I’m “biast” (pro): love Danny Boyle; love the cast; the trailer was intriguing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not seen the source movie
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Movies are inherently hypnotic: we go and sit in the dark and let ourselves be convinced of the reality of sounds and images that are nothing but celluloid — or now digital — illusion. Movies are also inherently ridiculous: the more entertaining those illusions are, generally, the less plausible, almost by their very nature — we go to the movies to escape reality, not to find it.
And so Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) deliciously preposterous Trance might be the most movie-ish movie ever, at least in the genre taxonomy of movies not based on comic books, Saturday-morning cartoons, or toys. It’s cinematic nonsense for grownups, one that hopes you’ll be convinced, at least while you’re watching, that it’s an intellectual game of cat-and-mouse instead of a demolition derby blowing things up and crashing things together. (Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the latter, except how that sort of nonsense dominates the cinematic landscape.) The misdirections and red herrings that get scattered about like enigmatic confetti kind of end up being even more ridiculous than they at first appear, but there’s never a sense of cheating or laziness about them — the whole shebang is simply embracing its own absurdity from the get-go, and sticks with it throughout.
“Everyone knows amnesia is bollocks,” we’re cheerfully reminded by Trance, via a criminal henchmen when one of his gang claims the affliction. The henchman is exasperated — we snort in knowing agreement. Yet we’re already complicit in the bunk. We’re drawn in from the opening moments, when James McAvoy’s (Arthur Christmas, X-Men: First Class) Simon, an auctioneer at a high-end London house — think a Christie’s or Sotheby’s — gazes right out at us from the screen and explains the sort of security his establishment employs, and how it would thwart an attempted heist. His direct gaze, and how it blurs the line between a character speaking fictionally and a real person in the form of a likable, familiar actor conveying fact, is a bold choice for the film, and it works to suck us in and anchor us firmly on Simon’s side. Which he’ll need– well, if he were real, he would need someone on his side, because he soon runs afoul of that criminal gang and finds himself in situations way out of his depth. But Simon isn’t real, and intriguingly becomes even less real as Trance unveils its full scope.
It’s no spoiler to reveal that Simon is on duty when Franck (Vincent Cassel: Black Swan, Eastern Promises) springs a heist to steal the Goya masterpiece Witches’ Flight as it’s up for auction and expected to fetch more than £20 million. It’s no spoiler to reveal that in between when Simon spirits the painting off the auction floor for safekeeping and Franck comes into possession of the work, the painting itself disappears, cut away from the frame and hidden somewhere. It’s no spoiler to reveal that the only person who could have pulled off this heist within in a heist is Simon himself… and that because Franck walloped Simon in the head in the course of taking what he thought was the Goya off Simon, Simon can no longer remember what he did or where the Goya is.
The more I think on Trance — partly based on a 2001 British TV movie, also called Trance, by Joe Ahearne and whipped up into Boyle style by his frequent screenwriter collaborator John Hodge (The Sweeney, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising) — the more I discover little back alleyways that I hadn’t noticed before, possibilities that warp my perception of what I saw. This is a film that plays with teasing you, want you to wonder just how much of what you’re seeing is actually “real” — within the context of how it’s presented to us, that is — and how much of it is warped through the perception of the characters. Because enters hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson: Unstoppable, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), brought in by Franck to work with Simon — when torturing him fails to crack his amnesia story — to find the painting. What follows is a sidetrack into sly, dry comedy, as Franck’s gang of bad guys ends up getting almost as much group therapy as Simon gets individually, a delightfully snarky little detour that helps make this one of the most original heist flicks ever: hey, criminal gangs are nothing but dysfunctional families, it turns out. But the very fact of Elizabeth-the-hypnotherapist as part of the plot also raises other questions… such as, are “sustained posthypnotic suggestions” truly as “difficult” as she says they are?
Our experience of all movies are their own sort of sustained posthypnotic suggestion, as how we remember and reconsider them long outlasts the experience of actually consuming them. Only one aspect of Trance didn’t hypnotize me, and I haven’t been able to hypnotize myself into letting it slide. It’s how self-consciously coy Boyle is about male nudity while at the same time being so blatantly, er, bald about the female variety. I suspect Boyle is trying to make a point with what it clearly intended to be a stark(ers) contrast, but it’s so at odds with the sleek superstylishness of the film that it’s nothing but mindboggling.
That floated me out of the trance Trance put me under. But only momentarily.