Cracking the celluloid ceiling, one day at a time.
Reading time: 2.5 minutes
*SPOILER ALERT* // N.B. This is not a review
Oh, Hollywood. Dear, naive Hollywood. Your most recent offering has just washed up on the shores of France, and I went to see it a few nights ago. I expected Trance to measure up to the (mostly) positive British reviews published in April. Regrettably, I was left disenchanted and thoroughly pissed off.
Walking out of the theatre, I felt like a dejected beachcomber who’d realised that the potential, sparkly gem on the surf was, in fact, a round, smooth dog turd gleaming warmly in the sun. For a while, I couldn’t quite process what I had seen in that cinema. The first few scenes were terrific. Suspenseful, wonderfully shot, lots of slick dialogue: ten minutes in, I was certain Trance would be a winner. The premise is fairly decent. James McAvoy plays Simon, an auction house employee who’s fallen in with the wrong crowd and agrees to steal a priceless Goya painting for them. It’s a heist which ends badly – the canvas goes missing and Simon ends up in hospital with cranial trauma. Amnesia sets in, he no longer knows where he put the painting, and so protagonist plus cronies all troop off to seek the help of Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotist who guarantees that she can coax the answer from his subconscious. What ensues is a rigmarole of mind-searching, false trails and confused plot strands. Things get ugly. People switch sides. At its best, it’s a thriller intensified by a puzzling, pop-culture take on the mysteries of hypnotism.
However, things take a turn for the worse in the second act. A moment of sexism crops up. Then another. And another. I have since read a couple of reviews which comment on the film’s misogynistic ‘overtones’. I’d go a bit further by saying that what this movie actually is, is a full-blown sexist shit-storm. Aside from the bit-part for a girl who ends up dead and decomposing in the boot of a car, Rosario Dawson’s character is the only full X-chromosomer. Sometimes, having a male-heavy cast makes sense. In Trance, it doesn’t; especially when this lone woman is needlessly victimised and fetishized throughout. At one point, she’s filmed close-up, naked and full frontal from a perspective that remains staunchly masculine throughout the movie, parodied by McAvoy’s wriggling prudery as he rises from a bed in the bare scud later on. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against nudity in films. The kind of female nudity featured in Trance could have been viscerally powerful in a film like Shame. Yet the way in which Dawson’s body is exploited by the camera is pretty sickening, if you consider that it’s all to do with an intelligent woman’s pretence at rekindling romance with an ex who abused her – just so she can get her hands on a painting. When a poorly developed character feels angry and threatened, he decides to take the hypnotist into a room and rape her. The escalating violence and confusion is all down to James McAvoy’s nutcase character, but she’s the one sobbing and apologising at the end, claiming that her part in the whole affair was down to boredom with only ever hypnotising over-eaters and depressed people. Seriously.
By the end, Trance’s token female has been warped into some kind of evil sorceress, come to wreak havoc on the minds of unwitting men. Elizabeth Lamb may be a confident, smooth-talker, but is also completely at the mercy of masculine brutality. This character could not be more different from the ideal of an empowered woman. John Hodge’s script is in no way ambiguous; the gender-based double standards aren’t supposed to be meaningful. Even more infuriating is the total lack of attention given to this by the team involved in making the movie. If you’re in the mood for a seriously dark laugh, watch some press junket interviews after you’ve seen Trance. My particular ‘favourite’ (for want of a better word) was this one. It’s actually one of the most boring interviews I have ever seen. Rosario Dawson harps on about how ‘complex’ the plot is (N.B. if you can vaguely follow Momento, then you’ll have no trouble with Trance). Vincent Cassel huffs and puffs astonishingly sexist remarks about Dawson and her role. He smarms on about how men like having women they can control, how Dawson must feel so terribly happy to have the chance to play a strong woman for once, how she’s giving the whole “sexy librarian” thing a go by playing a beautiful doctor… And then he refers to that horrific female archetype: the femme fatale. (To clarify, the character of Elizabeth Lamb is no more a femme fatale than Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction character is a Victorian hysteric.) Meanwhile, the interviewer is at a loss as to how best discuss the nudity scenes. He stammers that Trance is a film where the actress has to think about her “positions and posing and how everything looks…the way you look”. Poor guy can’t even hide that he’s desperate to yell ‘Cor, you properly get your kit off, love!’ Moments later she drawls “Well, give me some money and I’ll work a little bit.” It’s one of several farcically ignorant interviews given, including this corker, in which Danny Boyle says Trance‘s female character is a homage to his two daughters, and this, in which James McAvoy expresses a hope for people to leave the cinema “enthused and hopeful and curious”.
I certainly left curious, but maybe not in the way McAvoy meant. What I would like to know is how he and Danny Boyle, level-headed British treasures that they are, got involved in a production which so clearly appeals to the La-La Land morons who belly-laughed at Seth MacFarlane’s ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ song. How could such a toe-curlingly misogynistic movie premise get green-lighted? Why are cast and director oblivious to the damaging messages Trance gives women – especially those who have suffered psychological or physical abuse at the hands of a partner? And why have so few people publicly expressed outrage at this?