13 (5) Smart Movies That Make Us Feel Dumb

With Mike Cahill's second feature "I Origins" slated for a Friday release, we decided to take a look at some of the most intelligent "indies" out there. "I Origins" is the second of Cahill's films to win the renowned Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance, given to films that successfully incorporate science and technology. The following films, with their highly abstract plots and difficult-to-follow-themes, are some smart "indies" that, quite frankly, make us feel incredibly dumb.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Dir. Michel Gondry

When it comes to "Smart Movies That Make Us Feel Dumb," screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is king, just see "Synecdoche, New York" (also makes this list), "Adaptation," "Human Nature" and "Being John Malkovich" for more proof. The narrative-bending Oscar-winner has never been afraid to put his stories through a formal shredder, and the results are wholly original works that burst with challenging inventiveness. "Sunshine," directed by the equally cerebral Michel Gondry, is a classic of science fiction romance. The movie focuses on the relationship between the emotionally stifled Joel (Jim Carrey at a career peak) and the free spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet, earning her second Best Actress Oscar nomination). The two meet cute on the Long Island Rail Road and just as the trappings of the romance genre settle in, Kaufman shatters them. You see, Joel and Clementine were actually in a relationship for two years before a viscous breakup sent Clementine to a company that specializes in erasing memories. Upon learning this, Joel sets out to do the same. Feel dumb yet? Brace yourself, because the screenplay free falls into Joel's jumbled mind, chronicling his memories of Clementine in reverse as he battles to preserve the love these two once shared against the company trying to erase it. Out of nowhere, "Sunshine" morphs into a beat-the-clock thriller as Kaufman forces the viewer to navigate a byzantine labyrinth of Joel's painful and joyous memories. And yet, things only get more twisted when one company worker starts to use Joel’s memories for his own seducing purposes and three others become entwined in their own memory-erasing subplot. But Kaufman's inexplicable control of the convoluted narrative makes "Sunshine" pulsate with raw feeling and romantic passion. It's an unforgettable trip down memory lane.

"Under the Skin," Dir. Jonathan Glazer

On paper the plot for "Under the Skin" reads like a formulaic, sexy B-movie: An alien posing as a hot young woman seduces and kills young men to harvest their bodies for mysterious purposes. But as adapted from Michael Farber's acclaimed sci-fi novel by "Birth" Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" is anything but dumb. In very loosely adapting Farber's more straightforward story, Glazer made a film that plays like a fevered dream with a lot on its mind. Scarlett Johansson as the comely alien is as opaque as film protagonists get. It's never explained exactly why she's on a murdering spree, or how she ended up on our planet. Viewed as a straight up thriller, "Under the Skin" is an undeniably frustrating experience. But viewed the way Glazer intended it to be watched, as a deep exploration of what it means to be human -- the experience is a richly rewarding one. That doesn't mean we get it.

"Another Earth," Dir. Mike Cahill

"Another Earth," the debut film of director Mike Cahill and writer/star Brit Marling, was a pleasant, albeit difficult to comprehend surprise when it premiered at Sundance in 2011. The sci-fi film follows a young and brilliant girl, who, after getting accepted into MIT, drinks and drives, causing the deaths of two people. Meanwhile, another Earth has appeared; it's an identical planet that can be seen from our Earth. While the film is an obvious look at redemption and identity, it grows progressively more abstract, particularly with its scientific elements. The way it blends the notions of time aren't exactly easy to understand, especially for us mathematically-challenged. Still, it's a beautiful and mysterious debut, a subtle and unusual thriller that introduced two rising talents in the film world.

"Enemy," Dir. Denis Villeneuve

After making it big with his foreign film Oscar nominee "Incendies," Canadian director Denis Villeneuve took on two back-to-back projects: the heartbreaking, but straightforward "Prisoners" and an artsier piece "Enemy." Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent and Isabella Rossellini, "Enemy" is a confounding film that takes on the familiar doppelgänger concept, but like you've never seen it before. Gyllenhaal plays a misanthropic college professor who sees his double, an actor, while watching a film. As their lives begin to mesh, the film becomes increasingly more surreal, blurring the lines between the two men's lives. "Enemy" is erotic, often times morbid and features a bunch of tarantulas (for God knows what reason). While it can be seen (and dismissed) as an art piece, "Enemy" manages to linger, becoming a work that says way more beneath its surface.

"eXistenZ," Dir. David Cronenberg

It's the video-game equivalent of "Her," only a thousand times darker and more complex. Cronenberg articulates his deepest fears about the dangers of virtual reality in "eXistenZ," a truly unforgettable sci-fi thriller that constantly upends our expectations. Set in the Not Too Distant Future, Jennifer Jason Leigh is a world-renowned game designer perfecting a revolutionary technology that allows video-game players to "plug in" to their virtual reality worlds through a pod inserted in their spinal cords. Thus, sensory perception — life as we know it — entwines with the game, leaving players unable to distinguish between realities. Catapulting the viewer into the center of the action sans explanation, Cronenberg forces us to do the heavy-lifting and piece together a nonlinear meta-plot that's constantly in flux. (The fact that Cronenberg reportedly had his cast read Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Camus to get into the proper mood is not at all surprising.) The film is a grisly meditation on technology, suggesting that escapist and increasingly hedonistic innovation may cause us to indelibly warp the world we live in. At one point, after returning from a particularly violent stint in the game, Jennifer Jason Leigh's character asks Jude Law's character, "So, how does it feel? Your real life? The one you came back for. You're stuck now, aren't ya? You want to go back because there's nothing happening here. We're safe. It's boring." "It's worse than that," Jude Law's character says. "I'm not sure... I'm not sure here — where we are — is real at all. This feels like a game to me. And you... you're beginning to feel a bit like a game character."

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