Danny Boyle made a fatal mistake with his latest movie Trance, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the film.
“I love watching those movies, I’m a big fan, Chris Nolan, Ridley Scott and they mustn't stop making them, but they are not really the ones for me.” - Danny Boyle
In context this was a broad statement about his appreciation for refined big budget blockbusters while expressing no interest in undertaking them, specifically Bond. Unfortunately, out of context, it's an endorsement of Nolan's Inception right before Boyle makes Trance. This line has tainted reviews of Trance and polarized people's approach to the film in general.
Now, it's no secret that I'm not a fan of Nolan's work. I find most of it glorified gimmick mongering with a side of bland exposition. So it makes me incredibly sad to read droves of reviews simply stating, "Trance is Danny Boyle's attempt at Inception." This film deserves far more credit than that.
This is written with the presumption that you have seen the film, seriously spoilers.
The Man You Love to Hate:
James McAvoy as the initially lovable and eventually detestable leading man was perfect casting. People love him, especially when he speaks. Having him face-on narrate the entire opening creates a powerful connection between the viewer and his character. It's a very personal sequence, as if he were speaking just to you and no one else in the cinema. This
opening sequence is carefully constructed to draw on the
viewers prior knowledge of heist movies. It's evocative and reminiscent of the Oceans films, because that's the connection it wants you to make: James McAvoy is George Clooney, or rather James McAvoy is every plucky crime hero.
This is not just a great example of Boyle's genre mashing; it also sets a precedent as that specific character archetype is always redeemed. Redemption is what this film is really about, but not the act itself. Trance is about making the audience expect, hope for, and eventually crave McAvoy's redemption. In that order.
Which leads us to...
Welcome to Salem:
You will figure out the plot early, or at least the declared plot. The film wears the core of its story on its sleeve and this is intentional. When McAvoy meets Rosario Dawson's character at her practice there's no hiding that she recognizes him and by the time they talk about quitting gambling on the roof you should have pretty much put it all together.
In many movies this would simply be the machinations of story structure clicking along predictably, but in Trance this is something else completely - Trance is a witch hunt. You know that something isn't right with McAvoy's character, yet time and time again the film brings you back to the only female character seeming to be the antagonist. You will find new
ways to accuse her every few minutes, as she infiltrates a group of strong independent men using intangible, almost supernatural means. When she sleeps with Vincent Cassel's character Franck, you feel like she's doing something very wrong, when in the bigger picture this is completely innocent.
It wants you to blame the girl every step of the way. It wants you to watch McAvoy descend into madness but lets you cling to him, and it wants you to question her at the end of everything. Then, at that end you can choose to accept what you are given or distrust her even further. Even if that was the only thing the film did, it would still have accomplished something great.
This isn't to say Trance is flawless, far from it in fact It often buckles under the weight of it's own multitude of misleads and it will take a DVD release to really piece together whether or not every thread pays off. I just strongly feel the film shouldn't be dismissed, especially when it accomplishes something so many R-rated films fail...
Giving Hyper Violence a Point:
There are only three truly violent scenes in Trance, each serves a powerful purpose and the film would be weaker without them.
The first is the half-missing head reminiscent of the Constantine demon hordes (though I'm not attempting to draw any parallel there, it was simply my first thought in the cinema.) This shot makes the viewer understand just how wild west the character's minds now are. It marks the boundary between the film's easy going first half and its psychedelic second.
Next is the case of the rape prevention where McAvoy shoots a man in the penis. This scene plays into the idea of attempted redemption because it's something so directly harsh that you struggle to reconcile it. It's an excess committed by McAvoy that shows not only his obsession with Dawson's character but again begs the viewer to stop rooting for him. This section as a whole also unsettles the third act, in a good way. It raises strange questions about Cassel's
character being willing to leave Dawson in danger, and reminds the viewer that these men are indeed criminals.
The final piece of violence is more macabre than slasher and echoes the works of Francisco Goya, the artist of the painting chased through the film. I'm of course speaking of the girl in the trunk. You can't look at her, the desecrated form of an innocent girl as a painting of witchcraft is removed from the boot of the car, and then she is burned. This body personifies Dawson's guilt.
In closing, I want to stipulate that Trance is not the second coming, and it's certainly no Sunshine. Trance is simply a good film that deserves some thought rather that a barrage of "Style over substance." and "It's not as clever as it thinks." Those things are easy to write and will probably get quite a few reviewers' comment sections roaring in agreement, but they fail to actually accomplish anything. They are empty gestures like so many are accusing the film of being.