7. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
The first instalment to Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy (followed by Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant) is the subtextual richest of the three. Repulsion stars Catherine Deneuve as Carol, a frigid young woman who is left alone in her apartment, when her sister goes on vacation. As Carol is consumed by her darkest nightmares, the house reflects her fears and horrors as her insanity grows violently.
The movie has a very particular atmosphere and it becomes more claustrophobic, as the action gets more intense. Repulsion doesn’t rely on supporting characters to help shape the lead’s personality, instead the conflict takes place inside Carol’s head as her madness disallows her to distinguish reality from fantasy.
No film has ever dealt with the aftermath of sexual abuse as Repulsion did. Going inside Carol’s head and analysing her delusions, the audience understands the dark moments of her life affected deeply the person she became. The scene where Deneuve walks through a hall filled with hands coming from the walls touching her is, perhaps, the best representation of someone with a similar state of mind.
8. Alice In Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1951)
You know the story, bored young Alice daydreams about Wonderland and one day she follows a talking rabbit (“I’m late! I’m late! I’m late to an important date!”) to the rabbit hole and falls into it. After landing, she tracks the rabbit and follows him to a small door with a talking door knob that instructs her to drink a potion to shrink, but forgets to mention she must use the big key obligating her to eat a cookie that alters her size, once again.
Then, inside, she finds herself in Wonderland, where cats smile and flowers talk, but not everything is as pleasant as she imagines, when Alice faces the Mad Hatter’s impoliteness and is caught in a conspiracy against the evil Queen of Hearts. Thankfully, by the end, Alice understands it is all a dream.
Lewis Carroll’s fairy tail was the thirteenth animated movie produced by Walt Disney on his studio. The controversial book, allegedly working as an metaphor for a drug trip, tackles many important themes such as puberty, abandonment, the difficulties of adulthood and political authority. The adaptation does a fair job showcasing the recurring ideas of the book and adding up a bigger sense of fantasy, to the already fantastic imagery of the original book.
9. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966)
Pulitzer prize winner Edward Albee wrote the play Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? as an exploration of the modern condition and the anguishes of marriage. It premiered on Broadway in 1962 and, due to its massive success, was quickly adapted into film.
The movie narrates the turbulent night of the troubled aged married couple Martha and George (acted by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in their careers best work) and the newlyweds Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis). With the help of alcohol, the older couple play twisted games with the innocent husband and wife, attempting to dish out their anguish and misery against each other.
Albee said the story is about “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf…who’s afraid of living life without false illusions” and Mike Nichols was able to make justice to the play by understanding completely the message.
Martha and George live in such an unhappy marriage that the only way to keep it alive is by insulting each other, drinking heavily and making up lies about their common life. The movie is claustrophobic and dense, it works like an inflatable pain, or a bomb that explodes for two straight hours and you have no other option but live the twisted life of these people.
10. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
The movie starts with a flashback scene of the day a married couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) endures the death of their younger daughter by drowning. Some time has gone by and they are living in Venice, due to the husband’s job and in hope it will let their marriage heal from the traumatic event.
At a restaurant a blind old lady comes to the wife saying she can see the her dead daughter and although she believes in the psychic’s words, her husband rejects such thoughts and later starts experiencing very strange events.
There are many types of horror films, but no other work has ever come close to the sheer tension of Nicolas Roeg most celebrated picture. Don’t Look Now works it’s horror with the fear of the past and how it can affect one’s perception of the present.
Although the husband rejects any kind of involvement with the supernatural world, he is the one who suffers from his disbelief, as his delusion tricks him into thinking his daughter is still alive. The dark mood and heavy atmosphere help building an unsure road to the viewer who is never quite sure what is happening but by the end is surprised by the films’s intelligence.
11. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
“A love story in the city of dreams”
Betty Elms (Naomi Watts’ breakout role), arriving to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming the next big thing, is faced with an enigmatic woman with amnesia (Laura Harring) hidden at her aunt’s apartment. On the other side of the city, director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) loses creative control,of his next film, under suspicious circumstances. As the two women and the director look for answers, the city unravels more enigmas and deadly truths that need to be faced.
Delusion, dream, rage, regret are some of the themes properly treated in this film, a mix between neo-noir and surrealism. Mulholland Drive has been deeply explored when it comes to theories, but not one has solved the puzzle completely.
The layers of meaning Lynch constructs about the mind of a decadent and auto-destructive woman, is conjugated with the beautiful cinematography, in shades of blue and red with a mysterious game of shadows, and a chilling soundtrack. David Lynch has one of the most successful directorial careers there is, but it’s Mulholland Drive that might be his biggest contribution to cinema.
12. Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
A theatre play is the greatest illusion one can experience. For three hours or so, the viewer becomes the forth wall and lives the life of the characters with them. Opening Night is about what there is beyond the stage, how actors feel when giving their all to a fiction creation.
Famous Broadway actress Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) is rehearsing for her latest play, about a woman unable to admit the fact that she is aging, when she witnesses the death of a fanatic young admirer of hers. In the aftermath, Myrtle can no longer play the character because she can’t distinguish the youthful woman she once was from the one she is becoming now, and the only way she can do that is by forgiving herself for the death of the fan.
With Opening Night, Cassavetes and Rowlands do their magic once again. The film deals with delusion in two ways, first working as a way to show the acting process of Myrtle as she needs to come in piece with herself in order to understand the woman she’s playing and secondly it deals with the delusion of being younger and the consequent understanding that you have to let go of your former self in order to be yourself.
13. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Vertigo, a dizzying sensation of tilting within stable surroundings or of being in tilting or spinning surroundings, is itself a form of delusion, but when you give that symptom to a private investigator examining a strange case of personality disorder you got yourself a great story.
John “Scotty” Ferguson (James Stewart), a retired private detective with a severe case of vertigo, is persuaded by an old friend to follow the latter’s wife Madeleine, claiming she has been possessed. He finds out Madeleine spends her days alienated by the life of her supposed great-grandmother, who committed suicide.
Later, when the case is tragically solved, Scotty becomes obsessed by Madeleine, frequenting the same places as she once did and imagining he sees her. On an occasion he sees a woman strangely similar to her and his obsession becomes psychotic, with dangerous repercussions.
Vertigo is considered, by Sight & Sound (the most respected movie list) and many others, the best movie of all time, and what makes it such a special feature is the balance it has between the external and internal aspect of the story. It’s an enjoyable 128 minutes because it is centred on an engaging mystery worth to watch to the last second, but for more exigent viewers and film buffs it’s a frenetic travel through the lead character’s mind and the repercussions of his behaviour.