Danny Boyles “Trance” is a mind trip


When a painting by Goya is stolen from an auction house in London, it’s up to a group of criminals and a hypnotherapist to help Simon, the art auctioneer present during the theft, remember where he hid the painting.

Trance is directed by Danny Boyle and stars James McAvoy as Simon, Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth, and Vincent Cassel as Franck.

Artsy, murky, violent and occasionally unnecessarily obtuse, Trance is a study of trust, perception, and character development.

Trance is one of those films that has been knocking around for a bit – try nearly two decades.  After director Danny Boyle had finished filming one of my favorite of his films, Shallow Grave, in 1994, Joe Ahearne sent him the screenplay forTrance.  Partially based on a British television show, Trance, is a stylish, potentially mind-bending trip.  Especially so for fans of Boyle’s work (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) .

As the story’s lead character, Simon (McAvoy) desperately attempts to recall the location of Goya’s painting, subtle shifts in McAvoy’s performance trigger an amazing transformation.  Simon, who begins the story as a victim, begins to change before the audience’s eyes into a man unrecognizable from the opening sequence.

McAvoy, who was originally uninterested in the project when he began reading the script said “…Until at the end, I was hunching at the bit, as we say in Scotland… It just means I was desperate…I was hungry to play this part.”[1].  Indeed, McAvoy, whose other film credits include The Last King of Scotland,Atonement, and X-Men: First Class, struck gold when scoring the part of Simon.  His character’s story arc is fascinating, and McAvoy’s performance is exceptional.

There are many noteworthy elements to Boyles’ Trance – cinematography, musical scoring, the performances he gleaned from McAvoy, Dawson, and Cassel.  The repetition of imagery, the use of reflection, color and light – these add up to something greater – something Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle have managed to achieve using very simple and elegant methods.  All of which are aesthetically pleasing to the extreme.

The filmmakers want the audience to distrust what they’re seeing, to question what the narrators are telling them.  When you, like the characters, begin seeing double (and, in some cases, multiple images of the same thing), they want you to wonder which image, which character, which truth is real.  Until, finally, you are left with only threads that may or may not actually lead you back to the truth were you to follow them.

There are also some noteworthy story snags in Trance; elements that may or may not play well with various members of the audience given their perceptions of the story line.  The main issue with Trance is the lack of an unquestionable, undeniably reliable protagonist; someone for whom the audience as a whole can get behind and pull for as the story’s events brutally unfold.

When you arrive at the end of Trance, you may not be entirely certain for whom you should be rooting: Simon, the highly suggestible young gambling addict swept up in a world of crime.  Elizabeth, the intelligent doctor who uses every tool in her tool box to exact revenge against those who have wronged her.  Or, Franck, the charismatic and violent ring leader who finds himself falling for the wrong woman at the wrong time.  In fact, you may wonder if some of the characters are even “real”.

With music by Rick Smith of the English electronic music group, Underworld, Boyle again proves he’s not afraid to make bold moves.  The music of Trance is as important as any character or image.  It’s exciting and evocative, daring you to feel and – by extension – notice it, to wake up.

Where most films use subtle orchestrations in their scoring, Smith’s work for Trance is there at the forefront, pulsing like your own heart beat.  It’s not asking for your attention.  It’s in your face, demanding it.  It’s instinctual, biological.  Clearly, at least for this movie goer, a highlight of the film.  Pick up a copy here:Trance soundtrack.

Trance has touches of rawness, replete with visually unforgiving moments of extreme violence.  These images are as sharp and palpable as anything you might feel outside of Trance, but somehow dulled by the ever-present, ever-growing doubt the film attempts to sell its audience.

Trance is definitely not a ride one voluntarily hops upon in hopes of being simply entertained.  No.  When you enter the world of Trance you can expect to be using your brain and a fair amount of your wits.


Published by C. L. Taylor

C.L. is a BIPOC, LGBTQ+ artist & writer who pushes pixels and slings ink in her 9 to 5. She's a content producer's content producer, who's ready, willing, and able to throw down anything from illustration to animation, UI/UX design, and copy. If you want it to sparkle, evoke, or convey a story, chances are C. L. can help! Her short fiction has earned first place in category and honorable mentions in the NYCMidnight short story, micro fiction, and flash fiction contests, and has appeared in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, and anthologies by Brisk Publications and Alyson Publications. Her poetry will appear in the upcoming October issue of Versification. In her spare time, C. L. chases mindfulness and often falls asleep in savasana pose. You can catch up with her on Twitter: @ctaylor and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cltaylor_writer/

7 thoughts on “Danny Boyles “Trance” is a mind trip

  1. This movie looks absolutely amazing! Have you seen Memento? Given on what you wrote on this post, I could imagine that you would love it. I, for an instance, love those movies with a twisted story line that has you going back and forth, figuring out by yourself where does each scene actually go in a chronological order. Great review, by the way!

  2. Yeah! 1408 is a great psychological thriller/horror, and John Cusack gives a hell of a performance, as always. Also, Inception, Shutter Island, and Fight Club are great. I’ve been meaning to watch Being John Malkovich. In difference to a lot of people, I didn’t find Donnie Darko to be that good for some reason. How about you, what are your favorite mind-benders?

    1. What a great list – that would make a great post! Being John Malkovich is a great flick with Cameron Diaz turning in a surprising performance. It’s funny to go back and look at the make-up artist’s (Gucci Westman) attempts at making Diaz look, well, homely…as if that’s possible! Although it’s not truly a mind-bender, I also enjoyed Identity – since you mentioned two John Cusack films (1408, Being John Malkovich) – but, like Shutter Island, I find it unfortunately doesn’t hold up well to multiple viewings.

      1. It’s really not a bad idea for a post at all; I’ll probably write one about mind-bending films, thanks for the idea! I actually find John Cusack to be one of the best actors now-a-days, the way he can interpret all of his characters seems so natural and flawless, even in movies like The Raven, which is not a great John Cusack film, he gives a great performance as Edgar Allan Poe. I actually worte about that in one of my posts haha. Have you watched Donnie Darko?

        1. I’ll have to check out that post when you write it! Yeah, I saw Donnie Darko a number of years ago and have seen it a few times since. I’m a fan of non-linear storytelling, and Jake Gyllenhaal shows so much early promise in his performance. The film has become such a cult classic and I definitely prefer it to its sequel, S. Darko, although I appreciated where they were trying to go with the story. Some older flicks that have great mind-bending elements would definitely be higher on my list than Darko, like Jacob’s Ladder, The Cell, 12 Monkeys, and Mulholland Dr. — not necessarily in that order. Any other favorite John Cusack films? I think everything he does is worth seeing (if only on DVD), even crap like The Raven.

          1. Yeah, I definitely have to accept that Jake Gyllenhaal turned in an amazing performance. I have not watched S. Darko, based on its 0% in Rotten Tomatoes haha. I have heard great things about 12 Monkeys, so I might watch that one later this week. From John Cusack I really enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine, which may have not had the best plot but it was still hilarious, though mostly thanks to a hilarious performance (as usual) by Craig Robinson. “2012” was crap. Anastasia is a classic, and Must Love Dogs with Diane Lane is a pretty charming and funny movie. I have not seen much more from him though, but in every single one of the movies that I’ve seen that he stars in, I am always impressed with his acting.

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