We all love a story we can relate to, but sometimes it’s the enigmatic or unexplainable that gives us something to chew on — or grouse about — long after the credits.
Watching “Lost” made me feel just that. It began with a plane crash, a tropical island, a smoke monster and a polar bear. And it got stranger from there. The show would often pose a question – for example, why is there a polar bear on a tropical island? – and answer it with five more questions. The result was a series that averaged four plot twists an episode.
“The Tree of Life” is one of my favorite movies about faith, nature, grace — and dinosaurs. It’s a beautiful film, but director Terrence Malick’s famously unconventional approach to story means that even after multiple viewings I don’t understand the last five minutes. Why are they on a beach? Is this supposed to be heaven?
In honor of “WestWorld” coming back for a second season — which we expect to be no less baffling than the first — the NewsHour asked its staff for recommendations for movies and TV shows that left us with questions, but we loved anyway. (Beware of some spoilers.)
The Young Pope
In the opening scene of episode one, a pile of infants crawl over one another with Jude Law at the bottom of the baby pyramid, dressed in a papal gown. At the Vatican, the new pope (Law) delivers a progressive speech praising sex as a human desire that should not be perverted and holding same sex marriage as holy matrimony.
“The Young Pope,” a limited HBO series written by Paolo Sorrentino, is about an authoritarian approach by a young pope who is grounded in nothing but admiration for himself. It’s a mystery how Law’s character was elected given his lack of basic knowledge of the fundamentals of Catholicism. But what translates magnificently is Sorrentino’s ability to leave it up to the audience to decide what reality is. In the moments when I asked myself, “huh?” (and there were many) I was also reminded of just how similar that thought process is to the one I have with myself about religion, trying to make sense of what is impossible to understand fully.
-Courtney Norris, production assistant and reporter
I just had another birthday and it made me wistful about the magical period of young life when you devour movies — experimental, subversive — that change how you see things. Maybe someday, when my son hits that same age of discovery, I’ll have time to rewatch Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (1979), one of the most inscrutable and magnetic films I’ve seen. Set in some ambiguous near-future, three characters set off on a menacing quest through the unpopulated but blaringly green “Zone” to reach “the Room” where their utmost desires will be fulfilled. Don’t read the plot synopsis. Maybe read up on the Chernobyl disaster? But definitely get into the Zone.
-Molly Finnegan, online editor
The Japanese term “nichijou” (日常), meaning “ordinary” or “every day,” immediately brings “Terrace House” to mind. It’s one of Japanese TV’s crown jewels, a reality show attempting to convince us that the mundane nature of our lives is more captivating than the over-the-top, “unreality” of American reality TV. Personally, I was never one to enjoy reality shows, so I had some serious doubts about this series when my friends pressured me into watching at least a couple episodes.
Going into the show, I expected screaming matches and quarrels over love interests to erupt at any moment. We’re so accustomed to super dramatic shows like “Real World” or “The Bachelor,” but “Terrace House” broke all of our reality TV traditions. It’s an artfully produced, mild-mannered show that peers into the lives of six strangers — three women and three men — who mingle under one roof, but cordial, polite interactions win the day. When there is drama, problems reach a resolution quickly and in the most mature manner. Japanese celebrities watch along, throw shade at snobby, unpleasant participants and remind us that these are truly ordinary, everyday lives. Nichijou, in the context of this show, isn’t the uninteresting parts of our lives, it’s just life. It makes no sense that the humdrum of life can engage us so much, but I’m deeply invested.
-Rashmi Shivni, science and social media news assistant
“Interstellar” is more than an adventure through space. Not only is the film beautiful, but the theories and themes also blew my mind. The most confusing part of the film isn’t Matthew McConaughey traveling through a wormhole, or how his character ends up younger than his daughter. No, the most confusing aspect, and the one that has caused the most heated arguments in my household, is how it handles love.
Before McConaughey’s character, Joseph “Coop” Cooper, was blasted into space to search for habitable planets by a secret NASA facility, he taught his daughter, Murphy (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult), to record and observe everything she sees. For her, this meant marking the location and time of every book that fell from her bookshelf. Little did she know it was her father pushing the books off, not from the other side of the wall, but from the other side of the universe. Coop was using the power of love to time-travel in a four-dimensional tesseract to communicate through morse code with Murphy. Confused? Me too.
But while the concept of how love transcends time and space is never fully explained to my satisfaction, the film’s stunning visuals and emotion-provoking soundtrack captivate the viewer with such intensity that any pitfalls in the plot are forgotten. At least, that’s what my brother and I argue to the rest of our family.
-Joey Mendolia, video intern
Pretty Little Liars
I recently saw the movie “Feed” starring Troian Bellisario and just HAD to see the show that launched her career. Enter: “Pretty Little Liars.” Based on a series of books set in an affluent town outside New York, the show centers around five semi-mean girls and their ex-best friend who mysteriously died. Sounds like a straightforward thriller, right? Wrong. I still have no idea why there was a living dollhouse, how one female character ended up impregnating her girlfriend or even who killed the ex-best friend. But I watched all seven seasons faithfully.
-Lora Strum, audience engagement specialist
One of my favorite films is the 2006 movie “The Fall.” It is set in two worlds: a 1920s California hospital and another fantastic, imaginative world created in a story by an injured stuntman and told to a little girl stuck at the hospital. Strange costumes, amazing sets and what seems like hundreds of different locations color the story and fuse fiction and reality in a way that makes me revisit “The Fall” over and over. It’s a spectacle to watch and I find myself both fascinated and confused, looking for new clues I missed last time. But it seems viewers are supposed to be left unable to fully separate the two worlds blended so completely in this film.
-Alison Thoet, anchor assistant
Ninety-seven years after a nuclear war destroyed the world, 100 young people on a spaceship — the only remaining members of humanity — return to repopulate the world. Did that make any sense to you? Because at first it did not to me. I got tired of scrolling down Netflix to decide what to watch and randomly picked “The 100” to kill time. The first season left me clueless and I did not think I would actually watch the second season. Afterwards, I decided to give it another chance and I am glad I did. If you are wondering what it would be like if the world had to be re-established and how humans night survive in the new (old) world after centuries of radiation, “The 100” is the perfect science-fiction series to watch. I’m now obsessed.
-Ilayda Kocak, production news assistant