I didn’t love Trance after I left the theater. Little plot points and pacing issues kept popping up, thwarting my desire to give the film the praise I now wholeheartedly believe it deserves. I think this was another classic case of the trailer doing more damage than good. I’ve actually recently decided to stop watching trailers, or at least to watch them only once so that by the time the actual movie comes out I can only remember a hazy collection of images and atmosphere. A good trailer should leave you with a general idea of tone, and nothing more. The fewer plot points, the better. Here is an example of a good trailer, and here is a bad one. The great thing about Trance though is that by the end of the movie you may understand everything from an “A to B to C” perspective, but you won’t appreciate the subtleties until the next day when the whole film suddenly falls into place in your mind.
Trance surprised me with its maturity, using far less visual effects and violence than I expected and instead embracing its dark noir influences to create a femme fatale who makes the protagonist (James McAvoy) relive his past mistakes in a far more literal way than the femme fatales of the 40’s and 50’s by using hypnosis. That is not to say that Trance is in any way tame in the “Oh shit” department. This is a film made BY adults and FOR adults, and never once apologizes for its well-earned R rating. It is practically impossible to talk about the plot without giving something away, and this is certainly the type of movie you want to go in as blind as possible. All you really need to know is that James McAvoy steals a painting (Goya’s Flight of the Witches) but gets whacked in the head and forgets where he hid the painting, so he goes to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember. But just as she peels through the many layers of McAvoy’s mind the narrative does the same, revealing secrets and paralleling themes which become fascinating the deeper you look into this film’s framework.
Director Danny Boyle uses his trademarked frenetic editing to great effect as scenes begin to splice together as reality and memory battle it out on screen, one amazing example being near the middle of the film where there are at least 3 levels of memory all interacting with each other, Inception-style. Vivid colors and the constant use of mirrors (not entirely original I know but Boyle does work wonders with them) create a unique look and feel like nothing I’ve seen. Trance certainly does have its faults, such as the aforementioned pacing problems near the middle, but the film does serve as an idyllic example of form following content and vice-versa, with nearly every shot in some way visually strengthening the story or overarching themes. Going back to the film’s faults, I actually believe its greatest weakness was in its twists, not that they were awful or anything, but that there were far more interesting directions Boyle could have explored, especially considering the film’s unique premise. SPOILERS! (Seriously, use some self-restraint for once in your miserable life and don’t read this) I’m surprised the whole “Strawberry” thing wasn’t used at the end, and also making Cassel the one who was being hypnotized from the beginning and McAvoy a mental projection could have been cool) END OF SPOILERS! But at the end of the day these are petty problems, reserved for when you need to find SOMETHING wrong in a great movie.
I rarely write about the performances themselves, although I really don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I find describing a performance difficult, but I would like to say that all three actors are phenomenal in the film, especially McAvoy. Just like any good slice of film noir none of them are 100% good or bad, but varying shades of grey depending on how much of their dark past the film has decided to show you. There are a number of role reversals throughout the film, but all three actors manage to make them oddly believable every time. And can I just say that for such a short guy McAvoy can be kinda terrifying.
As I was thinking about the film during work today and starting to realize what a good movie it was I began picking up on little touches I hadn’t originally noticed, such as there are as many characters in the Goya painting as there are main characters in the film (do they match up? Hmmmm), or that the films use of ipads and technology parallels Rosario Dawson’s ability to surf through and access memories and emotions like apps on a smartphone. I don’t believe Danny Boyle is trying to say something terribly deep with Trance, but is instead simply demonstrating how the medium of film itself is a form of hypnosis, making you forget for a brief 90 minutes your troubles and anxieties. Truly great genre film such as this one excel at doing this. Every aspect (technical or otherwise) of every film is designed to capture your attention and to hold it, to distract you from everything outside this little rectangle often with the goal of wish-fulfillment. Sounds like hypnotherapy to me… so if that’s the REAL twist, did Danny Boyle just M. Night me 24 hrs after watching his new film? Dammit. So many layers man… (B+)