14. The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)
Luis Buñuel’s had a constant focus on the delusion of the bourgeoisie throughout his career. Movies like Belle Du Jour or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie are fine examples of that, but his most notorious attempt to portray the flaws of this particular social stratum is The Exterminating Angel.
A group of distinguished guests arrive to a dinner party at a big mansion, just after all the servants leave the house. After a dinner full of shenanigans, the guests are taken to the music room to talk and enjoy a piano sonata.
Afterwords, for no particular reason, the guests settle down on the music room instead of leaving the house like in a normal occasion. In the next day, they are inexplicably psychologically unable to leave the music room and seek ways to survive inside and to understand the reason of the mysterious happening.
This surreal satire locks a number of well educated adults and lets their inner animal come out of the cage. There are no physical barriers that forbid the guests from leaving the room, it’s their delusion, caused by fear, desperation, dissatisfaction and tiredness, that puts them in the situation. The irony is that to leave their nightmare, they simply had to return to their original positions, as if nothing had happened, but by end of the film Buñuel reminds the viewer that the guilt will never be over.
15. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
Matthew (Michael Pitt) is an american student living in 1968 Paris while studying the language. Certain day, at the Cinematèque Française, he meets a pair of siblings, Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), who share the same love for cinema as he does and invite him to live with them. At the big decadent apartment, Matthew suspects Théo and Isabella maintain an incestuous relationship, but as he is pulled more into their world he discovers there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Wether witnessing the twisted and perverse games/bets they play or following the heated arguments have, it is sensed that these characters live in their very own world, trapped inside their house, and when Matthew enters it it’s seen how fanciful and delusional it is.
In the last act of the film, a stone breaks their living room window, shattering their illusions and forcing them to wake up to the real world, and in that moment, following a students riot, they have to make a decision of wether they will keep living as they do and being passive regarding their beliefs or if it’s time to fight for they want. Although the ending is left open, it is quite surprising to see who still lives trapped in delusion.
16. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008)
Delusion can be a lot of things. Far from the pessimistic side of the word, Happy-Go-Lucky shows that there are some people who see the world with painted rainbows in the sky and smily faces in everyone they pass by. Poppy, played by Sally Hawkins, is one of those persons, a single schoolteacher in her thirties enchanted by life. The movie depicts the though journey in which the lead character questions if the world is really that good of a place and if her quest for happiness is achievable.
In the opening scene, Poppy discovers her bike has been stollen and, instead of looking for the guilty party or being angered by the situation, she just grieves not having the chance to say goodbye to her dear bike. That episode is the character in a nutshell, she can never see the evilness in people and tries to take the best out of every experience.
Sally Hawkins won the the comedy Golden Globe, but was unfairly snubbed for the Oscar, for this quirky tongue-in-check treasure of a human being that could have been misunderstood in the hands of a weaker actress.
17. Dancer In The Dark (Lars Von Trier, 2000)
Controversial danish director Lars Von Trier has had quite a vast career exploring several themes like oppression, depression or alienation. Any of his Golden Heart Trilogy films (Breaking The Waves, The Idiots and Dancer In The Dark) could feature on this list but it’s the last instalment that proves to be most impactful on the long run.
Björk plays Selma, a Czech immigrant who has moved to the United States, with her son, in hopes for a better life.
She works at a factory, with her dear friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve) and lives in a rented trailer home owned by a policeman and his wife. Quickly going blind and knowing her son suffers from the same decease Selma saves money for his surgery, which is stolen by the policeman and when she finds out the story takes a tragic turn.
Dancer In The Dark is one of the saddest films one can ever watch, it plays with the emotions in a way that only Von Trier can do and Björk’s performance, and musical work, help in that matter. It deals with the delusion of the American dream, making Selma depart to a foreign country that after all resulted on misery like before, and, most importantly, the delusion that she is in a musical, because ,by Selma’s words, in those “nothing ever dreadful happens”.
18. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
David Fincher’s cult favourite can feature in numerous lists because it contains a big amount of themes explored, like identity, isolation, violence, consumerism or death, but delusion strikes out as the theme that influences the story the most and serves as a plot device throughout.
It’s quite hard to sum up Fight Club without spoiling it (or break the first rule) but it’s centred around a man (Edward Norton) on an explainable dark time of his life and how he’s brought to a world of violence and living at the extreme by a mysterious man named Tyler (Brad Pitt).
Based on the novel with the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, it could have been easily lost in lesser hands but Fincher knew exactly what to do with the very expense and complex material. The state of delusion the lead character is on is showed at the exact right time surprising the viewer and taking the movie to a whole another level, from a slick action film to an intellectual exercise on modern time alienation.
19. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
The romantic comedy genre is often generalised as unoriginal and boring, but who ever says that hasn’t seen Certified Copy, directed by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (also responsible for masterpieces Taste of Cherry and Close-Up).
Juliette Binoche plays a french antiques dealer, living in Tuscany, who invites an art writer, that argues the authenticity of art is irrelevant, to spend an afternoon visiting the city, with her. After a conversation with a woman who assumes they are husband and wife, the two characters spend the rest of the film role playing as a couple with massive marital problems.
This movie depends greatly of the point of view. Are these two people actually married and playing a sick game? Or are they putting into practice the writer’s theory of art/copy? Kiarostami plays with the audience in a devilish game about love.
The writer and the antiques dealer role play a married couple in order to feel someone else’s passion, pain and view life in a completely different way. What started as a small joke involves into a aware delusion in which the audience is never sure how to think and feel about it.
20. Lars And The Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Ryan Gosling plays Lars Lindstrom, an awkward loner living on the garage of his brother’s house and unable to sustain a conversation, let alone built a relationship, with his sibling, his sister-in-law, his co-workers or any person in his small town.
This film is a study of loneliness and detachment with the society. Certain day, Lars excitingly introduces his new girlfriend to his brother and sister-in-law: a wheelchair-bounce brazilian/danish missionary named Bianca…full-size doll. His family reacts in shock and decide to take him to a psychiatrist who advices them to accept Bianca as part of the family and make the whole town sympathise with Lars and the doll “relationship”.
A comment on loneliness and alienation, the movie utilises delusion as a way to illustrate the lead character’s lack of social skills and the only way he can contour the situation and find love he deserves. The movie is a beautiful portrayal of what a family and a community sacrifices in order to make someone, they don’t fully understand, be happy.
There are other great films that portray delusion immensely well but didn’t make to the list to avoid repeating directors or themes. David Lynch could easily feature, at least, four more of his films (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Inland Empire) and Darren Aronofsky two more (Pi and Requiem For A Dream).
There were two other films I would have loved to talk about but they would feel too similar to Sunset Boulevard and A Streetcar Named Desire (What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and Blue Jasmine).
Author Bio: João Miguel is a Portuguese film student. After seeing 8 1/2’s final scene and Persona’s mirror moment he knew there was a grand mystery about this thing they call cinema.