Trance, by Danny Boyle - a review

I thought this was a brilliant film. I don't understand the reviews panning it, especially the one in the Guardian by Peter Bradshaw.

As usual, I will not go into the plot or discuss the movie any further, but just go into the therapy side of it.

Now, one big idea first. The film exaggerates, distorts, mixes the possible with the impossible, and tells a made-up, fictional story. But here's my point: Which major film (or novel for that matter) doesn't? From James Bond movies via Harry Potter to the main genres of action movies, thrillers, romantic movies, horror and sci-fi, it's the mix between pure fiction / fantasy and things that could happen, that keeps us engaged. And Trance is no different, but in this film a number of therapeutic ideas and pop psychology clichés take centre stage.

So, as regards the psychotherapy elements of Trance, what are these key ideas? I list them here in absolute terms as they are exhibited in the film.

  1. Transference develops between therapist and client; the client falls in love with the therapist, and wants to move from the therapy to having a sexual relationship.
  2. Therapists forget their boundaries, and have sexual affairs with their clients.
  3. Hypnotists (probably a more accurate word than the more fancy hypnotherapist) can implant post-hypnotic suggestions, which the hypnotised person will carry out.
  4. Hypnotists are very powerful, and the best ones can hypnotise people at will, even via an iPad. The film refers to differences in hypnotisability / suggestibility, but when it counts, there seem to be no effective limits to the power of the hypnotist.
  5. Memories are concrete - there or not - entities. The all-powerful hypnotist can make you forget, or not.
  6. Intimate partner violence is always just round the corner, and hypnotherapists are ideally placed to help you deal with it, by fixing the victim's emotions about the past, or even by stopping the perpetrator's wishes to keep his partner against her will, and control her totally.

And whilst these ideas really play a functional role, and help the film to be as good as it is, here are some more down-to-earth realistic replacements.

  1. Transference does occur, but can be a lot lower-intensity and diffuse than portrayed. And it needn't be wholly or mainly sexual.
  2. Therapists do forget (!) and violate boundaries, but this is a very transgressive and deeply unethical situation. It tends to damage the client and destroy the therapy and its effectiveness. It would probably much more messy and traumatic than portrayed here.
  3. Hypnotic suggestions can be given, but are much more difficult to implement, and uncertain in their effect.
  4. Hypnosis and hypnotists, even the best ones, aren't as powerful and effective as shown in the film.
  5. Memories, remembering, and forgetting, are much more fluid, complex and variable than portrayed.
  6. Intimate partner violence of course exists, far too much of it, and is a scourge. But, it seems to me, it's in general not as neat and simple, and not as receptive to being 'cured' by hypnotherapy, as the film suggests in a number of ways.

I thought it was a pretty masterful film, and if the above therapeutic ideas interest you, it may be fun watching it with these thoughts in the back of your mind.

If you want to read a more conventional review, with some elements of plot, discussion of actors and director, etc., here is one from a reviewer who also likes the film.

Here is a short interview with Danny Boyle and an extensive and very interesting profile of Rosario Dawson.