'Trance' Review ' Hypnotic Drama Worthy of Discussion, Debate

“No piece of art is worth a human life.”

So says the man charged with protecting million-dollar paintings in the new psychological drama Trance. James McAvoy stars as a man who understands the value of self-preservation and security when it comes to both artwork and his own life. Multi-layered and beautifully-filmed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Trance lets viewers into the world of art and hypnosis in a tale that deserves to be talked about long after the credits roll.


Early on, we meet Simon (McAvoy), who teaches the audience some of the security protections put into place during a high-end art auction. During such auctions, he is charged with preserving the most valuable (or some of the most valuable) works if security is breached or an auction goes awry. His mission is to grab such works and bring them to a protected area where criminals won’t find it. A few moments after Simon teaches us about the plan, the procedures are tested when a gang of thieves barges into an auction and attempts to steal a multimillion dollar painting.

The package which was supposed to contain the most valuable painting of them all is stolen but something has gone horribly wrong.  

As we soon realize, lead thief Franck (Vincent Cassel) and Simon were partners in the theft and that's where the story becomes much more complex. Franck realizes that the package he stole contained not the painting itself but simply its frame. Somewhere along the way, the artwork disappeared. At some point between the auction where the picture was on display and the secured room where it was supposed to be protected, Simon removed it from its case and hid it.

The trouble is that—after suffering a head injury during the robbery—Simon can’t remember where it is. Enter a local hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who is hired to hypnotize Simon to make his subconscious reveal the painting's whereabouts.  

From there through its surprising conclusion, the film intoxicates viewers in a world of lies, hypnosis and power. McAvoy offers a powerful lead performance as an eager--but sometimes naive--man struggling to protect himself. He’s tortured by Franck’s stooges but believes that his knowledge of the painting is the only thing keeping him alive. He’s intrigued by Elizabeth but questions her loyalty. After all, in a world of hypnosis, what is real and what is fake?

The story spirals from its original premise, leading viewers from one twist to the next. At the end, some of the twists seem implausible (depending on what you believe actually happened). But then again, Trance is one of those films where you can’t wait to talk to other people about it afterwards. I’ve spoken to several different viewers of the film and they all seem to offer their own theories of it.

Movies with unclear endings aren’t hard to come by but films such as this that make you want to discuss and evaluate its twists are hard to duplicate. Boyle has crafted here—along with strong performances from McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson—a movie that demands multiple viewings.

This movie about memory will definitely be hard to forget.


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