There is only one case in my history with Danny Boyle in which I didn’t start grumbling half an hour into the film. That case is not Trance (spoiler: it is masterpiece Sunshine). The premise of Boyle’s new endeavour had me drooling for months before its release, which is probably why now I am so disappointed with it now.
Art auctioner Simon has accepted to collaborate with some art thieves to pay for his gambling debts. He helps steal a painting from his own auction house, but when criminal Franck opens the case of the painting, Witches In The Air by Francisco Goya is missing from the frame. The worst part is that Simon, who has received a blow to the head during the theft, is suffering from amnesia and has no idea of where he put the masterpiece. This is when hypnotherapist Elisabeth Lamb is hired to help him remember.
While some films lack any narrative complexity, Trance is committed to surprising the viewer every three minutes. This turns out to be a bit too much. The line between reality and trance becomes gradually more blurry, which is great, but this is done through continuous twists and 180° turns in the plot. By continuous I really mean that as soon as the film seems to make sense, a new element comes in to erase everything that has been said until that moment. At the end of the first hour, I was on the verge of giving up on the entire thing and walking out — not because I am equipped with a small brain, although that could be a factoring element, but because the effort of revolutionizing the plot was taking the film in directions that made it incoherent and weirdly structured.
A proof of this is that one of the main players in solving the mystery in the final act of the film is Rosario Dawson’s pussy. While it’s clear from the beginning that Elisabeth Lamb has something to hide and her part in the events emerges a clever way, the film goes to exaggerated lengths to put her at the centre of the story. We had been taken so very far from where we had started, and the resolution was so outlandish and intricate, that by that point it was hard to still feel involved and not to “meh” at the final sequences.
What cannot be taken away from Trance is that it is a terribly stylish film. Its loud, rowdy soundtrack fully expresses Simon’s state of mind, especially in the first parts; the contrast with the quieter tracks and how it all harmonizes with the development of the story is pure magic (as usual from Underworld’s Rick Smith).
The continuous use of reflections, mirrors, coloured glass once again mimics the intricate mind-play happening in the film. It might be a bit of an obvious choice, but it really does create a specific look and atmosphere that is consistent throughout the film, dominated by oranges and blues and sharp lines.
Some sequences are so imaginative, wonderfully written and shot that they lift up the entire film for me; one of them is the incredible scene with all the stolen and destroyed paintings, in which not only does James McAvoy outdo himself in terms of acting, but all the elements — scenography, lights, dialogue, music — come together so beautifully that only the appearance of yet another iPad can take away the poetry from the scene.
On the downside, I tend to be incredibly annoyed by Danny Boyle’s gimmicks with the camera, so I was quite disappointed when they suddenly appeared after a first half-hour of straightforward filming. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for weird angles, but not to the point where I feel seasick watching a film that’s not set on a boat.
I have been struggling to summarize my thoughts about Trance in a grade. On one hand, two weeks after watching it I feel that overall I enjoyed it: the overall plot arc, the writing and the execution have many great elements to them. But to be completely honest, my first opinion wasn’t very far from “total rubbish”. Would I want to see Trance again? Ultimately yes, if only to try and follow the ridiculously complicated plot properly, at least the second time around.
file under: sometimes simplicity is key.
final grade: 3/5
cryfest factor: 0/5 unless you’re a Stendhal syndrome habitué.