Shocking surprises and high voltage tension: Boyle’s new thriller is not the usual art heist movie but a journey inside the subconscious, where the dark and hazardous realm of our two most basic drives, sexuality and aggression lies.
Boyle may be best known for his Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire (and for directing the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics), although his debut movie, Shallow Grave, followed by Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach are far more complex and darker stories I very much recommend to watch. Boyle has exceptional skills in storytelling and timing, he makes his actors walk across fire for him, and I also like his original taste in music, his soundtracks easily go from electro to chansons in one movie.
We receive a pleasantly sarcastic introduction by Simon (James McAvoy), a London auction house employee preparing to sell a famous Goya painting, Witches in the Air, when a gang led by a French thug (Vincent Cassel) performs a heist. The painting disappears in the chaos, only Simon knows where it is, but he has amnesia due to a concussion he suffered during the heist. Before we start to think this will be a classic British gangster comedy, Boyle turns his absurdly funny story into a sinister nightmare.
The gang hires dashing psychiatrist, dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) specialized in hypnotherapy to search Simon’s mind for the whereabouts of the painting. Elizabeth is so radiant and alluring she could seduce anyone in no time, and an exciting love triangle emerges between her and the two leading men.
Ladies, if you’d been asked, which would you go for, the calm, brooding, cute ‘safe’ guy (McAvoy) or the arrogant, shady, but hot and passionate bad boy (Cassel), who would be your choice? Apart from the personal sympathy for one or the other, in truth most women face this decision between the two male archetypes at least a few times in their lives.
Before quickly ruling out one, let’s meddle with the dilemma a bit. With the latter at least you know what you get. There might be a chance for a few pleasant surprises, but a man who is bluntly a son of a bitch won’t really disappoint you on this. And of course the attraction is huge and irresistible – what risks we don’t take for the chemistry… 😉
But our survival instinct starts screaming when it comes to the point of imagining a life with them (sorry guys, we usually do that assessment after the first-second kiss). So either we quickly jump off the train, which hardly ever happens, more often it’s too late and it’s going too fast already and then comes endless hoping and lots of suffering. Women spend an enormous amount of energy on trying to make bad boys better and never giving up on them. Still, they tend to win every time. Usually this is the moment when a woman cuts her losses (or she is already fully exploited and gets exchanged for the next one) and runs to the safe base.
The ‘safe guy’ on the other hand might have some surprises up in his sleeves. The problem with them is ticking like a bomb: too safe, too calm, too brooding on the long run, and women get to lose their interest and appetite for them. Then comes the conflict of looking for the (occasional) adrenaline rush outside the relationship. Some women feel fine with just the thrill of it, some don’t have a problem with leading parallel lives, and some just need to break free, and never look back. What to do if the man won’t agree with that? What if he thinks if you can’t be his, you shouldn’t be anyone else’s?
And here is the point that Boyle, or rather his scriptwriters, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge caught so well: when passion becomes an obsession, and the sexual desire gets heavily tainted by the other drive, aggression. If one is desperate enough, seized by the fear of losing the other and stays on the edge for some time, it’s pretty easy to step over the line. They might not even recognize how and when their affection turned into a rage and keep bargaining, begging for forgiveness, and threatening in the same sentence. Anger rises high, and you get to see a side of a person you didn’t even imagine it was there. The methods become rougher and rougher, from stalking to harassment, life threats or even assaults. Is there a way out of this? What is left to do when you know the other one is unstoppable by you or anybody else?
No spoilers here, but the turning point of the movie is how Elizabeth tries to solve the conflict.
The dramaturgy uses the method of hypnosis to take us into the mind of the characters, so the action happens on different levels like in the popular sci-fi Inception, but this time in the subconscious, not in a dream. Research already proved that our brain is incapable of telling apart real and imagined experiences, and the scriptwriters even played that trick on the audience, who couldn’t always tell for sure if they see a ‘real’ event or ideas projected by the subconscious.
Each one of the three main characters is suggestive and vivid, and acted out very well.
Dawson and McAvoy play the more complex characters whose motivations and aims are mysterious, for the audience and for the other protagonists as well. Though at first they appear to be the least likely couple, an exceptionally strong, and it is no exaggeration to say, fatal attraction develops between them. Dramatic twists and turns follow one another in a fast pace, and the tension is so high that one can’t really nibble their popcorn peacefully.
The usually reckless poker face Cassel shows even some delicate feelings and a quirky sense of humor. Still it was a slight turn off that he was kissing like a vacuum cleaner hose ran wild. Hopefully he only does this on screen, otherwise we’d feel bad for his gorgeous wife, Monica Bellucci.