Hypnotherapy has never been sexier than it is in Danny Boyle’s “Trance,” opening Friday across South Florida.
This is a film that will likely foster a vast uptick in straight men trolling their local businesses looking for the kind of exotic, promiscuous clinician played here by Rosario Dawson, in efforts to curb their overeating, their restless leg syndrome, or (god forbid) their sex addiction. Dawson’s hypnotherapist, Elizabeth Lamb, enters the picture about 20 minutes in, summoned to help Simon (James McAvoy) remember where he hid a priceless Goya painting – which he happened to help steal, as the inside man on an art-auction heist. In the process, she becomes the therapist who knows too much, not to mention reveals too much: Dawson goes full-frontal nude in this film, and you can almost see the drool trickling down Boyle’s chin as he fetishizes her, foot to head, in an idolatrous upward tilt shot.
The director would no doubt make a game argument for the artistic necessity of this shot, which, 20 years ago, would have guaranteed the film an NC-17 smack-down from the MPAA. He’d probably hedge his argument in the pseudo-feminist hogwash this film peddles. But the fact is, this very shot must be the reason “Trance” has been accruing such ceaseless buzz over the past couple of months, with features, interviews and reviews in all the major men’s magazines and even by film journalists, whose scholarly brains have apparently been overtaken by another organ.
After all of this hype, I can’t believe what a preposterous trifle this film really is – an insubstantial, unintentional parody of “what is reality?” think pieces that yearns to be taken seriously. Instead, it comes off as the work of a director regressing into the formal and narrative infantilism of his earlier films, just a few years after expanding his own vocabulary so intensely with “127 Hours.”
The movie begins at the Sotheby’s-like fine art auction, where an unexpected hiccup botches the calculated theft of Goya’s mesmerizing “Witches in the Air:” In an effort to appear loyal to his employers, auctioneer Simon electrocutes his partner-in-crime Franck (Vincent Cassel); Franck retaliates by slugging Simon with his gun and grabbing the painting, which is supposedly housed in a black zip-case. Simon ends up with a concussion and selective amnesia; Franck ends up with an empty picture frame and no Goya masterpiece.
After a nasty bit of torturing Simon to trigger his memory, Franck and his band of thugs enlist the help of Elizabeth to retrieve the suppressed memory of the painting from Simon’s steel-trapped mind. It’s a promising premise, but the Goya quickly becomes this movie’s MacGuffin, inciting a string of narrative twists and reversals, nightmares and fantasies, flashbacks and revelations. Dreams become increasingly difficult to differentiate from reality, and the more “Trance” devolves a convoluted game of who’s playing who, the more ridiculous it becomes, following a trajectory similar to Steven Soderbergh’s disappointing “Side Effects.”
This is a film borne of repugnant narcissism, in love with its own cleverness. It’s cripplingly infatuated with its own ability to confuse us and then rectify our confusion with enlightening narrative koans that only make “sense” if you don’t think about them too much. When everything comes together, the final picture doesn’t have the classical harmony of a Goya so much as the cubist chaos of a Picasso – and Boyle is no Picasso.