27 April 2013
I think it is time to clarify the distinction between a ‘reveal’ and a ‘twist’:
A reveal ends a plot. It is an essential part of a story, without which there would be no ending, no resolution of conflict, no catharsis … no end credits.
A twist is an add-on, a luxury. It adds depth to a plot that is already finished, it makes Rashomon what it is - a device to change the point of view of the beholder and makes him/her see things in a different light, without altering what happened beforehand.
The ending to The Sixth Sense is a twist, because it has absolutely no bearing on the plot. It adds a new depth to the story, but it is not essential for it to work. Sure, it makes it a better story, but as audience we are satisfied with how the plot played out already. Our enjoyment of the story is enhanced, which is admittedly a subjective thing.
Similarly, the ending of The Secret in Their Eyes is a twist - the story ends, but there is an epilogue of sorts that adds a whole new depth to the story. You probably figure it out 2 to 5 minutes before it actually happens, but nothing that precedes it gives any clues that there is something else hidden underneath the story that we have just witnessed over 2 hours.
The ending of Scream is a reveal. It is an essential part of the story, without which the film and the plot would not have been complete. You can argue about whether it is a good reveal (personally, I think it’s pants, but it works), there is no question as to its requirement.
Similarly, the ending of Trance, Danny Boyle’s latest film, is a reveal and not a twist. It is the natural culmination of the plot (or lack thereof, more of which later), but it doesn’t add a new layer to the story like a twist.
Now, let’s talk about Trance and why it is a disaster of a film.
From the get-go, you are dying to know about that reveal. The story of Trance calls desperately for a reveal to revive it: an employee of a high-end art auctioneer is involved in the heist of a prized Goya painting. However, he forgets where he hid it after getting hit in the head during the robbery. The desperate gang hires a therapist to hypnotise him so the whereabouts of the painting is unearthed from the depths of his psyche.
And that’s all in the first 15 minutes of the film, which starts off on a high note … then it all fizzles and dies. The rest of the remaining 90-or-so minutes is wasted on 5 guys and a girl sitting around a table while the girl hypnotises one of them. Whether you buy into the whole hypnotism thing is not the question here - where is the conflict? Why has this thing flatlined after starting on an extremely well-executed heist?
The reveal, as explained above, comes in at the end accompanied with an extremely loud soundtrack and a ludicrous set-piece involving a burning car. The migraine doesn’t come because of the inane setting and circumstances, but with how everything plays out.
The three leads - James McAvoy as Simon the amnesiac auctioneer, Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth the therapist, and Vincent Cassell as Franck the gang boss - are terrible. They are decent actors all of them (especially Cassell), but they are flat-out … flat here. The high point comes in when Elizabeth appears in a once-in-a-lifetime nude shot. Now, I don’t want to sound the in-house perv here - and, full disclosure, that was an unforgettable scene - but it only serves a wonderful reminder of how human body is still the most elusive and startling things around. That one scene steals the film entire - and not for the obvious reasons. Sadly it is the only high point of the whole affair.
If only Danny Boyle made similar choices elsewhere. I spent the entire film waiting for the reveal because the lack of conflict on screen makes a very frustrating viewing. The film is made for that 3 minutes at the end. To add to the insult, even the reveal is pretty tame.
Boyle is a much better filmmaker than one that depends on a reveal to sell a story. Such a waste of an effort and without doubt the worst film of Boyle’s otherwise brilliant career - and, yes, that includes A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach.