Movies are inherently hypnotic, while also ridiculous. The more entertaining the illusions with which we're presented, generally the less plausible they are. But we go to the movies to escape reality, not to find it.
And so Danny Boyle's deliciously preposterous Trance might be the most movie-ish movie ever, at least in the genre taxonomy of movies not based on comic books, cartoons or toys. It's cinematic nonsense for grown-ups, one that hopes you'll be convinced that it's an intellectual game of cat-and-mouse instead of a demolition derby.
The misdirections and red herrings scattered about like enigmatic confetti end up being even more ridiculous than they at first appear, though there's never a sense of laziness about them. The whole shebang simply embraces its own absurdity from the get-go.
We're drawn in when James McAvoy's Simon, an auctioneer at a high-end London house, breaks the fourth wall and explains the sort of security his establishment employs, and how it would thwart an attempted heist. His direct gaze, and how it blurs the line between a character speaking fictionally and a real person in the form of a likable, familiar actor conveying fact, anchors us firmly on his side.
Which he needs, because he soon runs afoul of a criminal gang and finds himself in situations way out of his depth. But Simon isn't real, and intriguingly becomes even less real as Trance unveils its full scope.
Simon happens to be on duty when Franck (Vincent Cassel) springs a heist to steal the Goya masterpiece "Witches' Flight" as it's up for auction and expected to fetch more than £20 million. In between when Simon spirits the painting off the auction floor for safekeeping and Franck comes into possession of it, the painting disappears. It's no spoiler to reveal that the only person who could have pulled off this heist within in a heist is Simon himself ... and that because Franck wallops Simon in the head, Simon can no longer remember what he did or where the Goya is.
The more I think on Trance — partly based on a 2001 British TV movie by Joe Ahearne and whipped up into Boyle style by his frequent screenwriter collaborator John Hodge — the more I discover little back alleyways and possibilities that warp my perception of what I saw. The film teases you, making you wonder how much of what you're seeing is "real" and how much of it is warped through the characters' perception.
Enter hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), brought in by Franck to work with Simon to find the painting, when torturing him fails to crack his amnesia story. What follows is a sidetrack into sly, dry comedy, as Franck's gang of bad guys ends up getting almost as much group therapy as Simon gets individually, a delightfully snarky little detour that helps make this one of the most original heist flicks ever. Hey, criminal gangs are nothing but dysfunctional families, it turns out. But the very fact of Elizabeth-the-hypnotherapist as part of the plot also raises other questions, such as: Are "sustained posthypnotic suggestions" truly as "difficult" as she says they are?
Our experience of all movies are their own sort of sustained posthypnotic suggestion, as how we reconsider them often long outlasts the experience of consuming them. Trance indeed holds the power to hypnotize us in that way, ridiculous as that may be.