From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

No Objectivity: The Year of Magical Thinking

In a year like this, there’s no better track to positive thinking than a little magical realism, doled out in palatable doses – and with the recent popularity of slightly-speculative movies, there’s never been a better time to Netflix to your heart’s content without running the risk of an existential crisis. Here, we offer a twelve-movie sampler of movies with a magical element; some are B-movie pulp, some are art-house stalwarts, but all suggest a world where the everyday is anything but usual.


Valentine’s Day is upon us; show your love for your sweetheart with a lush period piece. Perfume follows the sociopath Grenouille, whose superhuman sense of smell leads him into an epic obsession with obtaining the perfect scent, which is, conveniently, the scent of young and lovely virgins. (Those lovely virgins just cannot catch a break in allegorical stories!) The magnetic Grenouille makes the best serial killer since Hannibal Lecter, and there’s just enough costumed goodness to make you feel like you’re getting a history lesson. Ignore, if you can, Dustin Hoffman’s scenery-chewing, and let the period detail wash over you; it’s so real you can almost smell it.

The Secret Garden

This movie skillfully adapts the children’s classic by dumping almost all the sentimentality and heightening the starkness of both Mistlethwaite Manor and the children who live in it. Here the sour Mary Lennox, her spoiled cousin Colin, and local animal-tamer Dickon make a new spring for themselves in Colin’s mother’s long-abandoned garden. Knowing robins and midsummer bonfires serve as self-made magic for a story that’s best seen on a spring night, when you can blame the tears in your eyes on your allergies. (While the movie is generally tart, the ending is a little saptacular; it was made by Disney, after all.)

The Science of Sleep

Though it’s not Michael Gondry’s most well-known film, The Science of Sleep outstrips its more famous cousin, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in skill and scope. Though technically this is another Gondry study on the nature of love, The Science of Sleep maintains a bittersweet tone while serenading its audience with a band dressed as kittens, which is just as weird as it sounds. Entirely unconcerned with plot, Gondry takes his characters into the visceral experience of falling in love so deeply that the world stops making sense.

The Red Violin

Sure, it’s a little heavy-handed (the violin is a Symbol of Artistry, don’t you see?!), and sure, the ending makes you gnash your teeth and wail (it makes no narrative sense!), but this was one of the first crossover art-house successes of the ’90s, and it did exactly what it set out to do; it wooed its audience, one Joshua Bell solo at a time. The dreamlike interweaving of the tarot-card frame story trumps the manufactured drama of the red violin’s fate at auction, but the idea of one’s essence in an immortal work of art is as bewitching as it was when Oscar Wilde wrote about Dorian Gray, and one or two of the thread-stories still tug at the heartstrings. (See that? Heartstrings? Because it’s a viol– oh, whatever.)

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