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The Invitation (2016)
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Michiel Huisman, Tammy Blanchard, Emayatzy Corinealdi
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
It's been two years since a tragic accident killed Will (Marshall Green) and Eden's (Blanchard) young son in their Hollywood Hills home. Their marriage soon dissolved and, in an effort to move on, lost touch with one another. The movie begins with Will driving to his old house with his new girlfriend Kira (Corinealdi) — they've been invited to a dinner party, even though he hasn't heard from his ex-wife or her new husband in months.
Things start out warm enough, even as the stylishly modern house manages to dig up pained memories for Will. Then, out of the corner of his eye Will notices Eden's new husband David (Huisman) casually lock doors and cabinets. There are other couples there (old friends of Will and Eden's when they were married), good food, ritzy wine... it's a nice enough evening, albeit a bit awkward. Suddenly, the tone shifts. This isn't a reunion, it's a recruiting session for a cult.
A new, unfamiliar guest arrives. Everyone nestles into the living room and David asks them to keep an open mind as they watch a documentary of sorts. In the movie, a creepy pastor talks a dying woman through the end of her life. The couples all recoil, until the unfamiliar guest gives a kind of testimonial about loving his dead wife so much, and how this quasi-spirituality helped him overcome her death. The twist? He was the one who went to prison for killing her.
From there, Kusama perfectly manipulates the tension. Doors lock and unlock, and Will confronts Eden about blocking out their son's death between flashbacks of their former life together. In the thrilling climax they sit down to dinner. Eden serves a special drink. Will can't take it anymore — he demands everyone throw it out, and begs his girlfriend to leave with him. Just as he seems crazy, someone takes a sip and dies instantly. Will was right, the drink was poison.
The "invitation" was really an entry into a murder-suicide pact. Will and his girlfriend run frantically through his old house to escape Eden and David's wrath.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Married couple George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) arrive home from a party. Martha informs George that she’s invited a younger couple that she met there — Nick (Segal) and Honey (Dennis) — over for more drinks. Everyone is already quite drunk, but George and Martha get increasingly more drunk and verbally abusive towards one another.
Honey says that Martha told her about she and George’s son upcoming 16th birthday. This angers George. Honey runs to the bathroom to throw up from drinking too much. The night goes on and on with more upsetting moments.
George and Martha engage in a series of increasingly escalating games of psychological manipulation that makes their guests feel more and more uneasy. Finally, it becomes clear to Nick and Honey that the overarching game is for George and Martha to invent more and more details about their imaginary son, but to never mention his existence to anyone else. It seems that Martha lost this round, because she answers the title question, saying "I am."
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clark
As one Reddit commenter summarizing the movie very succinctly describes it, “Black box gives superpowers. Black box plus monkey equals human. Human plus black box equals star baby. Star baby is awesome.” To expand on that a little, watch the four videos on the website Kubrick 2001, which delve into how it’s not just the monolith (black box) that speeds along evolution, it’s actually the discovery and improved development of functional tools that advances first apes, and then the human race.
The question is, though, what are the three monoliths that appear in the film — one one Earth, one on the Moon, and one on Jupiter? Since they have right angles, they aren’t naturally occurring in nature. As Roger Ebert wrote in 1968, “Who put [the monolith] there? Intelligent beings since it has right angles and nature doesn't make right angles on its own.” The monoliths are merely a device Kubrick uses to advance the plot, Ebert argues.
It’s not just the monoliths’ possible meaning that throws viewers into a quandary. The ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey usually confuses viewers the most. After Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dulles) defeats HAL 9000, the supercomputer that conspired to take over the humans’ spaceship, he receives a signal from the monolith on Jupiter. Bowman travels toward the monolith only to be captured by a vortex of light.
Rather than finding himself in a sort of Gravity situation, which viewers could much more easily understand (we all know that a human left adrift in space would just perish among the glowing stars and big, black holes of nothingness), Bowman winds up in a bedroom. He watches his older self eat his final meal and die in the bed. Bowman becomes one with this older version of himself. After he dies, another monolith appears by his bed. He reaches for it and becomes the “starchild,” a glowing fetus that is transported by float beside planet Earth.
“Now where did the bedroom come from? My intuition is that it came out of Kubrick's imagination; that he understood the familiar bedroom would be the most alien, inexplicable, disturbing scene he could possibly end the film with. He was right. The bedroom is more otherworldly and eerie than any number of exploding stars, etc.,” Ebert writes by way of explanation.
It’s quite the trip.
Soylent Green (1973)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Stanley R. Greenberg
Soylent Green is PEOPLE.
Altered States (1980)
Starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown
Directed by: Ken Russell
Written by: Sidney Aaron, Paddy Chayefsky
Edward Jessup (Hurt) is a Harvard scientist who starts experimenting with sensory deprivation tanks. He wants to take his work further, though, so he starts working with psychedelic mushrooms — only the type he uses makes everyone who takes them have the exact same trip.
One night while tripping balls in his tank, Jessup reverts back to the state of a Simian man. He climbs out of the tank and wreaks havoc on the lab and the campus security guards. A pack of wild dogs chases him to a local zoo, where he eats a sheep for his dinner. Jessup then returns to his human form.
His experiments transform him into increasingly troubling altered states. In one instance, he’s basically primordial soup; in another, he’s a vortex of light similar to the ones in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only thing that can bring Jessup back from these states is his wife, Emily (Brown). She starts going through these altered states with him; sort of like the ying to his yang, or the fire to his brimstone.
In Jessup’s final experiment, he becomes a sort of pre-life protoplasm. His wife is the flesh into which the protoplasm fuses, and together, they form human life. It’s through this melding that they emerge whole, and Jessup learns to value his own humanity as well as his wife (they had been on the brink of divorcing).