Danny Boyle’s newest, Trance, is a mind-bending, highly engrossing psychological thriller. Like some of his previous films (127 HoursSlumdog Millionaire), it is a vivid and graphic film, juxtaposing a dreamlike atmosphere with a dissolving nightmare. The visuals are compelling; splashes of red, orange, yellow, and blue enliven the stunning production design, and the camera often lingers languidly on Rosario Dawson’s beautiful face and figure. But at every corner, the promise of a violent or grotesque image continues to leave you on edge. Even the oil painting that is the subject everyone is after is beautiful but unsettling at the same time. Either way, you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

What would you do if you had something worth millions of dollars, yet you couldn’t remember where you hid it? James McAvoy (Atonement, X-Men: First Class) plays Simon, a London art auction assistant who gets involved with a group of seedy criminals, with Franck (Vincent Cassel, from Black Swan) as their leader. Simon is trained to follow a strict procedure in the case of an art robbery. After an attempted heist that occurs right in the middle of an auction, Simon is knocked unconscious trying to save a multi-million dollar Francisco Goya painting, Witches in the Air. He recovers, but unfortunately, he can’t remember where he hid the art due to his lingering amnesia.

Fraught for the work, Franck suggests hypnotherapy to help jog Simon’s memory. Simon visits Dr. Elizabeth Lamb, played by Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Death Proof) who is confident she can get inside his head and retrieve the lost memory. When the treatments begin, the movie starts to intertwine between what is real and what is perceived as we delve into his subconscious. Since the amnesia is selective, Elizabeth tries to uncover the reasons why Simon is blocking the missing painting memory.

The psychological themes explored and the mysteries of hypnotherapy are fascinating and sometimes harrowing. While Elizabeth is unraveling Simon’s mind, the audience questions the motivations of each character, as each one seems increasingly desperate and not 100% trustworthy. Greed? Sex? Safety? Power? Fear? Love? The movie asks: how far will we let our basic instincts determine our actions?

The film is rousing in its unexpectedness and keeps the audience engaged, trying to put the clues together. As we see bits of his memory, both Simon and the audience are trying to solve the puzzle, questioning the images before him/us. In addition to the cool visual style of the film, the mesmerizing trance music by Rick Smith (who has previously collaborated with Boyle on The Beach and Trainspotting) greatly enhances the tension and atmosphere of the film.


Both McAvoy and Cassel put in gripping, intense performances, at one moment vulnerable and frightening the next. Rosario Dawson is effective as the confident and cool Dr. Lamb. Boyle was able to unlock a depth in Dawson’s acting that perhaps the audience has not seen before. She commands her scenes with a voice so controlled and calming, you easily believe you could fall into a trance just listening to her voice — and trust that she could easily solve your neuroses.

Mysteries with winding turns can be frustrating when they are either too easy to solve or when a plot twist appears out of nowhere. Boyle masterfully sidesteps both of these pitfalls, delivering an exciting and satisfying artistic thriller.

Recommended if you like: Black Swan, Inception, film noirs, or you are a Danny Boyle fan in general.