TRANCE takes audience into another mystifying and alluring world: that of hypnosis, a
practice that dates back centuries -- with a long, storied history that traverses from showmen to
scientists -- but is now a widely accepted tool for accessing hidden portions of the mind.
Hypnosis appears from scientific testing to be a real neurological phenomenon although no one
is 100% certain how it works, especially since no one completely understands how consciousness itself
works. Many different theories of hypnosis exist -- but one thing that most researchers agree upon is
that some people appear to respond more readily to hypnosis than others, and can enter deeper, more
intense trance states, which became a key concept behind what Simon experiences in TRANCE.
For many people, professional hypnosis induces an altered, trance-like state that heightens
awareness, increases suggestibility and can spark vivid, waking fantasies -- a state in which attention,
attitudes and beliefs can be shifted or manipulated. Today it is used for an entire laundry list of societal ills and worries: from weight loss and ending addiction to pain management, sports performance,
facing fears, uncovering memories, and even as a form of psychotherapy.
Danny Boyle notes that when hypnosis works it is thrilling to watch. "When you see a great
stage hypnotist at work, it's not sleight of hand or tricks of light," he notes. "If he makes someone blind
for a moment, they really are blind. And then he gives them their sight back. You think, 'How does
that work?' It's hugely entertaining."
Christian Colson adds: "We were really interested in the idea that this world that we all move
through with such certainty and confidence is really illusory in some sense. Our perceptions aren't as
reliable as we would like them to be; and the distinctions we comfortably make between reality and
imagination are often false."
To delve further into the power of hypnotic states, the production hired Professor David
Oakley, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the University College London, to act as the film's
consultant and expert. Professor Oakley began by taking the team through a brief history of hypnosis --
from the 18th
Century work of Frank Mesmer, the first to standardize a hypnosis method, to our own
brave new era of MRI brain scans that probe how hypnosis lights up the nervous system -- to enable
them to understand the real world limitations of the processes involved.
"From hypnosis pioneers Mesmer, Elliotson, Charcot and others, we went through some of the
phenomena looked at in the film -- including setting up cues, using post-hypnotic suggestions and
creating journeys to find memories -- and how all that might be carried out by a psychologist working
with hypnosis," says Oakley.
One common element of hypnosis therapy utilized by the film is visual metaphor. "A fair
chunk of the film has to do with searching for memory and the notion that you can, in hypnosis,
represent a memory as a sort of package, which can be found and opened in a safe way. So, Simon's
use of the iPad, for instance, which has the memory stored on it, is a way of making the memories safer
to access, because the person feels they are slightly distanced from them," explains Oakley.
Another important element is that of post-hypnotic suggestions, which are suggestions given to
a person while under hypnosis that they are expected to act upon when they are in a conscious state. In
other words, if a hypnotist says "you will speak confidently" while you are in a trance state, you will
accept that as part of your personal beliefs when you come out of the trance. But in TRANCE, that idea
is manipulated in a variety of ways, leading Simon into the frightening position of being unsure if his
actions are motivated by himself or controlled by others.
"Post-hypnotic suggestion is an important component in the story line," says Oakley, "as is the
concept of translating hypnotic experiences from individuals into groups."
The research made the trippy nature of the story even more exciting for the filmmakers, as they
were challenged to bring audiences into the unpredictable mindscape of a hypnosis hyper-responder --
that 5% who are highly suggestible and can reach the deepest, most vulnerable states of trance -- via
Simon's frightening and ultimately surprising experiences.
Danny Boyle says: 'Our story is fictional but we wanted it to have a grounding in reality. While
Elizabeth's methods are not always ethical they are nonetheless clinically possible. For the 5% of us
who are highly suggestible -- or 'virtuosos' as the experts say -- that's quite scary!"
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