First comes first: Danny Boyle’s new movie, “Trance,” is a highlight of the spring movie season, a thrillingly twisted puzzle that keeps you at the edge of your seat while you are watch the, and then lingers in memory after the experience is over. You may want to see this intriguing picture again.


“Trance””is a tough movie to review due to the many twists and turns in plot as well as in the motivation and behavior of its central characters, which form a triangle of sorts. There is always the danger of spoiler alert, of compromising the viewers’ experience by revealing too many points about the story.

Inevitable comparisons will be made between this shrewd, well-crafted puzzle, co-written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, and “Memento,” still my favorite Christoper Nolan picture, made in 2000, before he became a major Hollywood player with such blockbusters as “Insomnia” and “The Batman” trilogy. (I was very gratified to present Nolan the Best Screenplay Award, when I was president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association).

Like “Memento,” the title of Boyle’s smart and witty film consists of one word, “Trance,” a catchy and suitable moniker that also aptly describes the film’s provocative thematic concerns: the vagueness of human perception and memory, the shifty and fragile nature of identity, the fine line between normalcy and madness, the temptation to turn surreal dreams into factual reality, and ultimately, the very nature of trust. Who can we trust? Can we always trust ourselves? Are we reliable sources for our memories?

Unfolding as a hypnotic trance, or altered state of being, the narrative centers on Simon (played by the very gifted and versatile Scottish actor James McAvoy), who works as a fine art auctioneer in London. Early on, Simon joins forces with a criminal gang to steal a painting by the famous Spanish artist Goya, which is estimated to be worthy of millions of dollars.

Under circumstances that cannot be fully disclosed here, Simon suffers a blow to his head during the heist itself. The next thing he knows is awakening up with the scary discovery that he has lost his memory. What did he do with the painting? Did he hide it? Where is it now?

Within reason, other questions arise: Did Simon conspire with the thieves? Is there a chance that HE himself had actually robbed them?

Before long, outside reality interferes with the appearance of Franck (French actor Vincent Cassel), the frightening, violenceprone leader of the gang. The interaction begins with relentless questions and demands for knowledge, then escalates into physical threats and even torture. When all the various tactics used fail to produce the needed information, Franck decides to hire a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to dig deep into Simon’s psyche.

Dawson, an extremely appealing and sexy actress, gives the second and third reels much necessary tension, psychological, erotic and emotional. We the viewers join Elizabeth in anticipation as she begins to unravel Simon’s non-existent consciousness, as well as his shattered sub-consciousness. We begin to doubt to what extent Elizabeth, though representing a figure of authority and professional expertise, is trustworthy herself. We question to what extent she can reveal the “truth” (if there is such a thing), especially after she get emotionally (and sexually) involved.

Spoiler Alert

Elizabeth turns out to be a professional guided by dubious ethics. Claiming that she is bored with her regular and normal clients, she joins the criminals for a portion of the loot, not to mention that she also has hot sex with Franck. Elizabeth seems to trust Franck–otherwise why would she confide in him that she once had a physically abusive lover.

By standards of mainstream Hollywood , the love-making scenes between Dawson and Cassel are seductively shot–they are both hot and cool–benefiting, no doubt, from their photogenic looks and strong chemistry.

End of Spoiler Alert

A versatile filmmaker who simply refuses to be pigeonholed by Hollywood, Boyle is the right director for such tricky material. The text, the subtext, the technical strategy and visual style of “Trance” could not have been more different from Boyle’s 2008 Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” or, for that matter, his 2011 Oscar-nominated “127 Hours,” starring James Franco.

If anything, “Trance” bears slight (but only slight) resemblance to Boyle’s splashy 1994 directorial debut, “Shallow Grave,” in which he effectively combined dark humor, psychological thrills, unanticipated turns, and edgy visual style in a tale about the impact of greed on friendship. That picture’s protagonists, like the characters of “Trance,” are pushed to extremities in their conduct, manifest in intense levels of paranoia and deceit. That said, “Shallow Grave” is relatively a simpler, clearer, more modest, and more explicit than “Trance.”

Speaking of versatility: Visually speaking, “Trance” offers the kind of imagery that differs substantially from those seen last summer, when Boyle orchestrated the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in London!

Courageously and provocatively delving into the unknown, mysterious domain of human subconsciousness in a boldly cinematic mode, “Trance,” which is on one level like a nightmarish trip or an ordeal, is particularly bound to intrigue spectators who subscribe to Freudian psychology (and its variants) and who favor ambiguous,

chaotic, and complicated movies, in which not every element adds up neatly.