Most people don't understand hypnosis, do they? Some dismiss the technique as pure theatrics, while others assume it only works on weak-minded individuals. But I know better. On multiple occasions, I've been fully hypnotized in front of hundreds of people, and recently took hypno-birthing classes with my wife. Suffice to say, I understand the power of the mind to overcome fears, fool the senses, and even - according to this film - recover suppressed memories. All it takes is strong focus, trust in your 'storyteller', and the ability to suspend your own inner narrative. In other words, exactly the same techniques required to enjoy a movie as silly as Trance.
Directed by the hyper-kinetic hand of Danny Boyle, the story follows an art auctioneer named Simon (James McAvoy) who gets mixed up in the robbery of a rare painting. The answer to how everything went wrong is buried deep within his subconscious, so a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) is recruited to help unlock the mystery. Although Simon was knocked out at one point during the crime, he's the only one who could know how the heist went wrong. Simon claims he wants to retrieve the painting (in fact, his life depends on it), yet he struggles to piece together the puzzle during sessions. This is not unlike the people who rush to the stage at a hypnotist show claiming to be willing participants, but who can't fully commit to "going under". It's probably the most realistic aspect of hypnosis in the film.
When Simon does start to see answers, they are often a mash-up of his own personal desires and convoluted past experiences. This allows Boyle to do some funky mindbending, and opens the door for some of the film's most striking visuals. But overall, the film remains routed in the colourful but controlled world Boyle is famous for. It's a stylized reality where characters are pushed to their moral limits and forced into desperately uncomfortable situations. But hey, they're just characters in a film - you can do that.
In reality, it's a lot more complicated. At one point we're told that five per cent of the population is considered to be "highly suggestible" and can be made to do "just about anything". That's a great line for the trailer, but obviously is a crock. Hypnosis merely harnesses a person's own freewill and, at best, lowers inhibitions (not unlike alcohol). Simon, for a large part of the film, is a great example of that. We understand that he has made certain decisions voluntarily leading to his predicament. But what the hypnosis reveals about his true personality doesn't just stretch the limits of hypnosis, but good screenwriting.
That said, I have to say I rather enjoy being under Danny Boyle's spell - even if I feel a little embarrassed for it when walking out of the theatre.