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Trance Film Review

trance_2013_movie-wideBroken glass. Mirrors. Twisted dreams, illusions, and vibrant, saturated colors.

Danny Boyle’s new film, Trance, is not just your average psychological crime thriller about a heist-gone-wrong. It’s about memories and manipulation


In order to pay off his gambling debts, London art auctioneer, Simon (played by Scottish actor James McAvoy), must help a gang of criminals procure Francisco Goya’s 1798 surrealist masterpiece, Witches In the Air. However, during the heist, Franck, the head gangster (played by French actor Vincent Cassel), bashes him over the head accidentally causing Simon to temporarily lose his memory. Simon wakes up to find an empty frame and no painting. Shortly after excruciating torture and intense questioning by members of Fran’s gang, Frank decides to send Simon to a hypnotherapist thinking it will help him get his memory back. After coming up with a phony story about trying to relocate his missing car keys, the alluring and intelligent, Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (played by Rosario Dawson), quickly gets the hint that her new patient is looking for an item much more valuable than a set of car keys. She confronts Franck and bargains for equal share in helping to retrieve the lost painting. After all, without her expertise and skill, Simon may never remember what he did with the painting.


But before Simon can reveal its location, Elizabeth says that he must first figure out the origin of all his anxieties. According to her, forgetting specific events, times, or information stems from our own way of trying to keep painful secrets from ourselves. Simon’s short-term amnesia is merely his mind’s way of mentally blocking out a more deeper and tragic memory. In turn, Dr. Elizabeth Lamb conducts numerous hypnotherapy sessions to get to the bottom of what is plaguing Simon.


Throughout the sessions, Boyle bombards his audience with a stylish barrage of candy-colored memories with an undercurrent of a pulsating, trippy techno beat. As more layers of Simon’s consciousness are peeled back, the line between dreams and reality becomes increasingly blurred. It leads one to question which memories are real and which ones Elizabeth is implanting into his brain.


The manic, multi-layered imagery may confuse viewers. It also does not help that all the scenes in the film are stitched together by seamless transitions between places and scenes imagined by Simon to real conversational exchanges by the characters. At times, the camera will glide from one room in Simon’s mind into a room next door filled with Dr. Elizabeth, Franck and the other thugs who are watching Simon react to things that only he can see in his mind.

With every session, Elizabeth gains more control over Simon and the entire operation. Hypnosis morphs into the manipulation of memories. Elizabeth learns she can pervert Simon’s memories allowing only the ones she wishes he could remember for her own gain.

trance-james-mcavoyAlso, Danny Boyle’s extensive use of reflective surfaces serves to perpetuate the concept of individual perception versus reality. Elizabeth tells Frank, “Our memories are threads that we choose to weave together to form our own identities.” In other words, we are all sums of what we choose to remember. In the movie, each character is forced to reconcile the person they believed themselves to be to the one glaring back at them in the fractured glass.

Just like the movies Inception and Memento, this is a film where one needs to pay attention to details. Once everything unfolds in the end, you might be left wondering if everything you saw makes sense.

Incredibly satisfying for those who crave psychological puzzles with a twist, Trance will keep you thinking about it long after you leave the theater.

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