Thursday, 11 April 2013

"Everyone knows amnesia is bollocks": Danny Boyle's Trance

With echoes of Inception, Memento and Vanilla Sky, Danny Boyle's Trance is the latest in a line of what I've decided to call the "What the hell is going on here?" genre of films. Much like Inception, it shows the dangers of mind control and the unforeseeable outcomes of planting ideas in people's heads. Like Vanilla Sky, it features a protagonist with an altered memory, trying to rediscover what he has lost.

One area in which the film clearly differs from other thrillers of its ilk is its interest in genre film. On some level, Trance is a sort of film noir, with its gangster mob and its mysterious femme fatale. Rather than following the genre formula through, however, Boyle manipulates conventions to confound our expectations. Elizabeth is much more than just her sex appeal: in an underworld of gambling, drugs, theft, coercion, manipulation, torture and murder, she's turns out to be the best and the worst of all of them, repeatedly refusing to be victimised.

Not one character comes out of this film well, and their shallowness can at times make it difficult for us to care much about them. Yet each is still a more interesting personality than any of those in, for example, Inception, where ideas take precedence over people. Unfortunately, the characters behaved just a little too inconsistently to be completely compelling. This is particularly true of hypnotherapist and love interest Elizabeth: I frequently found myself wondering why on earth someone like this, who has worked so hard to achieve her ends, would decide to risk everything for the sake of a silly fling with a criminal. Still more frustrating is that her real aims and motives remain unclear even at the end of the film.

It's unfortunate that, despite Elizabeth being the film's most interesting character, I suspect that it's her full frontal nudity scene which will be many people's main reason for watching and remembering the film. The sexual politics here are murky. On the one hand, we're presented with a deliberately objectified and self-objectifying woman, remaking herself to satisfy a man's fetish. It's not quite as straightforward as just being pornography, however: the film makes it clear that Elizabeth's objectification is intellectual and artistic as much, if not more, than it is sexual, through Simon's obsession with the hairless nudes of Classical art. And of course, it's possible to argue that, because of Simon's obsessive, possessive and abusive nature, we may be being asked to condemn or at least to question this objectifying element. Unfortunately, assuming this to be the case, it feels rather too much like Danny Boyle has tried to have his cake and eat it: the same point could have been made much more subtly without the complete nudity or lingering close-ups, which in the end were gratuitous and far from essential to the plot. Furthermore, what the film attempts to present as an unusual fetish, specific to someone with Simon's interests, is actually so mainstream now as a result of a pornography industry which has ballooned to monstrous proportions, that his amazement that she "knew what he liked" ultimately rang false.

Trance is undoubtedly more problematic than any of the other films mentioned here. There were a fair few plot holes, and many things which just didn't seem to make sense. This may be partly because there's just too much going on - too many twists and turns to keep track of. It's ultimately neither as tight as Vanilla Sky nor as clever as Inception or Memento. Nevertheless, taken on its own terms, it's an enjoyable film, tense, fast-paced, slick and nicely straddling the middle ground between popular and intellectual.