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TRANCE

Hypnosis
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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