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A Note on Trance

The Wife and I got a night to go see a movie, called Zalmans – plurual – grabbed some delicious Bier de Garde – part of New Belgium’s Lips of Faith brews – we laugh, lament about work, eat good food and then the most entertaining part of the night was over.  We were all going to see Trance.

Any time John Hodge and Danny Boyle get together it should be something to get excited about. Shallow Grave showed promise then Trainspotting taught us there was something extraordinary between these two creative minds. So, when I heard Boyle was to team up again with Hodge for Trance I was, as I said above we should be, excited.

Trance opens with the same frenetic energy as Trainspotting, right down to a sort of feverish narration that plunges us into the character and the story.   Simon, played by James McAvoy, whisks us through a quick heist of a priceless Goya painting, which turns ugly when Simon hesitates to hand the painting over to partner in crime, Franck, played by the always-brilliant Vincent Cassel.   Simon suffers a head injury in the scuffle and yet still manages to get away with the painting.  However, the head injury seems to have erased Simon’s short-term memory and, now the central dramatic question, where did Simon hide the painting and how can Franck unlock the secrets in Simon’s mind?

With the appropriate suspension of disbelief, the first forty minutes had me completely engaged, I liked it and sat in anticipation for the upcoming acts.  Performances and direction were very solid despite some weakness in the script.  Franck recruits Elizabeth, a psychologist played by Rosario Dawson, to hypnotize Simon in an attempt to ascertain the location of the painting but of course Simon is terrified that once he reveals where the painting is Franck will kill him.  So his subconscious is protecting the information, it has become a vault or fortress. Elizabeth will need to use all of her skills and knowledge to unlock his memory. And it will require her shaving her pubic hair.  Yes, that’s right, the only way to really gain a man’s unfettered trust is to present a completely bare mons pubis.

You cannot have the hairless vulva as a major plot point and not expect some scrutiny.  Not to mention the scene is handled in a way that you would think she was presenting him with the Holy Grail; she has delivered to him a rare object coveted by all men throughout the ages and upon receiving it he weeps, “how did you know?” Well, damn it man, maybe she’s read a Playboy in the last two decades. Or!

(stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers…)

Perhaps you told her years ago because of a fetish you’ve developed while restoring Renaissance art.  Now, I know it took a crack team of incredibly intelligent individuals to incept Cillian Murphy’s mind. It took an innovative doctor and a band of misfit techs to “eternal sunshine” Jim Carrey’s memories. But Elizabeth was able to incept and eternal sunshine Simon in a matter of several short hypnosis sessions.  She is the sort of psychologist Scientologists have warned us about.

This was not the scene when the script fell apart; it was slowly deteriorating before this plot point. This was simply the moment I realized Boyle, a brilliant director, cannot salvage this wreck of a script. You cannot direct your way out of some scripts, even though Boyle gave it a good shot with all the directing tricks in his arsenal.  There were great performances, it is very difficult for me to not like McAvoy and Cassel. Dod Mantle shot it, which looked phenomenal. But all that I like about the cast, the cinematography and first forty minutes does not excuse what happens to the script. We learn that Simon and Elizabeth were in an abusive relationship and she hypnotized him to forget about her. Then she plotted to hypnotize him to steal a painting for her. If that wasn’t preposterous enough, wait for the ending. It goes out in a fiery blaze that pushed this film to the bottom rung in Boyle’s oeuvre. Then, in the final scene, it somehow becomes Franck’s story and we are supposed to care about his final decision to reconnect with Elizabeth or, what, get eternal sunshined via an iPad? I don’t know. I’m going to watch A Life Less Oridnary now and I suggest you do the same.

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