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20 Great Postmodernist Films That Are Worth Your Time

08 July 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Kanishka Deo

7. Dead Man (1995)

Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

dead-man-original

The film was called a “psychedelic western” by its director. It is considered to be an archetype postmodernist film. The film is filled with references to William Blake’s poetry. Reflections to Blake’s work occur throughout the film. The film is set in the 19th century but the director does not shy away from the 20th century American Culture. There is a character called Nobody in the film. He is also known as He who talks too loud but does not say anything is a classic representation of postmodernist thought.

There are erratic references to the western films. One of the characters in the film says, “My name is nobody” which is also a Henry Fonda western film. Jim Jarmusch hated westerns. Westerns were always made to establish a certain kind of American moral code. Jarmusch despises it. The film juxtaposes industrialization with westerns and what comes out is an interesting, well thought pastiche. The film leaves you disoriented and distanced and that is probably the strongest point of it as well.

 

8. Chungking Express (1995)

Written and Directed by Wong Kar-wai

Chungking-express

Chungking Express has two stories within the film. Both stories are left with open resolutions. The film in many ways deals with the themes of dystopia and chaos. The idea of misplaced identity is apparent as both stories have these male characters who are cops. They don’t have names and are always mentioned by numbers.

The film is about an urban life in Hong Kong where characters are distanced and lonely. One can question that Wong Kar Wai’s narrative with each film has become even more unstructured and aimless but in the larger scheme of things, this is precisely the feeling he aims to draw out of his films. The Chinese title translates to Chungking Jungle which refers to the concrete jungle of the modern city space.

Chungking Express is about a locality in Hong Kong which has people from varied ethnicity co-existing in this urban space. It is a pastiche of people and cultures which is reflected in the film as well. The film is about missed opportunities and ridicules the existence of chance encounters in films.

The ambiguity around the place decided by the characters of the second story for their date, ‘California’ also talks about how postmodernists hint towards destruction of language and its capacity to make sense of things. The real space is elevated to surreal experiences and that is why this film becomes an apt example of postmodernism.

 

9. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Written and Directed by Coen Brothers

the-big-lebowski

The film is essentially based on the drama that evolves from ‘mistaken identity’. This film like all the other films mentioned in this list defies genre cinema which is an attempt to structure and study cinema. The film pays homage to Chandler novels and the classic kidnapping stories in its own special way. The protagonist “The Dude” often quotes various people he has met and celebrities throughout the film reiterating on the fact that there is lack or originality in this post-modern world.

The film also heavily parodies the entertainment industry. The movie has portions which depict allusions which are surreal and are disorienting. Coen Brothers have mastered the art of pastiche in their cinema. Influence of whatever they have seen and liked is always seen in their films.

 

10. Run Lola Run (1998)

Written and Directed by Tom Tykwer

Run Lola Run

Run Lola Run is like a video game. It is non-linear and almost plays in a loop with mixing elements of live action and animation. The film is famous for its numerous jump-cuts. It is an editing masterpiece. The video game like lead character in an unreal world with her strength and ability to rewind her life makes this a very strange experience. It breaks popular notions of cinema. The film uses Paetsch as the narrator. He is a popular German children story voice. At various places the film has tried to bring together German popular culture together.

The film also has references to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The spiral staircase through which Lola runs reminds of the spiral production design elements from Hitchcock’s film. Rhizome is a theory proposed by Deleuze which acknowledges different perspectives to a singular reality. This films goes on to compliment this theory by adapting a butterfly effect type storyline. The cause and effect relationship becomes extremely obscure in the film. The beginning, middle and end structure is completely broken when the film proposes multiple ends to the viewers.

 

11. Fight Club (1999)

Directed by David Fincher. Written by Jim Ulhs. Based on a novel by Chuck Phalahniuk

the-narrator-fight-club

The film starts with the narration of this character played by Edward Norton. Never in the film do you come to know his name except for once when he talks about himself in third person and calls himself Jack. The association is pretty vague. The other lead character in the film is Tyler Durden and in the end you realize he is nothing but a figment of the narrator’s imagination. This very playing around the concept of misplaced identities is a postmodernist trope. Schizophrenia is an important element of postmodernism. It essentially points towards a state where notions of reality become skewed.

There is a part in the film where Brad Pitt inserts certain frames of his “snake” in a film reel during the projection, where for less than a second one is exposed to the image of a “snake” and it goes. The inclusion of projection and tampering with it is somewhere related to stimulation of hyper reality. In fact, in the film itself there are certain frames of a “snake” and also through the same cinematic device the filmmaker often exchanged Norton’s image with Pitt’s. This breaks classical form of storytelling in some ways and also brings form and content together.

The film is full of pop culture references. There is no shot in the film which does not have a Starbucks coffee mug in it. There are references to famous brands and people including Gucci, Meryl Streep and Gandhi. In this film, the narrator is disconnected and distanced from his world so much that he suffers from insomnia which makes him a classic postmodernist hero.

 

12. American Beauty (1999)

Written by Allan Ball and Directed by Sam Mendes

american-beauty

The film intelligently comments on the American lifestyle that their media has propagated over so many years, which have formed the ideas of perfect beauty, perfect home, lifestyle, love and truth. American Beauty goes on to criticize these very notions with a pinch of humor. The film talks about how a superficially perfect American neighborhood is shallow from within. The characters face existential crisis. They all feel misunderstood.

The film is structured very well. It starts with giving the audience the knowledge that the protagonist is going to die by the end of the film. This dead narrator gives the film elements of hyper reality. This particular motion picture can be quite a perfect example of a post-modernist piece because of all these features.

 

13. Memento (2000)

Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Johnathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

memento

The protagonist of the film suffers from short term memory loss and this translates to the form of the film when it breaks down to scattered parts told in a nonlinear fashion. The narrative style mimics memory pattern. The element of schizophrenia and breaking down of memory make it a post-modernist film.

The film also questions the indexical quality of photography. It breaks our suspension of belief by showing how memory can be mould according to convenience. The ability to have a constructed memory makes this film an interesting take on post-modernism. It proposes a hypothesis that there is no ‘real’ truth which is the core of postmodernism.

The film becomes engaging when the viewer gets involved in putting the information together. This makes the film more intriguing than most nonlinear films.

 

 

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  • Laughingirl

    You guys really, really need an editor. Your evaluations are good, but so poorly written and punctuated as to be unreadable.

  • JackWW

    Most of these are excellent and arguably postmodern films, but the definition of postmodernism that you provide is misleading (although in fairness, so is the word itself). Postmodern art is named for its complicatedly skeptical/indebted/retrospective relationship to modernism… which is almost as difficult to define. For me, their commonalities are more than their differences, and attempts to delineate them always run into contradictions. I like to just say that postmodernism is modernism with its hair down. I’m not sure what you mean by saying that “Post modernism is any art form that was initially studied only in retrospect,” especially since most of these films were immediate sensations when released.

    • Martin Kelleher

      Agreed. Postmodernism has the advantage of looking back at various genres and being able to play with them, without necessarily ‘stealing’, but in one way being conscious of the history of cinema and storytelling and being able to mess with the various forms as a kind of collage – maybe also it could be called Postgenre. Postmodernism does have a tendency to use irony in critiquing the times in which the film is being made but I think the author, while I agree with a lot of his/her points, is not only being misleading but limiting the scope of postmodernism. Incidentally, I think Jonze/Kaufman’s ‘Being John Malkovich is a better example of Postmodernism than the two mentioned here.

  • Gideon

    All great films! Whats postmodern about them? A bit of a misleading title 🙂

  • Alvaro Alsina

    sorry guys, but I think you just tried to fit too big shoes in this article. you say “post-modernist” when you really want to say “pop”. Most of this movies are great, they don’t need to be forced into a label as it is. You want to see cinema messing with time and space and dislocated narrativity? God’s sake, try with Alain Resnais. All this films mentioned above are childish games compared to that…

    • Jérôme Blanchet

      Alain Resnais is legendary and I only know Robert Bresson who dared to talk negatively about him.

    • RingedWithTile

      Sure, they’re all popular films, but they’re also all unmistakably postmodern as well. Given that we’re in an age of postmodernism, isn’t it appropriate that that postmodern entertainment be popular?

      Also Resnais is a modernist. You might be able to make an argument that I Want to Go Home or Wild Grass are postmodern, but I think the rest are clearly modernist works.

  • Veronica Clarke

    Don’t really get the whole ‘postmodern’ thing, but it’s a great list of great movies.

  • Stephen C

    Maybe this was lost in translation, but this article is in bad need of some editing. By “troupe”, the author meant “trope”. A troupe is a group of performers, not an over-used creative element. There are some other parts that were almost unreadable, specifically the section on Her.

    Also, Royal Tenenbaums was released two years before Arrested Development, so it hardly takes from the show. It’s the other way around.

  • Beck Potucek

    Where is Synecdoche, New York?!

    • Stephen C

      Much more postmodern than Eternal Sunshine for sure.

    • devout hedonist

      everything charlie kaufman should be here in my opinon

    • No

      to have synecdoche on here would imply a deeper understanding of what postmodernism is than this article seems to possess.

    • Sir Farty Fartsalot

      Because it wasn’t, you idiot

  • DarylSomers

    These are fucking awful. Like a bad high school essay. How did I get here? What part of the internet even is this?

  • RockyJohan

    Monty Python and The Holy Grail was directed by Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam.

  • Moaaz Hagag

    Where’s Mr Nobody?

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  • Emre Ozkoca

    The Big Lebowski was written by the Coen Bros. but only directed by Joel Coen. Imdb is also incorrect on this particular case.

    It is ‘Eternal Sunshine of THE Spotless Mind’ not ‘…A spotless mind’.

    • Brian Lussier

      True and not true. The official credits list Joel as director and Ethan as producer, true, as was the case with everything they made up until The Ladykillers. But everyone who has worked with the Coens have ALL stated that the actual workload was always split 50/50 in both the directing and the producing. Theoretically, you’re right; in practice, it’s a different story…

  • Stephen Dimig

    Paprika >>>> Inception.

    • Ankur Deb

      All the way….
      Paprika is bold. Not because nudity and stuff but because of the balls to show such ides portrayed so well in film.
      Plus, great music.
      What else do you need in a movie?

  • jojoloco

    You have to see Ex Machina this 2015!

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  • cxnnxr

    Is nobody going to call you out on all the spoilers? You say these films are worth our time and then give away some crucial plot points.

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  • Gines Velazquez

    Eternal sunshine instead of adaptation or Synecdoche? i think you need to re-view Kaufman´s filmography and your posmedernism concepts…

  • Joni Bologna

    You keep using that word, “Post-Modernist”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

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  • Ian Paul

    Wouldn’t Me and Earl and the Dying Girl count as Postmodern?

    • Richard McMuffin

      In actual fact, all movies made after the modern period are “post-modern” by virtue of the very times in which they were made. As an artist of today, one is unable to avoid the post-modern tag because (within the paradigm of artistic theory) artists are deemed to be aware of the past and how their work either breaks from the past (via methods such as meta-concepts, breaking the 4th wall, fucking with narrative, decentering the point of view etc) or makes use of the past via forms of intertextuality (in a knowing way). i.e. all art in our post-modern period, regardless of the artist’s best intentions, is partly concerned with the knowledge that there are no grand narratives.

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  • Laban Chris

    Holy Motors?
    You people use buzzwords and then apply them to the movies only to confuse others.

  • Relf

    You said “great”. So you can exclude anything by Quentin “copy paste” Tarantino

  • Milo Ricketts

    Was Breathless there? If it wasn’t there’s a serious problem

  • Abhishek

    The admins somehow try to enlist every movie of Nolan!

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