Trance is Danny Boyle’s first cinematic outing since he conquered the world with the spectacular celebration of British culture and ingenuity that was the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. And I’m not sure how the preparation for that grand opening, not to mention his new found status as a National Treasure, informed his latest work but I have some theories. Either he was distracted by it, he’s trying to distance himself from it or he is using it to get away with some of the most careless and audacious plot holes since Prometheus.
And also like Prometheus, this film severely confuses its character’s motives and personalities, wildly swerves through tone, genre, perspective and seems far more concerned with shocking its audience than providing them with a coherent narrative and convincing story. And unfortunately like Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle has the hubris to take on a thematically convoluted plot only to spectacularly lose control of it as the story shakes him free and runs amuck.
Trance is the story of Simon (James McAvoy), an art dealer who helps a gangster pull off a heist in return for help with his massive clichés, er, I mean his massive gambling debts. However when the heist goes wrong and Simon gets hit on the head, lead gangster Franck (Vincent Cassel) enlists the help of Harley Street hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help Simon remember where he hid the painting.
As no heist film since The Killing is allowed, by law, to have a linear narrative and any less than five double crosses, Trance keeps up the crime thriller tradition by escalating the genre further than its predecessors had dare imagine. The trail it picks up from is that of Inception, a film about putting something where it doesn’t belong as opposed to taking it from its rightful place. From here Trance delves deeper into the subconscious, preferring to explore what our subliminal selves would rather hide in the shadows than keep in the light.
It is a densely layered film, one that pulls meaning from the most seemingly meaningless sources. Every detail has at least one grand significance, in many cases two or three. Trance is constantly hinting at where the thrust of the plot is headed, but the clues it provides you with are so abstract that you could never guess at their true direction. It’s one of those films that demands repeat viewing.
It’s a shame then that doing so would probably leave you scratching your head worse than before. I always admire movies that encourage the audience to think, but it comes off as arrogant when thinking is exactly what will expose the film’s numerous flaws. The filmmakers then, either think you will be so dazzled by their pretty pictures you won’t notice what they’re up to and are daring you to realise how many liberties they are taking with the whole “unreliable narrator” trope; or there were just too enamoured with their own story and characters to see the hideous flaws they have inadvertently burdened them with.
You can’t blame them for thinking that the images are beautiful though. Anthony Dod Mantle excels once again, bringing beauty to what at times can be an ugly story. The images elevate the class of the movie above the level of erotic thriller that the third act descends into. It almost tricks you into thinking you are watching a movie of high art and not a movie of with exploitation levels of violence and sex. Almost. Sometimes the sleaze and the beauty match up together so neatly that you would think Roger Corman got into a three way with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
Given the talent behind Trance and the circumstances surrounding the film’s production, it can’t help but feel like a disappointment. Perhaps that is what drew Boyle to such a clunky script. Perhaps he thought of it as a pallet cleanser for the British public, something to bring their expectations surrounding him back down to earth. Perhaps after the success of the Olympic ceremony he thought he was the one true god of British cinema able to create a master piece out of the most flawed of scripts. Whatever the reason, I certainly hope to see more effort next time.