Tranceby Kavish Chetty / 18.04.2013
Conjure your most bust-mouthed Cockney accent and recite: “I use’ tuh fink Danny Boyle was mustard. Now, I’m star’inna fink ‘e ain’t got the min’rals, do he?” I admit Boyle hasn’t exactly endeared himself to me since Trainspotting, and especially not during his detour into that vulgar fairytale Slumdog Millionaire – although I do wish him congratulation for the brief resurgence of the insult “chai-wallah” on Anglo-tongues. Now having done excursions into realist heroin drama in bleak and frigid Scotland, Oliver Twist fantasies in incandescent Bombay, and survival biopics pitched between boulders in Utah (127 Hours), he has now taken it upon himself to direct a hypnotherapy noir, a flashy heist drama, architected around one sole promise: to give you a gratuitously lingered three-second glimpse of Rosario Dawson’s pussé (I have added a continental affect here to save myself from charges of misogyny). Of course, all the sub-par surrealism and vaulting flashbacks which occur on either side of her narrative-dividing labia are not worth enduring for so ephemeral a tease. This is a poor man’s Inception. If Inception – which this film wishes, maddeningly, that it was – is a gilded palace of blockbuster cinema, then Trance is really a dilapidated hovel made of four parts corrugated-iron and a pilfered door-frame.
Simon (played by James McAvoy) is fine-art auctioneering security personnel. In the event of an emergency – theft of a painting before a fat plutocrat manages to outbid his ravening peers, for example – he is tasked with getting the valuable properties off-site. He explains this to us, the routine, the protocol, the frankly quotidian, in a stylishly-sequenced prologue, but no sooner has he finished, are some armed thugs slithering into the auctioning house, courtesy of a smoke grenade. Simon grabs Goya’s “Witches in the Air” from its display stand, zips it up in a leather case and makes for the deposit vault in the basement, while chaos ensues. But en route, he is anticipated by his antagonists, who knock him in the head and steal the bag. Two things emerge almost immediately after which set up the premise of the film: Simon is in fact in the employ of the thugs, a double-crosser; and the blow to head has forced him into a brief bout of amnesia – he can’t remember where he duplicitously stashed the painting, worth millions.
From here, Boyle ramps up the camp quotient. Our dear thugs, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), arrange for Simon to undergo hypnotherapy, hoping his salted caramel therapist (Rosario Dawson) can coax the secret out of his unconscious. This opens up a far vaster hide-and-seek game than can be contained within London proper: instead, the whole seething, subterranean apparatus of his psyche, and its various defence mechanisms, become the object of inquiry. What caused Simon to forget the location of the painting, and what various repressions of history and autobiography is he involved in? To this cause, the scriptwriters summon some truly impoverished renditions of psychology and psychotherapy, and license too a whole world of curious flashbacks, ambiguous hyponosis sequences, playful and surreal episodes, with the prime motive of disorienting the viewer sufficiently so as to create a juicy what-the-fuck ambience. But, caring – in this sociopathic era of ours – is the most difficult thing to induce in the third-party cinemagoer, and this cast of largely inconsequential goons really do not drum up enough empathy to care about what’s really going on. The vertiginous and stealthy swoops between reality and fiction, the material and the phantasmagoric, make it a tough game to Sherlock your way out of this labyrinth of happenings.
Boyle is au fait with style – he favours surging neons and pulsing techno-soundtracks – and he transmutes dreary, metropolitan London into a noir-ish locale of electric pinks, lit-up swimming pools and postmodern glass-and-mirrors architecture. The really curious thing about this film, however, the thing which stays imprinted on memory long after the other data has ceased to operate, is that full-frontal nude shot of Rosario Dawson. Its build-up: Simon languishing in nude anticipation on the master bed, a hallway shot of a closed-door behind which is Dawson, and the buzzing, electric razor sound of her “decolonizing her pussy”, so to speak, engaged in an act of anatomical horticulture, or simply shaving her cunt, if you prefer to dispense with the postcolonial and agricultural metaphors. It is poignantly lame, how explicit and ravenous her full-frontal scene, when you consider Boyle’s tortuously calculated, strategic cutting-and-maneuvering around the cocks of his sometimes-undressed male cast. And the logic behind why she displays herself to him like this, a sub-philosophical disquisition I’ll let you find out for yourself, is another symptomatic absurdity in a film that is really rather more camp than it imagines itself to be.
Finally, Trance is intellectually impoverished even by the sci-fi standard of something like Inception. It’s designed slickly, perhaps, but all the tiresome triple-crossing, is-this-dream-or-reality shtick and an occluded backstory (which eventually, inevitably, interrupts all the confusion right at the end) make it more of a superficial, flashy spectacle, than a heist drama with any real elegance of composition.