Containing more twists than it probably should, Danny Boyle’s Trance is a film that very well might lull you into a state of hypnosis — and I say that as praise, not with disdain. Considering the film is very much about hypnosis, although it’s used more as a plot device than a subject, the description is apt. This is a film that puts you in a state unlike most films, although trying to remember it all or put all the pieces together might be too much of a strain. Don’t feel bad; the film isn’t quite good enough to work all the way through.
It opens with the heist of an art auction. A famous painting, about to be sold for more than $25 million, is to be stolen. One of the security members, Simon (James McAvoy), almost secures it when the boss of the theft, Franck (Vincent Cassel), stops him, takes the painting, and knocks him out with the butt of his gun. The only problem is that Simon had hidden the painting prior to his encounter with Franck, and the knockout blow dealt by the thief has given Simon amnesia — he can’t remember where he hid it. Oh, and the two were also apparently working together; why Simon hid the painting becomes one of the prime mysteries.
In an attempt to recover these lost memories, Simon is sent to a hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). Much of the film from then on takes place in dreams, where metaphors are suggested to Simon in hopes that he’ll figure out where he hid the painting while working on something less immediate. What he uncovers is something much more. Every time you think you’ve figured Trance out, it’ll throw another twist your way. I’ll give you some advice: don’t trust anyone.
Of course, this creates a fundamental problem with the characters, in that we never get to know who they truly are. They always have another trick up their sleeve, another hidden reason for what they’re doing, and it leads to you really not caring about anything that happens to them. Once you figure out that the movie is just going to keep twisting things around, it’s almost difficult to keep interesting — or track — of exactly who’s doing what for whatever reason.
Trance also tries to be way too clever, and simply winds up confusing. At one point in the filmmaking process, it probably all makes sense. If you get to see it three or four times, perhaps it still will. But on a single viewing, even after the ending attempts to explain everything, I don’t think it holds up. The film cheats, or perhaps doesn’t completely work in the first place. Or both. There will be far more questions than answers when you walk away from this movie.
That isn’t at all to say that it isn’t tense, thrilling, or entertaining, because it most certainly is. When you’re sitting there, watching it in the moment, Trance is quite enjoyable. The twists keep you guessing, the film’s style always gives you something interesting to look out for — this is a film directed by Danny Boyle, after all — and the actors all put in good work. It’s just when you think about it after, or even when it tries to bring things to a close, that it starts to get tangled in the web it has spun.
Because much of the film takes place inside of a character’s head, in scenarios crafted by another character, there will be obvious parallels drawn to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. If you found that film too difficult to wrap your head around, you’ll definitely want to skip this one. They’re not the same movie — there’s no dream-within-a-dream, nor is the big heist pulled off inside of a head, and while the trailer may try to get you to believe that they’re very similar, apart from the idea of dreams being used, and there technically being a heist, the similarities are superficial. Furthermore, 2013’s Trance is actually a remake of a 2001 film of the same title, which predates Inception.
Watching a film like this one is tiring. Not because it will put you to sleep but because keeping track of all the twists and switchbacks will leave tax any member of the audience. It’s rare that a film does that, and it should be commended for doing so, but without the characters or the finish to make it all work out, it’s a little bit difficult to really appreciate or like.
Trance will make you think, and at times it will have you form your own interpretations of its proceedings. At times, you’ll learn that those interpretations are wrong. That’s fine, but because the film is, occasionally, so sparse on information, it feels like it cheats you as you try to solve it. Its misdirection works only as long as it hides the key to figuring it out. It can become frustrating if you put in too much effort. It’s best to just sit back and let it fix itself. I only question if it ever really does, or if it is missing a puzzle piece or three.
I hesitate to call Trance exceptionally “good,” but it’s always interesting and on a simple entertainment factor, it will please audiences for its entire running time. It will also frustrate those who insist on attempting to stay one step ahead of movies, or confuse those that have trouble following what feels like dozens of twists. It needed better characters and a script that didn’t back its film into a corner from which it couldn’t escape, although it still has the hypnotic ability to put you in a state that few movies achieve.