Psychology tropes in films first gained momentum around the same time Freud’s psychoanalytic movement did. Specific to the subjects of repressed memory and dream psychology, Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound back in 1945. As time went by, these tropes have evolved steadily and provided theses in many popular films ranging from those aiming for up-market sophistication in Inception, to those going for labyrinthic enigma in The Butterfly Effect. They are now joined by another psycho-thriller — the trendsetting, highly modish Trance — a sexually-charged investigation into the whereabouts of Francisco Goya’s romantic portrait of “Witches in the Air“.
Based on a modest telemovie by Joe Ahearne (also screenwriter of this film); famed British director, Danny Boyle and his long-time cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) add the glitz, narrative technique and manic energy necessary to crank it up a notch for the silver-screen.
Trance unfolds against the setting of cool, angular skyscrapers in modern day London with young auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) weighing easy solutions against a difficult problem. He gambles way too much and in a bid to repay massive debts owed to suave criminal supremo Franck (Vincent Cassel), agrees to steal Goya’s $25 million painting. But the heist goes unreasonably wrong when a violent escape traumatizes Simon into a state of amnesia, leaving Franck with no painting and no payoff. So it goes that Franck and his ruthless associates spare Simon’s life on the condition that he cooperates with a beautiful hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to regain that crucial fragment of lost memory. As therapy sessions depart from professional encounters and take on the vibe of bold, smoldering eroticism; the depths of Simon’s repressed thoughts begin to unravel complicated truths framed in glossy, visual allegories [that do not preclude pseudo-psychological importance].
I’ve seen Trance twice, and find it heavy on tired clichés on both times. Haven’t we seen and heard it all by now? Sure, it is reasonably entertaining and culminates in a [standard] cataclysmic showdown between the three leads, but I could not help but wonder — why are many so eager to lavish the film with conflated praise? I suspect what makes Trance such a hot favorite is Attitude — a stylish, dangerous synergy of altered consciousness and hypnotic rapture with strands of blood and violence thrown in. Besides, when composer Rick Smith’s defiant electroclash of modus machismo strikes the right chord, one must concede and nod along with a hipster head bob.