This Friday will see the release of Push, a sci-fi actioner about people with amazing mental abilities on the run from a government organization that wants to exploit their gifts. I'm reminded of how cool it would be to have mental powers of my own whenever I find myself comfortably ensconced on the couch with the remote just out of reach, and I try to bring it closer through sheer force of will. Being able to predict the future would certainly enhance my stock portfolio and the ability to read minds would vastly improve my poker game. Movies about people with special mental abilities have a long and illustrious history, so here are seven of my favorite films from the genre.
The Star Wars films
A discussion of psychic powers in the movies that did not mention The Force would rightfully earn me a verbal slap down in the comments section. The Force is an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together -- and if you're a Jedi (or for that matter a member of the Sith), you can channel this energy field to do pretty much anything the script may require.
- Telekinesis? Sure. It comes in handy during a closely matched light saber duel, allowing you to whip large objects at your opponent.
- Mind control? Absolutely. This is particularly useful for telling weak minded storm troopers to buzz off.
- The ability to see the future? Hell yeah. This is what allows a Jedi to anticipate an opponents moves in battle.
- Fire a proton torpedo through an exhaust port that's only two meters wide? Oh please. The Star Wars saga would have ground to a halt early on without this ability.
Based on a Japanese comic book, this anime feature is set in the year 2019 in Neo-Tokyo, -- which was built after the destruction of Tokyo in 1988, which led to World War III. Tetsuo, a member of a motorcycle gang, is taken into government custody when they learn that he has mental abilities similar to a boy named Akira whose out of control psychic talents destroyed the original Tokyo. The medications given to Tetuso bring out the full potential of his power and Neo-Tokyo is soon in danger of suffering the same fate as its predecessor. This has long been a favorite of mine, and the new DVD version from a few years ago -- which included a new translation and audio track -- clarified a few things that were maddeningly vague about the previous version.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shyamalan seems to fall further and further out of favor with each film. I really wanted to like The Village and The Happening, but it was not to be. It's easy to forget how strong his earlier movies are, and dare I say The Sixth Sense is brilliant. Haley Joel Osment turns in a striking performance as a child who is often utterly terrified by his ability to see and hear the spirits of dead folks. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is trying to help the boy despite the strain it's putting on his marriage and personal life. The twist ending (which I still refuse to spoil) blew me away. The scene in which Osment's character finally explains what's happening to his mother is memorably punctuated by him telling her that his long dead grandmother says "hi."
The X-Men films
In a world where people with adamantium skeletons rub metallic elbows with folks who can turn into organic steel or split into multiple clones, traditional psychic abilities seem downright quaint if not pedestrian. The X-Men films prominently feature two psychics: Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Xavier's powers are strictly mental, allowing him to read other peoples thoughts, control minds and, with the help of a device called Cerebro, he can use his gifts to locate a mutant anywhere on Earth. Jean, when we meet her in the first film, is a telekinetic with some minor telepathic ability -- but by the third film we learn that her powers were so vast that Xavier had placed psychic blocks in her mind to control them. After the trauma of dying in the second film (and anyone who reads the comics can tell you Jean Grey dies a lot), those powers are fully restored, and Jean's alternate personality Phoenix is not pleased at having been held in check for so long. I suppose this begs the question: are the powers of Magneto and Storm psychic abilities? Their abilities to mentally control magnetism and weather respectively are not what you usually think of when it comes to psychic talents, but do they qualify?
The Fury (1978)
This is probably the least remembered film on the list, but this was Brian De Palma's second foray into telekinetic supernatural thriller territory. Based on a novel by John Farris (who also wrote the screenplay), The Fury is about two young adults with psychic powers. Gillian's (Amy Irving) powers include telepathy and teleknesis with the unfortunate side effect of causing people to spontaneously bleed to death when they touch her. She seeks help at a clinic that is under the control of a government organization looking to use psychics as weapons. Leading this outfit is Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) who has also kidnapped a powerful psychic named Robin (Andrew Stevens). Robin's father Peter (Kirk Douglas) is a former colleague of Childress's and he's determined to get his son back. The film goes a bit too strong on the espionage angle and too light on the supernatural, but the climactic scene in which Gillian confronts Childress is extremely memorable.
Thanks to an experimental drug that had been given to pregnant women years earlier, a small group of people known as "scanners" have emerged. Scanners can't move objects with their minds (a fact ignored by the direct-to-VHS sequels), but they can still do a hell of a lot of damage. As Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) explains, scanning is the joining of two nervous systems separated by space. The experience is not without side effects, and being scanned can cause anything from a nose bleed to having your head explode like an over ripe cantaloupe. ConSec, a weapons company is looking to corner the market on scanners and recruits a homeless scanner named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack). Years of having to listen to other people's unfiltered thoughts have driven him to the street, but Ruth teaches him how to keep the voices at bay and sends him looking for another scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) who is building and underground scanner army. I loved this David Cronenberg-directed film when it first came out. It's still pretty good, but Lack's wooden performance in the lead role damages the movie considerably. Still, the story is cool, Ironside is an awesome villain, and boy have we got your exploding heads here.
This was the first film adaptation of a Stephen King novel and it featured King's very dark and depressingly accurate depiction of how horrible teenagers can be to one another. Your average high school can be a powder keg of hormone fueled angst, and if you throw into the mix a girl with telekinesis who has been kicked to the ground once too often, something is going to blow. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie White, a painfully introverted high school girl. Her religious zealot mother (Piper Laurie) does all she can to shelter the young girl from reality. When Carrie freaks out about her completely unexpected first period the other girls humiliate her by pelting her with tampons. One of Carrie's tormentors is suspended for the infraction and her prom tickets are revoked, so she gathers up several gallons of pig blood and plans to make the prom particularly memorable for our heroine. Meanwhile, the onset of her menstrual cycle has triggered Carrie's latent telekinetic powers. The prom scene in which Carrie gets even has become a classic, and this Brian De Palma film remains one of the best King adaptations. The made-for-TV remake which changed the ending presumably in hopes of turning Carrie into a series similar to The Dead Zone should be avoided.
So who are your favorite movie psychics?