..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8YjiSma110

  25. Avatar
    GmanAtheist

    Human imagination is a tool that the brain uses to explain that which we don’t understand or wish to be true. Never confuse reality with the supernatural. These movies are great and inspire deep thought, They are simply a door to our imaginations, nothing more. Personal experiences when watching these movies vary from mind to mind, depending on the core belief system of that mind. As an atheist I appreciate the wonderful diversity of human imaginings, Make sure you come back to reality after watching these movies, or you might become delusional and waste your life on that which is not real. 🙂

  26. Avatar
    Tony

    There are signs everywhere that shows us what reality is. It all depends how narcissistic we are to notice.

  27. Avatar
    sondra

    I realise that these comments are anywhere from a few months, to a couple of years old, but i cannot resist a good forum.
    All those movies except, into the void, I have not seen. But, Im going looking for them, right Now!

  28. Avatar
    Marie

    Thanks for the list,haven’t watched any of them ,I searched them all, thought Id share my findings:
    #1 Waking Life (available on Netflix and ,Starz free wit subscription)
    #2 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is 3.99 for rent various sites, available on DVDs on Netflix
    #3 Samsara is 99 cents on Amazon for rent,(best value I found)
    #4 Under the Skin,is also 3.99 for rent everywere
    #5 Enter The Void,free with Sundance NOW subscription (an Amazon channel, get a free trial and watch it :)l ) or 2.99 google play best value
    #6 Andrei Tarkovsky movies, The mirror free on YouTube ,other wise google play has best rental prices (vary by movie)

  29. Avatar
    Angie

    Very appreciative of this list, thanks!

  30. Avatar
    Mercurius

    Reading this article today is a synchronicity moment for me. I just watched Samsara last night after it had been on my Amazon watchlist for months waiting for the time when I would have a good TV worthy of the visuals. Nothing is fictional. All happened exactly as depicted. Only the chronology of observation is shifted. In same vein as Koyaanisqatsi which deserves mention. Hitchcock’s The Birds is not out of bounds if ‘feel good’ is not a requisite.

  31. Avatar
    Kimberly

    I opened up my Amazon Prime video list while reading this. Now I have a new assortment of movies to check out. Thanks for sharing!

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