Trance (2013)


Untitled-1I am reminded strongly of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and perhaps Danny Boyle was reminded of it too. It’s a movie about the mind, and how the mind could be infiltrated through its dreams. Thoughts could be taken out or implanted. Important information could be stolen and used as a weapon. Nolan created a very complex maze in which he situated his audience, but he always positioned little beacons at strategic corners to ensure that they came out safely. Trance is equally complex, and it also has these beacons, but they’re lumped together at the end to only light the exit, not the path. We are not eased into the psychological mayhem that Boyle provides. Instead, we are led around the maze like dogs chasing our own tails. Lost, alone, and ultimately taken for fools.

When a movie like Trance hits the screens, we are not expecting to be spoon-fed information. We like to think a bit to process new information. We like to work things out for ourselves, and then feel that sense of accomplishment when we succeed. Or if we don’t succeed, we can at least say we enjoyed the pretty colours and cool camera angles. What we don’t want is to start piecing a story together, thinking we’ve got it under control, only to have it put together for us at the end. Would you sit down to a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle if it only had one wedge left to fit?

Don’t get me wrong, though, Trance isn’t a bad movie. It’s directed by Danny Boyle, so you can expect quality craftsmanship and high attention to detail. But if you’re also expecting flawed characters to find redemption — like they do in many of Boyle’s other movies — you’d be better off chucking 127 Hours into your player. No one finds redemption here. Not even the bad guys. Though, to be sure, the bad guys are never really identified. We think we know who’s good and who’s nasty, but the plot takes so many turns and sharp corners that we lose sight of motives and intentions. One thing Inception never failed to do was keep its characters firmly rooted in the reality of their situations despite the craziness surrounding them. We knew who was who, and at what time, and we knew where everyone was headed. If you told me Vincent Cassel would earn my sympathy before Trance was over, I’d have dug your fingernails out.

Cassel plays Franck, the leader of a small band of criminals. Their target is a 27 million dollar (euro?) Francisco Goya painting recently put up for auction at Delancy’s. Whether their scope extends beyond paintings, we don’t know. They could also be drugs or arms dealers. Or maybe burglars. But it doesn’t matter, because the painting is merely the MacGuffin. The bulk of the story focuses on hypnotherapy, practiced by Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), as she tries her hardest to extract the painting’s hiding place from the mind of Delancy’s employee Simon Newton (James McAvoy), who also doubles as Franck’s inside man.

Hypnotherapy can be very useful for influencing one’s actions. We’ve seen its haunting power in Oldboy, and how it can be used to devastate and break apart a family. In Trance, its purpose is not so unforgiving. Elizabeth uses it to cure unhealthy habits and addictions. She gets her clients to confide in her, and then she knocks them out with soothing speech and uplifting fantasies. They close their eyes and smile, enjoying the mental ride. Ah, but what if the doctor’s intentions aren’t so admirable? What if she’s manipulative and deceitful? There is great power in Elizabeth’s hands, and she knows it. She also knows how to control it to her benefit. So again, when I say the bad guys aren’t clearly identified, pay close attention to it.

There is a lot happening in Trance, or at least there appears to be a lot happening. There are scenes upon scenes that take place in characters’ subconsciouses, and most of the time we can’t tell whose it is, where they are, where we are, or why we are even there. Scenes jump around without warning, and the timeline of the story shifts with these jumps. It is a very beautiful movie — production designer Mark Tildesley spares no expense with mirrors and glass — where the viewer is always positioned some distance from the characters. Maybe Boyle doesn’t want us to know what they know, or feel what they feel, or think what they think. And quite honestly, we couldn’t even if we wanted to. There is so much noise in the thick of the plot that when the clarity of the end finally arrives, the maze is not all that interesting.

Best Moment | Cassel’s head blown in half maybe?

Worst Moment | Can’t think of one. I should really make an effort to jot down possible worst moments while watching the movie, or at least review it immediately after watching.


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