The best timelooping chinscratching movies

A look at the best trippy, confusing, time-looping cinema.
A look at the best trippy, confusing, time-looping cinema.
A look at the best trippy, confusing, time-looping cinema.

Duncan Moon, director of the sly sci-fi head-scratcher Moon, is back this week with his second movie, Source Code (out April 1st), a complicated techno-thriller in which Jake Gyllenhaal, playing a US soldier, wakes up inside the body of a man on a commuter train that’s about to go kablamo. A bunch of boffins in white coats have developed a program that allows him to re-live that same experience over and over again, and to piece together the clues each time to try stop the bombing before it happens. Think Groundhog Day meets 24 by way of Inception.

With time-jumps, body-switches and re-looping aplenty, Source Code doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a right old brow-furrowing mind-bender. In that spirit, what better way to prep for the ‘What the fup just happened?’ challenges of Source Code than with a crash-course in these equally trippy, confusing, time-looping, remind-me-where-I-am-and-who-that-is chin-scratchers from days gone by:

Twelve Monkeys:

Bruce Willis is sent back in time from a depressing, apocalyptic future in order to figure out how and why everything went tits-up (today, we have documentaries like Inside Job that do the same thing). Whilst in an asylum, he meets a crazed, scenery devouring Brad Pitt, who plans to help him with his mission…or does he? (dum dum DUM!). Naturally, Pitt won a Golden Globe award and his first Oscar nomination for his twitchy performance.  


2001: A Space Odyssey:

A prehistoric ape throws a bone up into the air that segues to a galactic nuclear weapon in the next scene. Next thing we’re on a spaceship where there’s a creepy computer with an evil mind of its own – HAL – who messes with an astronaut’s head. The movie ends with a giant foetus in an orb of light floating next to Earth. Personally, I prefer The Simpsons’ take on the whole movie, with Bart as the giant space baby. Hell, makes as much sense as anything else.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Jim Carrey meets Kate Winslet on a train for the first time…or so he thinks. It turns out they actually went out with one another before, and that following a nasty break-up, they both separately paid to have their memories of the other wiped. Apparently James Franco and Anne Hathaway plan to undergo similar procedures on the back of their panned Oscars compering double act.


Guy Pearce has a form of amnesia where he can’t store any new memories (known by medical professionals as the Jager Bomb Theorem). The end of the story happens at the start, and from there, Neighbours alum Guy’s investigation into who killed his wife is shown in reverse chronological order. I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly had to mentally piece together many a Saturday night in a similar fashion.

The Matrix Trilogy:

Lordy, where to begin? See, Keanu is a computer hacker who discovers that our reality is actually a simulated dream world operated by machines feeding off our body-heat, and so he joins a rebellion against our robotic masters in what I take to be a chilling premonition of our own pending battle against sleeper-cell smart technology that begins with the prefix ‘i’. My kingdom for whoever can explain those two sequels to me.

Vanilla Sky:

This Cameron Crowe thriller was voted the most confusing film ever made in an online poll last year. Warning: there are spoilers ahead. Tom Cruise is a rich dude who is disfigured by his ex Cameron Diaz for getting off with Penelope Cruz. He later kills Penelope because she starts looking like Cameron. It appears Tom is living in a lab-based lucid dream that’s morphed into a nightmare. He’s instructed to jump from a tall building so that he can wake up, and escape from this hell back to reality. In unrelated news, Katie Holmes has apparently developed a keen interest in LA skyscrapers.


Ah yes, the blockbuster with a brain that was just about the only big event movie last year that wasn’t a sequel, remake or reboot to make any cash. Leo DiCaprio plays an expert in extracting information from people’s minds whilst they sleep, who is then hired by Ken Watanabe to instead plant an idea in the mind of rival businessman Cillian Murphy.

The action, as a result, is like a Russian nesting doll of dreams within dreams within dreams, but after all of that, the one question audiences everywhere were left with was: did that spinning top wobble in the very last scene?

Lost :

This one’s not a movie per se, although the Prince Charles cinema in London did show all six series back-to-back over the course of one long weekend last year (those who attended were never heard from again).

One of the most maddening, infuriating, baffling, addictive, thought-provoking, engrossing, hateful, wonderful TV series the world has ever known, island-based sci-fi thriller-mystery Lost managed to incorporate time-travel, alternate realities, theoretical physics, philosophical debate, epic love stories, flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash-sideways all in an audacious, insane 121-episode, audience-patience-testing narrative experiment. Pity, then, that it stumbled so very, very badly in its final episode last summer. I, for one, still haven’t forgiven it.

See also:
Mulholland Drive, Donnie Darko, A Clockwork Orange, I Heart Huckabees.

Words : Declan Cashin