Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Surreal Moments On Film

_MALKOVICH_ARTWORK_CTD8463.jpg
JAMES_WOODS_TA434.jpg
OT__MAX_VON_SYDOW_CTH25793.jpg

ShortList has taken a surreal turn this week. Not only is our latest issue dedicated to this most mind-bending and discursive of aesthetical, philosophical and political theories – including this suitably bonkers interview with Noel Fielding – but we’ve gone la-la for surrealism in the movies.

So, without further ado, herewith are eight (why eight? Why not?) surreal moments on film. Meaning is everywhere, just not necessarily where you thought it was.

1. Eraserhead

True fact: look up surreal in the dictionary and it states, merely, watch the films of David Lynch. Ok, so that’s a slight embellishment, but such is the filmmaker’s masterly command of surrealist tropes that the adjective Lynchian was coined. Eraserhead was his first feature film and is a lurid trip into a disturbing and shapeless world. This chilling and imaginative scene which climaxes in the pencil factory exemplifies Lynch’s strange vision.

2. Videodrome

The idea that TV is a form of hallucinatory mind-control might seem quaint in today’s all-pervasive digital landscape, but that doesn’t dull the power of David Cronenberg’s superlative Videodrome. In fact, the film eerily anticipates much of contemporary society’s reliance upon artificial realities as opposed to the lived life. James Woods is the protagonist in the midst of this maelstrom and his reaction to the revelations flashed to him via his TV is both sexually suggestive and reflective of media manipulation.

3. Being John Malkovich

If anyone took up the surreal baton in the late Nineties and Noughties it was screenwriter and, latterly, director Charlie Kaufman. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York both play testament to Kaufman’s skewed yet utterly compelling innovative mind, but it’s his script for Being John Malkovich that is really out there. A portal into the actor John Malkovich’s head you say? Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, repeat to fade…

4. Head

In many respects Head was The Monkees willingly burying their cartoon pop persona. A colourful, psychedelic romp through a number of visual non sequiturs, it was, on release, a complete flop. Now hailed as a cult classic, Head can be seen as a far-reaching, surreal commentary on celebrity and commercialism, a world where nothing means everything and everything means nothing. Now, step forward, fellas, come on, jump up and down, you’re supposed to be dandruff.

5. The City of Lost Children

If surrealism is the art of juxtaposition and surprise then children are the perfect accomplices, their untutored naivety a superb method of expressing these thoughts and techniques. And so it is with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen and Amelie) and Marc Caro’s The City of Lost Children. In accordance with a plot that centres around an unhinged scientist stealing children to obtain their dreams because he’s scared of getting old, this is a vivid, woozy and off-kilter masterpiece where nothing is as it seems.

6.The Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is rightly acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made. It is also one of the most ambitious and most surreal. Made just over 10 years after the end of World War II and at a time when Cold War tensions were increasing, the film is concerned with life, faith and meaning. Its most famous scene is also its most strange: Max von Sydow’s medieval knight plays chess with death.

7. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Luis Bunuel is hailed as the Godfather of surreal cinema. His 1929 classic short film Un Chien Andalou (the one with the slit eyeball) was made with Salvador Dali and influenced successive generations of directors. Surreal themes pervaded all his films and none more so than his late period tour de force, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. A hilarious, uncomfortable and perfectly judged send up of the hypocritical mores of the upper middle class, it is an expert lesson in single-minded filmmaking.

8. Spellbound

Alfred Hitchcock hooking up with Salvador Dali for the trippy dream sequences in the former’s classic whodunit Spellbound, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing. Gregory Peck reliving his darkest moments for Ingrid Bergman is absurd surrealism in overdrive.

Related

BL_HERO.jpg

Film's Greatest Dream Sequences

dazed.jpg

The very best stoner movies

INO_KEITEL_C_PENN_CTK35776.jpg

The 30 Coolest Films Ever

Comments

More

GI Joe is getting another reboot, but this time it's 'millennial'

Hasbro isn't saying what that means, but we're assuming the Joes will be drinking lattes while refusing to save for a house

by Tom Mendelsohn
24 Mar 2017

The new film from the guy behind 'In Bruges' looks brilliant

Even the trailer's hilarious

by Gary Ogden
24 Mar 2017

Han Solo's real name isn't actually Han Solo, Disney reveal

Disney's president stuns the fandom with the news that everyone's favourite smuggler might not quite be who he says he is

by Tom Mendelsohn
24 Mar 2017

Cinema hands out sick bags to people watching new cannibal horror film

It's got an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating, too

by Matt Tate
23 Mar 2017

Ryan Gosling has finally revealed why he was laughing at the Oscars

He had the best reaction of the night

by Gary Ogden
23 Mar 2017

Watch the first five minutes of Ghost In The Shell now

Looks pretty decent tbf

by Gary Ogden
22 Mar 2017

You can now search for movies on Sky Q by yelling at your remote

"Luke, I'm your mum!"

by Gary Ogden
22 Mar 2017

Ridley Scott wants to make another four movies after 'Alien: Covenant'

We could be staring down the barrel of ten Alien movies

by Tom Mendelsohn
21 Mar 2017

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' ditched a much more hopeful ending

What could have been for Jyn and Cassian

by Matt Tate
21 Mar 2017

John Boyega and Mark Hamill are trolling Star Wars fans on Twitter

Daddy?

by Matt Tate
20 Mar 2017