10. I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK (2006) | Dir. Park Chan-wook
Acclaimed Korean film-maker Chan-wook Park’s offbeat romantic drama set in mental institution, tells the story of Young-goon, who driven crazy by her assembly line work thinks of herself as a cyborg and tries to charge herself by plugging into the mains. In the mental hospital, she stubbornly refuses food in favor of battery charge. In comes another shy, oddball Il-soon, who wants to find a way to make her eat normal food. The whole idiocy and love shown in the asylum becomes a parable for our own machine-run world, where we desperately try to accept & believe in others’ feelings. As a crowd-pleaser, the film definitely is cloying, but there is a fine dose of Korean whimsicality or quirkiness that we can’t deny its infectious charm.
9. Dogra Magra (1988) | Toshio Matsumoto
Based on Yumeno Kyusaku’s famous novel, the movie version directed by Toshio Matsumoto deals with experiences of a young insane man, Kure Ichiro, confined to an Eastern philosophy talking psychiatric doctors of a mental institution. Like the young protagonist who had killed his fiance on the day of marriage, we are also haunted by many unanswered questions. It very much moves like a jigsaw puzzle, where the mystery contracts and expands at different points of the narrative. Matsumoto, the legendary underground film-maker of Japan, has designed this film to be a surrealist mindf**k, where we need to pay closer attention like a sane individual. The tangle of madness and lies encountered by Ichiro could also be viewed as a metaphor for the emotionally afflicted Japanese youth.
8. Angels of the Universe (2000) | Dir. Friðrik Þór Friðriksson
Based on author Einar Gudmundsson’s novel, called as ‘Icelandic One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, Thor Fridriksson’s movie poignantly deals with the nature of insanity in the life of Paul, an unsuccessful artist. Paul’s descent into madness starts when he is rejected by the girl he loves. Soon, he is placed in a mental institution, where he befriends a man who thinks he’s Hitler and Oli (played by famous Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur), who thinks he wrote Beatles’ song in a telepathic way. While, the film like many asylum-based works tries to blur or comment on the line between sane & insane in the society, it also serves as vital piece to showcase the alienated life in Scandinavian lands. It’s cynical, melancholic tone expresses how empty life would be, if all there’s left to reflect in society is insanity and anger. There is also some metaphorical imagery to give the narrative a poetic beauty.
7. The Ninth Configuration (1980) | Dir. William Peter Blatty
Novelist William Peter Blatty’s (“Exorcist”) directorial debut has attained a cult classic status, in the years preceding its lukewarm commercial response. The narrative takes place on an abandoned castle that has been transformed into an insane asylum for the traumatized Vietnam War veterans. Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach in his best role) is appointed as head psychiatrist to use unusual methods to cure the assortment of weird inmates. As in these types of films, one tough nut patient named Captain Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) doesn’t buy Kane’s words and argues with him on everything from God to politics. But, the dynamics between these two central characters never devolves into a stereotype and remains partly humorous & profound till the end. Peter Blatty marvelously builds & breaks down the lines that divide rationality and insanity. As in life, there are many moments here left for us to contemplate on what is concrete and what a hollow delusion is.
6. Lunacy (2005) | Dir. Jan Švankmajer
The works of Czech surrealist film-maker Jan Svakmajer (“Alice”, “Faust”, “Little Otik”, etc) are highly divisive. You can either get into disturbing & absurdly funny premises or else reject it with vehemence. “Ladies and Gentlemen, what you are about to see is a horror film, with all the degeneracy peculiar to that genre. It is not a work of art. Today, art is all but dead anyway” says Mr. Svankmejer while introducing his lunatic film at the opening credits. For this madly genius horror film, set in a mental asylum, the director draws in inspiration from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and Marquis de Sade. Two approaches are shown to run an asylum – one founded on freedom, while the other on control & punishment. A young, naive man named Jean Berlot experiences a series of nightmares in a story that meanders with fierce fancy. Although the film’s much-talked about asylum makes an appearance only after an hour, it doesn’t matter whether the narrative moves within the walls of the mental institution. Because Svankmejer’s vision of madness has no boundaries and whole spacious world looks as one, hellish madhouse. This eulogy for man’s lost humanity will haunt the darkest corridors of our mind.