Minding the Gaps

Director Danny Boyle plays brain games in his movie ‘Trance’

Rosario Dawson, left, and James McAvoy, center, star in “Trance."
Rosario Dawson, left, and James McAvoy, right, star in “Trance.”

There goes Danny Boyle again, venturing deep into the mind of another main character. It’s what the director did with “Trainspotting,” “127 Hours” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” showing audiences the brain’s ability to triumph over drugs, boulders, poverty and game shows.

With his latest, “Trance,” opening Friday, Boyle questions everything you thought you knew about thought. Before you see this Hitchcock story for the iPad age, there are a few things Boyle would like you to remember:

Memory is random. In the film, James McAvoy plays Simon, an art auctioneer who steals a painting, only to forget where he put it. That doesn’t make gangleader Franck (Vincent Cassel) happy, so he hires a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to plunder the depths of Simon’s mind and find the missing art.

As Simon moves in and out of trances, his memory starts to become very unreliable, leading to questions that strike at the core of his identity.

Director Danny Boyle plays with the audience’s perceptions of reality in "Trance"
Director Danny Boyle plays with the audience’s perceptions of reality in “Trance”

“I think memory is everything,” Boyle says. “To be who you are, you have to remember who you are. [In the film,] someone goes in there and interferes with that chain, or inserts something else, and that’s McAvoy’s journey.”

The name of the bar isn’t random. The club featured heavily in the film is called Analog, a name Boyle chose for its relative quaintness in the digital age. “There’s something trustworthy about it,” Boyle says. “There’s something dependable.”

The movie is film noir, sorta. “Trance” employs many of the genre’s tropes: a hero (or antihero — he did steal a pretty expensive painting) who’s not quite sure where he stands in the world, a crime-ridden city and a femme fatale. Granted, in most noirs the femme fatale takes off only her glasses; Dawson’s reveal is much more, let’s say, extensive.

“People like genre,” Boyle says. “They like to know where they are. But what you do then is try to mess with it.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · April 12, 2013