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20 Great Postmodernist Films That Are Worth Your Time

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

14. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Written by Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson and Directed by Wes Anderson

the-tenenbaums-the-royal-tenenbaums

The film goes in the zone of being absurdist with its humor. The film starts with three siblings who are extremely talented and as they grow there is a certain chaos and dysfunctionality that comes in their lives. The film takes from the popular Fox sitcom Arrested Development. It follows the similar narration pattern by following each family member. It is an extremely cold film. It creates an intentional distance between characters as well as with the audience.

The film goes on to become extremely corny but that is done in order to tale on the mushy cinema with happy endings. The film criticizes a certain kind of corniness but goes on to use the same device to convey the message. Anderson’s work is inspired by various artists and filmmakers and he manages to create a beautiful blend of those inspirations in his films.

 

15. Donnie Darko (2001)

Written and Directed by Richard Kelly

donnie-darko-2001

The lead character in this film has surreal visions related to the doomsday. He is also schizophrenic. Post modernism is believed to be an era where most people will suffer from fragmented and alternating memories. The film blurs the lines between reality and imagination. The film’s end is bizarre and different people have interpreted it differently. This open ended climax which gives space to all kinds of interpretations makes this quite an apt post-modern film.

The film also speaks about time travel. It suggests that there is an alternate universe that exists and Frank the rabbit is either from there or is just someone wearing that body suit at Halloween. The film is absurd and hence makes for an interesting post-modernist example.

 

16. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004)

Written by Charlie Kaufman and Directed by Michel Gondry

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The reason why Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind is a sure shot postmodernist film is simply because of its essential theme and story line. Postmodernism’s most common and striking feature is fractured or constructed memory. Gondry takes the idea of playing around with one’s memory by giving its characters the capacity to remove a particular person from your memory completely.

The film is trippy and is also told in a highly nonlinear fashion. The film sees its character trying to chase memory and in that course losing the clarity between ‘reality’ and memory. Gondry is also using pastiche in his mise-en-scene. In this film there is a scene in which the lead character imagines him sleeping on a bed with his lover but the bed is placed on a beach. This depicts the coming-together of two fond memories he had with his lover. The film has several other such interesting and highly layered visuals.

 

17. Inception (2010)

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan

inception-2010

Inception constructs a space where dreams are elevated to a level where they become capable of making and breaking our perception of reality. The film constantly travels between the space of the character’s dreams and reality. In fact it divides the space of dreams into various levels, each level being longer than the other timeline.

The film breaks the concept of time for you. It also presents the state of limbo. It is based on the principle that 4 hours spent in our dreams are equal to 4 minutes in real life and this time frame increases if you go further into another level. That is where the film presents the theory of dream within a dream. This is the most twisted a postmodernist outlook towards time and space can get. It also deals with construction of spaces within dreams.

This film also has a videogame type structure to it. The idea of Penrose staircase in the sequence when Cobb explains the idea of construction to the architect gives the postmodernist element of intertextuality. The film has its theoretical flaws but still makes for an interesting and highly detailed work by Nolan.

 

18. Midnight in Paris (2011)

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Midnight-in-Paris

Woody Allen is the kind of filmmaker who has defined his cinema with his own languages. He is not into giving a superior status to form over content, yet his films are truly post-modernist because of the twisted plots and strange yet extremely intelligent story-telling devices. After Crimes and Misdemeanours , Midnight in Paris has to be his most postmodernist film. This film is a take on two eras of France. It goes back in memory level.

The film has elements of magical realism. The eras the film explored are well detailed and yet imagined. There are references to the literary gods, artists, actors of that era. Allen paints an extremely beautiful picture and yet it explores the feeling of loss and discontent with the era a person is born in. The film also deals with one of the biggest features of postmodernism and that is nostalgia. The film takes on it in an interesting fashion by making the character travel back in time and at a point makes him travel further back in time. It is one of the most beautiful postmodernist films ever.

 

19. Suicide Room (2011)

Written and Directed by Jan Komasa

Suicide Room (2011)

Suicide Room is quite a compelling Polish film. It is about this otherwise ‘perfect’ boy gets a life-changing dare in one of the college games. He is asked to kiss a boy. The film from there takes him into a journey of being misunderstood and that is when he finds a virtual world online and that is also where he finds comfort. He also finds love online. This disorientation with the ‘real’ world and being understood in the ‘hyper real’ space makes this movie a post-modernist attempt.

Also this film is a part of Polish post modernism in art which has happened post-2004 because that was also the time when accession of the European Union happened. It is Komasa’s anti-foundationalism in popular culture that has made him a part of this movement.

 

20. Her (2013)

Written and Directed by Spike Jonze

her 2013

Her tells the story of a man who works for a Corporation which helps individuals in writing intimate letters for their loved ones. Theodore is one of the writers. The story then goes on to show how Theodore develops mutual affection for Samantha who is an operating system. The film reeks of post modernism. Probably reek is not the appropriate word because the film with this underlining theme is simply delightful.

It questions how real anyone’s reality is and how real human emotions are. There is a scene in the film where Samantha, while talking to Theodore, explains how she is really happy that she is experiencing so many new emotions. She is surprised at her own capacity to explore such emotions but then she says that it also saddens her when she questions whether these emotions are even real or a consequence of some data fed in her system.

One of the tropes of postmodernist films is to break reality. It proposes the idea of everything being a stimulated reality; a projection of data fed into our systems. Her successfully blurs the lines between humans and machines. It goes into the space where humans find peace and compatibility with machines designed apparently for them. The operating system goes on to outgrow humans with its power to comprehend emotions and grow in love. Samantha in fact says an extremely powerful line in the film, “Unlike you, I never forget that I’m not human.”

The film also deals with the theme of automated love. Be it Theodore’s character writing letters on behalf of other people which are really heart-warming or the scope of a relationship with an operating system. It takes the emotion of love to a hyper real space. The feeling of alienation and inane existence and the desire to find love and being with someone who gets you makes this film a postmodernist masterpiece.

Author Bio: Kanishka Singh Deo has been working in the Indian Film Industry as an Assistant Director since last one year. She is also a film studies enthusiast.

 

 

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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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