Nobody and nothing is what they seem to be in Danny Boyle's Trance, a head trip and a half defying description since the scantest information might be a spoiler. There's literally half of someone's head in the movie that would agree because that's the kind of devilishly anything-is-possible movie Trance is.
I may have already said too much, or perhaps I'm just saying that to lead you in a wrong direction that will turn out right in the long run. And if that scrambles your synapses then you don't stand a chance with Trance.
Boyle hasn't played this loosey-goosey with reality, or gnarled a narrative so twisted for such a sustained amount of time since Trainspotting, and that was because heroin was involved. After achieving mainstream respectability — not to mention an Oscar — with Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, Boyle gets back to bloody knuckle business. Trance is disturbing with a capital D yet looking away is nearly as impossible as describing the plot without blowing it.
But here goes. We meet but do not fully know Simon (James McAvoy), a fine-art auctioneer offering a crash course in his London firm's tight security measures, everything from MRI scans to burly men with baseball bats. These measures don't deter a ruthless gang led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) from stealing a Francisco Goya painting. They think.
In short order we learn the theft is an inside job and the inside man is Simon. But something happened to the painting that he can't remember since Franck conked him on the head, resulting in amnesia. Torture doesn't jog Simon's memory, so the next step is a session with a hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who seems to recognize Simon from news reports of the theft.
I would tell you more but then I'd have to kill myself.
Suffice to say that any relationship among characters in Trance is likely different from what you surmise after the first (or maybe second or third) time it's established by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge's labyrinthine screenplay. The story hinges upon memory's persistence or lack thereof, and deceptions from seemingly incapable sources. People die but not really, or at least not yet. Think Inception without intrusive special effects or Fight Club with more than one sucker punch to the jaw. That's Trance.
Boyle has a diabolical blast with the material, saturating the screen with neon red herrings and the soundtrack with throbbing techno expressions. Even when the plot goes completely bonkers, bat-guano off the rails in the final reel, "Trance" is a perfect title for this dazed and confusing movie. See it but don't dare explain it to anyone. Then see it again and realize you would have been wrong.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.