Trance is a 2013 psychological crime thriller directed by Danny Boyle. The film follows a group of men looking to steal a painting. But things don’t go as planned, and they end up taking the help of a hypnotherapist to unearth a repressed memory. The cast has James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel in the leading roles, and the film leaves us wondering what really happened in the end. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Trance explained; spoilers ahead.
Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:
Trance (2013 Movie): Plot Explained
Unlike the ending of Inception, Trance does not give you a clear picture of what was a dream and what was real. So there can be a variety of theories, and each of them will work well. I’d love to read your thoughts, so please do comment below.
Let’s take it from the top.
Who is Simon?
Simon, an auctioneer, is a man with a gambling problem. He’s built up a great deal of debt and looks at hypnotherapy to quit. He also has trust and anger management issues that Elizabeth finds out the hard way.
Who is Elizabeth Lamb? What does she want?
Elizabeth is the hypnotherapist that Simon selects at random to help him stop gambling. The two of them fall in love, but eventually, Simon’s trust issues come in the way, and it turns into an abusive nightmare of a relationship for Elizabeth. What Elizabeth wants is out. The legal authorities empathize but do nothing to help her. So she takes matters into her own hands.
Elizabeth uses hypnotism to get Simon to forget her. She is aware of the risk that Simon might eventually remember and return to haunt her. So she gets Simon to also steal an expensive painting for her, Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air. This way in the worst case scenario, Elizabeth will get an expensive painting, and in the best case scenario, Simon will get convicted.
What is the significance of the painting Witches in the Air? Why does Elizabeth what it?
The painting shows one person being attacked by witches. The bystanders are either appalled but unable to do anything or willfully ignorant and unwilling to intervene. The donkey in the picture depicts ignorance.
Elizabeth was the victim, and Simon was the witch.
The police were not interested. Lawyers advise her to change her name or to leave the country. They are the bystanders.
Most people are ignorant about the pain of being in an abusive relationship; the vast majority is the donkey.
Elizabeth wants to receive this painting to keep it as a trophy. She asks Simon to bring it to her.
Who is Franck?
There is a theory that Simon and Franck are the same person. While I love that theory, I’ll explain why that is unlikely further below.
Franck is a proficient thief who Simon approaches to help steal the painting. Franck pays off Simon’s gambling debt in exchange for Simon’s inside job. Simon gives Franck illegal access to the auction house so they can prep their weapons.
Trance (2013 Movie): Robbery Explained
On the auction day, Franck arrives with his men and gasses the event. As per the plan, Simon takes the painting and prepares it to be stashed in a safe vault. Franck is supposed to intercept Simon at the drop point and take the artwork from him and escape. But because Elizabeth has asked Simon to steal it for her, he cuts out the painting and keeps it in his coat.
Franck intercepts Simon and his two team members and takes the painting case. He lays it down to open and check if the painting is there. Simon needs to create a diversion, so he tases Franck. Franck, now terribly annoyed, knocks Simon in the head and leaves with the case. On reaching their safe house, Franck realizes that the painting has been cut out. He knows Simon took it out but can’t do anything as Simon has been admitted to a hospital.
What does Simon do with the painting? Who’s that girl in the red car?
Back at the auction house, when Simon gained consciousness, he still had the painting in his coat. The knock to his head caused Elizabeth’s mind-lock to be broken. While Simon doesn’t remember Elizabeth, he recollects his final emotions – anger and the feeling of being cheated. Simon makes a run for the road and gets a text from Elizabeth instructing him to bring it to her. She includes her photograph to remind Simon who he stole the painting for.
Unfortunately, Simon gets hit by a random car, and at that moment, he projects Elizabeth onto a random stranger who offers help. Simon strangles and this girl in his rage and drives her car away. He takes it to a parking lot, dumps her body in the boot and leaves the painting there. He walks away and faints somewhere along the way.
Simon is hailed a hero; why?
The two colleagues with Simon made a run for it after Franck knocked Simon unconscious. When asked by the authorities, they would have told them how Simon tried to stop the robbery using the taser. Simon is later found with a wound to his head lying unconscious elsewhere and is then admitted to the hospital. The news applauds him for his brave act.
Back again to hypnosis!
When torture doesn’t work, Franck realizes that Simon has honestly forgotten the location of the painting. He asks Simon to pick from a random list of hypnotherapists in the area. Given that Elizabeth rings a bell, Simon selects her. He goes under the guise of another name and claims that he’s looking to find his lost car keys. Elizabeth is horrified that her plan has led Simon back to her. She notices that his nails have been cut out and that he’s wearing a wire.
The first session turns useless as it only leads Simon to his car keys and not the painting. Simon goes back to Elizabeth again. She silently confirms Simon is in trouble and speaks into his mic, asking to meet with the others. Franck and the team meet her and agree to give her a percentage of the painting sale if she can help locate it.
Elizabeth’s Game Plan
Elizabeth wants the painting for herself; she doesn’t want the money. She procrastinates getting Simon to reveal the location of the artwork. She first says that Simon is afraid he’ll be killed by Franck once they know where the painting is. Elizabeth then hypnotizes each of the men to show their fears to Simon, and importantly, to her. She then tells Franck that Simon seems to have developed an obsession with her. Simon is simply beginning to remember Elizabeth, but she twists this around.
Elizabeth tells Franck that she will go out with Simon – anything to get that painting. She goes back to Franck, saying Simon is jealous of him and won’t make a move. Elizabeth then sleeps with Franck. While not shown in the movie, she would have used this opportunity to learn all she needs to know to apply locks on Franck’s mind. Pay attention to the fact that she takes a swim; this is to experience Franck’s life to later use it to her benefit.
Unfortunately, Franck’s henchman walks in on Elizabeth and Franck and heads over to Simon’s place to tell him. Simon is furious that Elizabeth slept with Franck. She says the henchman is lying and gets Simon to drop his guard by shaving her pubes. The importance of this scene is Elizabeth has already done this for Simon back in the day they were together. Simon is overwhelmed with emotions, and Elizabeth uses this opportunity to make Simon experience a dream.
Elizabeth induces a dream where Simon overhears Franck and his men planning to kill him once they have the painting. Elizabeth guides Simon to Franck’s gun. She also gets Simon to reveal to her the painting’s location. Simon shoots Franck and his men, and Franck’s corpse gets up and talks. This is Simon’s subconscious telling himself that Elizabeth is up to no good.
Just as Elizabeth plans to get the painting, Franck’s men grab her, ruining her plan. Holding her hostage, Franck and Simon are sent to go get the artwork. Luckily for Elizabeth, Simon overpowers Franck and returns to kill the henchmen who try to sexually assault her.
Retrieving The Red Car
Simon, Elizabeth and Franck go to retrieve the car. At gunpoint, Simon takes them to a secluded place, and on the journey, Elizabeth reveals the story about their past and how she made Simon forget her. At a remote location, Elizabeth opens the boot to find the rotting corpse of the girl and with that, the artwork. Simon lets her take the painting because those were the instructions from Elizabeth to his subconscious. Simon proceeds to pour fuel on the car and light it with Franck still inside.
Elizabeth finds a truck and drives into Simon and the burning car. She kills Simon in the process, but Franck survives. She verifies that Franck is still alive and leaves the scene.
What would have happened when the cops found the car and Simon dead body?
What is not shown in the movie is the consequence of the authorities finding the car, the dead girl, and a dead Simon. There are records of this car being collected by Elizabeth from the parking, making her one of the prime suspects in a double homicide. Somehow she makes a clean exit. I know you’re thinking – what if the whole finale was only inside Franck’s mind? Then nothing would matter. We’ll soon talk about why that is unlikely further below.
Trance (2013 Movie): Ending Explained
The ending of the 2013 movie Trance reveals that Elizabeth was the mastermind who hypnotized Simon and got him to steal the painting for her. She appears to like Franck, and so she gives him the choice of forgetting her in a final scene where Franck is under hypnosis.
So it’s pretty clear that the final scene is set inside Franck’s mind. We see the pattern where Franck goes to collect a parcel and receives a device with a message from Elizabeth. This is precisely the same thing that we see Simon go through in one of his hypnosis sessions.
The interspliced editing between Franck in his swimming pool and him getting out of the car is to stress the importance of one thing – Elizabeth saved him. And he’s at a point where he needs to make a choice. Forgetting Elizabeth will also make him forget his memory of nearly burning alive and almost drowning. Elizabeth has genuine feelings for Franck but tells him that she can’t let the painting be sold as it means too much to her. The film ends as Franck is left undecided if he wants to forget Elizabeth or not.
How and when did Elizabeth hypnotize Franck?
Elizabeth had everything she needed to hypnotize Franck. She even swam in the pool to know what it felt like to ensure she could place him there in this dream sequence. But as indicated in the film, hypnotism, to this extent, needs the subject to be in front of Elizabeth. It’s not some X-Men mind control thing she can do from wherever she wants. So it appears that a while after the climax, she managed to sneak up on Frank and used his desires and fears to hypnotize him. As Franck stands there making his choice, we know that Elizabeth is beside him in the real world, waiting on that decision.
Why Franck and Simon being the same person is unlikely!
It appears totally possible that when Elizabeth messed with Simon’s head and gave him instructions to want to forget her and steal a painting for her, it ruptured his subconscious. Franck could be the alter-ego created by Simon to help him commit a crime that he otherwise wouldn’t. It would make sense that Simon put the responsibility of stealing a painting on his alter-ego, Franck. And in reality, Simon is the mastermind, the inside job. All Simon had to do was get some muscle to help with the robbery.
Here’s the problem with this theory.
In the robbery scene, we are shown that two other men are witnesses to Franck knocking Simon on his head. Because of these two and their narrative to the authorities, Simon is applauded for doing a heroic deed. Had Simon been alone in a Fight Club like scenario with Franck, he would have become the prime suspect of the robbery. We also know the news about Simon’s heroic act is real as Elizabeth reads it on the internet. Moreover, Simon is found unconscious and admitted to the hospital.
If Franck and Simon were the same person, there is no way for two other men to have seen Franck knock Simon out. Which is why I find this theory great, but not plausible.
And that’s that! What were your thoughts on the 2013 movie Trance and its ending? Do drop your comments in the section below.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
Click to browse all his film articles