From Inception to The Lake House, moviegoers are increasingly flocking to narratologically complex puzzle films. These puzzle movies borrow techniques—like fragmented spatio-temporal reality, time loops, unstable characters with split identities or unreliable narrators—more commonly attributed to art cinema and independent films. The essays in Hollywood Puzzle Films examine the appropriation of puzzle film techniques by contemporary Hollywood dramas and blockbusters through questions of narrative, time, and altered realities. Analyzing movies like Source Code, The Butterfly Effect, Donnie Darko, Déjà Vu, and adaptations of Philip K. Dick, contributors explore the implications of Hollywood's new movie mind games.
Introduction: Ambiguity, ontological pluralism, and cognitive dissonance in the Hollywood puzzle filmWarren Buckland Part I: Narratology and systems theory 1. Complex narratives - Jan Simons 2. Puzzled Hollywood and the return of complex films - Maria Poulaki Part II: Inception, the archetypal Hollywood puzzle film 3. Unravelling the puzzle of Inception - Geoff King 4. ‘Show, don’t tell’: Considering the utility of diagrams as a tool for understanding complex narratives - Elliot Panek 5. ‘Pain is in the mind’: Dream narrative in Inception and Shutter Island - Paolo Russo 6. Modular spacetime in the ‘intelligent’ blockbuster: Inception and Source Code - Allan Cameron and Richard Misek 7. Complexity and simplicity in Inception and Five Dedicated to Ozu - William Brown Part III: The science fiction Hollywood puzzle film8. Philip K. Dick, the mind-game film, and retroactive causality - Thomas Elsaesser 9. Fourth dimensions, seventh senses: The work of mind-gaming in the age of electronic reproduction - Garrett Stewart 10. Source Code’s video game logic - Warren Buckland 11. The image of time in post-classical Hollywood: Donnie Darko and Southland Tales - Bruce Isaacs Part IV: The drama Hollywood puzzle film12. Re-viewing Vantage Point - Paul Cobley 13. The Butterfly Effect upon its Spectator - Edward Branigan 14. Solving suicide: Facing the complexity of The Hours - Lucy Bolton 15. Knowledge and narrativity in Premonition and The Lake House - Gary Bettinson
AFI Film Readers, published in cooperation with the American Film Institute, focus on important issues and themes in film and media scholarship.