Release Date: April 12, 2013
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson
MPAA Rating: R
You can’t ever accuse Danny Boyle of resting on his laurels.
Many iconic directors find a niche and settle comfortably into it. At a glance, you can instantly recognize a movie made by Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese or Michael Bay, even if it’s a film you’ve never seen before. But you’d be hard pressed to identify and explain exactly what constitutes a “Danny Boyle movie.”
The Academy Award-winning director has an eclectic group of films under his belt, including Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later … and 127 Hours. No two Danny Boyle films feel the same. The main thing they have in common is that they tend to be memorable and enjoyable to watch. Other than that, he never seems to lock himself into a specific genre or tone or style.
Trance is certainly memorable. And it is definitely unlike any of Boyle’s other films. But as I walked out of the theater after the screening, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it. It is certainly an enjoyable film and an incredibly well-made one, but it’s also a film that purposely leaves viewers disoriented and confused. You are meant to leave the theater trying to decipher what was real and what wasn’t, which can leave you wondering, “What did I just watch?”
The story centers around an art auctioneer named Simon (James McAvoy) who gets entangled in an art heist. Simon is supposed to be an inside man on the heist, but when he hands off the goods to the thief Franck (Vincent Cassel), the painting – Francisco de Goya’s “Witches in the Air” – isn’t actually inside the frame.
After getting pistol whipped by Franck and left in a bloody heap, Simon awakes unable to remember where he hid the painting. After getting nowhere with some old fashioned torture, Franck and his gang are willing to try anything – even hypnosis – to recover the priceless piece of art.
Simon selects a hypnotist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to help him uncover the whereabouts of the painting. He goes to her using a fake name and a fake story about losing his car keys. Franck and his crew listen in to the session via a hidden microphone. It quickly becomes clear that Elizabeth knows more than she should and things aren’t quite what they seem.
What follows is a very bizarre and surreal series of events that constantly seem to be hovering between reality and a hypnotic state. The characters aren’t sure what is real and what isn’t. And as an audience member, you aren’t either. It’s a mystery that takes place mostly in someone’s head and the solution to it generates more questions than answers.
Trance is a challenging film. And it certainly isn’t for everyone. I would imagine anyone who is a fan of David Lynch movies or anyone who doesn’t need their films wrapped up in a neat bow will enjoy it. Anyone who likes to pick away at a challenging film piece by piece will too. As soon as it was over, I found myself immediately wanting to see it again, convinced that perhaps after five or six viewings it may all start to make perfect sense to me. But then again, it may never fully make sense (like so many of David Lynch’s films).
What I enjoyed most about Trance was how well Boyle was able to capture Simon’s hypnotic state. So many films and shows struggle to do convincing dream sequences. They never quite feel authentic because they always come across too structured with too clear of a narrative. Real dreams tend to just happen abruptly – they seem to start in midstream with the dreamer already in the middle of the action, which somehow makes perfect sense at the time. Capturing this feeling is one of Boyle’s greatest accomplishments in Trance, but it’s also what makes it such a challenging film to track with.
If you are up for a challenge, I recommend giving Trance a shot. If that doesn’t appeal to you though, just wait until Danny Boyle releases his next film, which will undoubtedly be something completely different.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at email@example.com.