Going under a sexy spell with Trance

The crooks in director Danny Boyle's latest film, Trance, sure have found a trippy way to make a little money. From the very beginning, Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) gets you in a state of bewildered suspense. You're constantly wondering: Who are these people? How do they know each other? What's their end game? You might feel like you spaced out and missing something pivotal, but that's not it; you're being toyed with.

Simon (James McAvoy), a down-on-his-luck art auctioneer, takes us through the elaborate security procedures involved whenever a big-ticket item is on the block, such as Francisco Goya's 1798 painting, "Witches in the Air." We know that civilians are to follow a strict "Don't be a hero" policy, and there's a van full of Ukrainian ex-military men at the ready if anything should go down. But the criminals have studied well, and led by their impetuous French leader Franck (Vincent Cassell), they storm into the auction, outsmart the Ukrainians, knock Simon on the head and presumably take off with the painting in what is a thoroughly entertaining and well-executed heist sequence.

It's a tiny but necessary spoiler to inform you that Simon was in on the heist. But the knock on the head wasn't planned, and it turns out that the plush suitcase Simon handed off to Franck doesn't have the painting in it after all. Now Simon can't remember where he squirreled the thing away or even why he did that. Franck and his goons try to torture out the information, because, as Franck puts it, "Amnesia is bullshit!" Yes, yes it is.

click to enlarge Don’t make fun of his finger painting.
  • Don’t make fun of his finger painting.

But this is just one of the film's many insane conceits, and now we're off to see Elizabeth the hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson), who they all hope will be able to uncover the memory of the missing painting. (I can never buy a devastatingly handsome woman in a ho-hum position. Women who look like Angelina Jolie don't become police detectives and Kim Basinger would never live in a trailer park on 8 Mile! But I digress.)

Simon claims to be looking for his car keys, but Elizabeth senses trouble and Googles him. She puts the story of the missing painting together and wants in on the action. She will get inside Simon's head and retrieve the painting, but there are all these unconscious resistances to giving up the truth. He's afraid of being tortured again, for example. They'll have to simulate a hypnotic state in which Simon murders Franck and his goons so he feels safe, which is a fun scene to watch.

Elizabeth is the film's central mystery. They're all smitten, but whose team is she playing for? Trance is undeniably sexy, and it's not just when Dawson gets completely naked and saunters slowly toward the camera. This is one of those rare films where a lady's vagina isn't just a provocative thing to look at but also represents a pivotal plot point. Not since Citizen Kane's Rosebud have we seen such an audacious flower.

Of course, hypnotherapy doesn't really work the way it does in Trance. I've dabbled in self-hypnosis and I've been put under by professionals, and there's nothing magical or supernatural about it. You don't go to some other place. If memories were really like a book on a shelf in a library, then everybody would be reading more, but they're not.

Don't let the utter implausibility bother you, though. Those trance states lend themselves to a deeply satisfying structure. We follow Simon's neuroses to weird conclusions, suffer Elizabeth's sexy manipulation and find ourselves constantly wondering whether what we've seen is real or in somebody else's head.

Trance continues at the Wilma.

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