The 15 Best Surrealist Movies of The 21st Century

8. Taxidermia (2006)

Taxidermia (2006)

This Hungarian drama by György Pálfi spans over three generations of Balatony family, from World War II era to present day. It is the story of a habituated lieutenant, an athlete in sport eating, and a taxidermist, exclusively in that order. Taxidermia is one of the most down-to-earth surreal films, which explores themes like sexuality, generation gap, gluttony and immortality.

Kálmán Balatony remains the prime focus of the film; a child born with a pig tail, who in his youth, grows up to be an international champion in speed eating, a man with the capacity greater than himself, a man with deep unknown chambers inside of him, adept to absorb almost anything that gets into his belly. As time progresses, he becomes monstrously prodigious and dysfunctional. In this tragicomedy, human body is represented as the universe of flesh and blood. The last defining act of taxidermy is shattering and hypnotically empathetic.

For Pálfi, filmmaking is a very national thing, and that is evident in his filmmaking. There is one mesmerising scene in this movie, in which, we see the journey of a bathtub historically, the bittersweet moments it had seen, and the way it was utilized. It is highly symbolic and poignant, an illustration of Hungary itself.


7. Inland Empire (2006)

inland empire

David Lynch’s ultimate head trip will leave you scratch your head. Inland Empire is three hours of enigmatic mystery that very few fully understand.

In its heyday, Hollywood was called the ‘dream factory’; no one has taken it more literary than Lynch. This movie follows a bizarre odyssey of a Hollywood actress, starring in a remake of an unfinished Polish drama, one apparently stricken by some kind of curse. As movie sneaks into typical Lynchian dimension, we witness ambiguous oscillation between various versions of her. There are some striking sequences of rabbit sitcom, in which humans are dressed as rabbits.

Lynch is known for his vagueness, which prevails throughout the movie. The distortion created by hand operated DV camera adds to surreal charm. There are some sensual moments of intensity, as if events on screen themselves threatens to overflow and grab us into it. Despite its oddity, it is acutely humane, referring to women in peril. This movie is also a commentary on magical art of cinema within movie.


6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

When Charlie Kaufman’s wacky ingenuity meets Michel Gondry’s meticulous direction, result is nothing less than masterpiece. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps the most celebrated surrealist film of 21st Century.

The movie proceeds in dimensions of memory and time, spinning around Joel, an introvert man and his impulsive girlfriend Clementine. The critical element of story is a gimmicky device of science that provides the possibility to expunge the memories of a particular individual from mind.

Though movie has complex narrative structure, its lucid execution makes it easy to follow. For the duration, Joel is adrift on the horizon of vanishing memories. He relives all the bittersweet moments he had shared with Clementine, and in the process realizes that despite malice he still loves her.

As quoted by Nick Cave, “Memory is what we are – your very soul, and your very reason to be alive is tied up in memory”. This genre transcending romantic sci-fi is mind bending and soul stirring at the same time. It is laurelled with many awards, including the Academy award for best writing, original screenplay.


5. Little Otik (2000)


Little Otik is like mirror image of Lynch’s Eraserhead; an erratic satire on parenthood and consumerization from Czech Surrealist animator Jan Švankmajer.

Fairy Tales are meant for escaping reality. But what if a fairy tale becomes reality? There is an uncanny parallel between events, surrounding a neighbourhood and folktale Otesánek by K.J. Erben. It is the story of a couple suffering from idiopathic sterility. Their craving to enter the parenthood leads them to conjure a tree stump as their own child. The log of wood is nurtured as if it were an infant. Things start to lurch toward crazy when wooden tot comes to life and turns into an ogre, devouring everything around him.

The story moves back and forth; in animated fairy tale and live action real sequences, although it follows conventional format. Vitalizing objects is a common trait of Švankmajer, which is on display in his filmography, but this time, it is in the service of more sophisticated narrative, resulting in an unsettling, yet rewarding cinematic experience.


4. Mulholland Drive (2001)


There are many great surrealists, but David Lynch is one of the few, who has established himself as a brand. ‘Lynchian’ has become synonym of ‘Surreal’. Mulholland Drive is like a transcendental meditation that transports us into nightmarish dimension of Lynchian universe, where all moral and social restraints are suspended, where everything is possible.

The film features Betty, struggling to establish herself as an actress in Hollywood and Rita, the amnesia victim, who struggles to find her true identity after an accident. As they cross the path of each other, their struggle becomes mutual and destiny intertwined. The way dream space is fused with reality makes movie highly ambiguous, and yet, it touches our heart in inexplicable way. This neo space, where fantasy and reality walk side by side, reaches out towards us till we lose ourselves into it.

This noirish thriller was initially produced as a TV pilot, but sadly wasn’t backed up by TV networks. Lynch has reportedly refused to discuss interpretations of film, but instead he has left handful of clues for viewers to solve the mystery. This movie earned Lynch an Oscar nomination for Best director.


3. The Dance of Reality (2013)

The Dance Of Reality (2013)

After 23 years of respite, the revolutionary surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky breaks his silence with this semi-autobiographical feature, partly adapted from the book of same name. ‘The Dance of Reality’ is a strange coming of age fable, in which, 85 years old Jodorowsky guides us into his boyhood. We see the re-enactment of his adolescence memories through a surrealistic prism. The fans of genre would feel right at home, even those, unfamiliar with Jodorowsky’s approach, may find it compelling.

Set against dazzling backdrop of Tocopilla, a coastal town on the edge of the Chilean desert, this psychedelic journey of self exploration unfolds like poetry, with perfect blend of personal and communal struggle. By making this film, Jodorowsky attempts to redeem his inner child, re-establishing his parents as larger than life figures. His father is a Stalinist with aggressive and dominating nature; his mother is an affectionate lady of the house, who converse with operatic verse throughout the movie. The movie also unveils the descent of his father, set out on a mission to assassinate Ibanez, the Chilean dictator.

Though not as trippy as his previous work, it is more restrained, coherent and intimate; making The Dance of Reality director’s most complete film so far. This visceral tour de force has brought a lost legend in the limelight again.


2. Holy Motors (2012)

Holy Motors

Leos Carax’s highly ambitious sci-fi is cinematic art at its purest. It is his first movie since 1999 (Pola X), shot over almost two decades. Its radical ambiguity elevates the reality in viewer’s perception to gorgeously eerie level.

The film is about Oscar, travelling across Paris in a lavish limousine, living multiple lives in a single day, in disguise of a beggarly vagrant, a beast, a hired assassin, an anxious father and a lover. He gets under the skin of each character and put an act, as an assignment from agency called ‘Holy Motors’. It follows episodic narrative, with each chapter having different degree of surrealism.

Here, skin is not an organic part of human body, but a foreign autonomous object that possesses the body in its obscene dimension. The only way to get rid of this altered version of a person, distorted by appearance, is to become one. Though ultimate massage of movie may seem evasive to some, but it is hard not to be intrigued by its charm.


1. My Winnipeg (2007)

my winnipeg horse

Every once in a while, there comes a movie, that creates a whole new genre. Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is labelled as ‘docu-fantasia’ for lack of better word, a documentary that offers mythic truths instead of facts.

It is a sprawling portrayal of Winnipeg, the coldest city in the world, the heart of continent, a city of mystical river forks and secret lanes, where everyone is dreaming, sleepwalking, and no Winnipeg has ever left the city. We don’t get to explore Winnipeg as it is; we watch it through Maddin’s eyes, as he vivisects his childhood around the city.

This bizarre, yet subdued city tour raises many questions, the most crucial being, “How much of this is real?” Here, surrealism isn’t in form of imagery, but in the method of execution. Maddin has employed his typical rhetoric narrative with ‘Postmodern Expressionism’ technique, which gives it semblance of earlier experimental cinema.

By making this film, Maddin attempts to detach himself from his memories of home, family, and hometown, which are inextricably embroiled. The essence of the movie can be epitomised in this line from movie itself, “At some point, when you miss a place enough, the background in photos become more important than people in them.”

Author Bio: Deloret Imnidian is a hikikomori, who lives in his own fictitious world, where illusion is the only reality. He is a mysterious man, always engulfed in this strange dimension of projection screen. He is also a man from Twilight Zone.