Radically Different Films, Part One




Seeing Across the Universe as a novel, over at the WordPress Reader, jolted my memory. The film is a MUSICAL after all, not exactly the same sort of experience. It turns out that the poster and the book cover may look a bit similar, but these are two entirely different works.

I viewed Across the Universe in a theater at a late night showing, and it was mind-blowing. The film is like an acid trip that takes place in a world forged from snippets of Beatles songs. Julie Taymor went in a radical storytelling direction, and the film winds up being one of the most memorable of the entire 2000s.

I only really hope to see films that knock me for a loop, that push the form so far from the norm that it boggles perception. These are the stories that affect me most deeply, and these are the ones I go back to watch again and again.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is another psychological exploration. This film combined the fantastical with a banal medical procedure that erased memories. The idea was to erase the idea of ever meeting her in the first place, in order to kill the pain of loss. As the memories are selectively zapped into oblivion, they first call forth all the magical moments that had made her so important to him in the first place. The tragedy and the comedy are entangled up in the premise.


Stanley Kubrick made radical, unflinching films that assaulted the viewers, always with a purpose. Nothing was arbitrary, and Kubrick was pathological in his meticulousness. He would take several years of preparation and research, and he was obsessive-compulsive to the point of breaking actors, pushing them to the edge.

A Clockwork Orange, which was based on a novel of the same name, showed the world something truly shocking and dangerous: their own youth without a conscience. After the movie came out copycat hooligans committed assaults, and maybe even a murder, blaming the film for their actions. The movie was pulled from theaters in Britain. Not everyone understood what Kubrick meant to say.

Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket took the American Vietnam experience and really pushed it to the point of shocking brutality. The killers, sold as champions of liberty and virtue elsewhere, fighting for “pussy” and the chance to be global bullies in the jungles of southeast Asia. The lead character is assigned to be a reporter for Stars and Stripes, a marine reporter tasked with finding propaganda for the war effort. He instead finds the war.


Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut showed a picture of marriage that no one had ever filmed before. It is the relationship between the two principals, played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were actually married, that is the spine of the story. They are tempted and the concept of monogamy is tested again and again in such unexpected, visually-stunning ways. No one was prepared for the direction Kubrick would take, nor for his untimely death three days after its release.

I can recall watching Pink Floyd’s The Wall so many times that my VHS bootleg copy eventually wore out. This is an operatic journey formed from fragments of fantasy and what may well supposed to be reality. The subject again is insanity, and what clinched The Wall and Floyd’s authenticity was the loss of their own band member Syd Barrett. Art imitating life, the story is not Syd’s, but the band had long been devastated by what happened to their original frontman. Dark Side of the Moon was a tribute to his loss, after a massive dose of LSD destroyed Syd’s capacity to function. The Wall takes the legend several steps further, and it embellishes and extrapolates into worlds we hadn’t seen, some of them animated cartoons.


Some radical, cutting-edge films are now considered mainstream. Another wonderful director, Jean Pierre Jeunet, brought us Amelie, a major romantic hit with audiences everywhere. The style, however, is insanely meticulous and jammed with cuts and visual effects. It barrels into vignettes from Amelie’s childhood with machine gun cutting and so many personalized character quirks that it should form the basis of a film theory class. Jeunet brought us City of Lost Children, Delicatessen and Micmacs as well. All are alternative cinematic realities that just delight.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was another French experimental film from the 2000s that pushed the art form. This much sadder, true story, recreated the experience of a man who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. He could only communicate one letter at a time, and yet he would go on to write a full length book chronicling his ordeal. The cinematography captures the viewer inside his shell, experiencing the world through damaged senses.

Which radically different, unique stories should I also mention?

Part Two

 PS – The Trailers

Go directly to Part Two.

2 thoughts on “Radically Different Films, Part One

  1. If the “Across the Universe” book is the same one I’ve got on my Kindle as a sample, it has the most horrific description of being put into cold sleep for a space voyage that I’ve ever read …

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