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.