Trance: Danny Boyle
Fans of 90’s Danny Boyle films- heady, grimy tales from nowhere nobodies- might be disappointed by his latest film Trance which aims (too) big with its complex, psychological storyline and chic international casting.
The film is the tale of an art auctioneer, Simon (James McAvoy), mixed up with a criminal gang headed by the charismatic Frank (Vincent Cassel). When their plot to steel a painting goes askew and a hit to the head means Simon cannot remember where he hid the masterpiece, hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) is brought in to unlock his suppressed memory. What ensues is a mess of lies, suspicion and muddied thoughts.
“A mess” is the right way to describe this film. It is interesting, and even surprisingly funny in places, but ultimately its metaphorical bell does not ring true and clear. Obvious comparisons will be drawn between Trance and Christopher Nolan’s 2010 mind-bending hit Inception.
Yet where Inception’s constant flicking between reality and delusion boarders on irritating, Trance can be said to go all the way. It is a film neither completely ridiculous nor completely earnest, and this indecision is perhaps the thing that jars the most.
An example of this unsuccessful duality might be the full frontal nudity scene with Rosario Dawson. “Wait, I know what you want,” she tells Simon before she proceeds to the bathroom to shave her pubic hair (we hear the buzz of the razor!). “How did you know?” asks a wonderstruck Simon as she emerges naked and hairless. Cue scoffing giggles in the cinema aisles.
It is a shame that this scene came off as laughable, as like much of the film it is based upon a deeply interesting premiss. The painting that has been stolen is Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air. Goya, often dubbed the father of modern painting, was one of the first to paint the body as he saw it.
Previously painters had idealised the human form and elevated it to a level free of earthly imperfections, like bodily hair for example. What this scene clumsily touches upon then is a desire to rise above the untidy truth of reality to something more beautiful, which of course reflects the central idea of the conscious and the unconscious, the accepted and the suppressed.
Echoes of this painting are found throughout the film and in hindsight each character and plot element is cleverly mirrored from it: the central crouching figure hiding from the world under the blanket, the element of farce in the donkey and the looming supernatural forces overhead like the demons and vices which haunt each of the film’s central protagonists.
It is not uncommon for Danny Boyle to stuff his projects full to busting with ideas, in fact he has turned this into a recognisable style. On this occasion however he fails to keep hold of a core idea in this storm of creativity and as a result any lasting impressions seem muddled.
Admittedly perhaps the underlying problem with Trance is something which lies outside of its makers real control: the intimidating reputation and back catalogue of success of its director. Boyle, of course, has built his reputation with such cult hits as Trainspotting, The Beach and 28 Days Later whilst moving in recent years towards more main stream successes like his award winning Slumdog Millionaire and the superb 127 Hours.
He officially secured his place as a British national treasure when he served as artistic director for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, a spectacular and inclusive production which turned even the most liberal grumbler into a flag-flying nationalist.
So entering into a showroom for his next film is bound to be loaded with expectation (no doubt many Brits will have willed themselves to like this film). But here this expectation for a film marked with the charm, grit and quality soundtrack Boyle is loved for was disappointed. What Trance holds instead is something a bit like that, but just not quite.
by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn