Seas stretch far and wide into the bosom of clouds while closer to the shore, in the waters bearing scattered colours of the dusk, two boats lie, still and abandoned as the sun sets on them. Two young brothers left stranded in a life from where sunshine and warmth have departed embrace each other in their sleep and as those forsaken boats anchored nowhere in the midst of the seas, they restlessly await their journey. The frantic trance, its start can be traced back to this piercingly innocent sleep where they cling on to each other in the hopes of escaping the blows of trauma, only the stabs are too hard and powerful, chasing them towards deadly means of deliverance. With the departure of one, the other is left shipwrecked, splashing about in deep, tempest waters, attempting to rise against every pull which entices him into the breathless bottom of the sea. Mysskin’s Psycho carried the following words of psychologist Abraham Maslow- ‘We are all simultaneously worms and gods.’ This is true of Trance too as it hails that we are our own shipwreck and salvation in its terrific, startling chronicle of human suffering.
In an immediate aspect, Trance may render itself as the tale of a tormented man’s rise and fall as he braves his way through life, yet this forms one of the many novel subversions of the unusual tale which indeed is an epic of man’s fathomless fall. It revolves within and around his state of trance, as he spirals down deep, gripping the clutches of his own vanity and psychosis, hurt by it, bleeding his spirit away before he circles close to enlightenment. Of trance, in the iconic novel Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier curiously writes, ‘There were people who had trances. I had surely heard of them and they followed strange laws of which we could know nothing, they obeyed the tangled orders of their own subconscious minds.’ Viju Prasad is one of those confounded beings and so is his state of Trance which progresses along the meshes of his anguished heart whose escape is its ambitions.
The first we see him is against the glorious morning sky with the sun rising and prayers from the nearby church heard distinctly- signalling perhaps his evangelistic future and the world is welcoming and pleasant as it can be but he is trapped by the confines of his home- framed through the door of the dark rooms, caged in the midst of his house, the horror of the past it holds. The mirror he looks at is tainted but Viju cheers himself into hoping that his days shall be amazing and his attitude to it, both positive and confident. The daily ritual, starting from desperate attempts to rage beyond the pain soon manifests as a grand make- believe stunt pulled on the self where gazing in the mirror enables no probing within. It instead renders an elevated, different perception of Viju to himself, becoming his holder of an ‘image’ than a reflection. It is his ambitions we learn of first before getting to understand the trauma that has shaken him for the hurt lurks repressed, deep in the heart and takes its while to come to the fore as his ambitions press down on them wounds, hiding the scars. Yes, the dreams only hide the scars, doesn’t heal them, making the adventurous ride awaiting him extremely dangerous.
Trance sinks its teeth into collective and individual psychosis – unquestioning mass surrender to the illusions of religion and the latter, dreadful self-consumption in vanity, in the mind’s notions of its equivalence to the supreme power- each intrinsically tied to the other in bewildering ways. The subversions in the tale are thematic and provided the core of its theme, also theological.
Talking of religion in his book Homo Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari relates to the readers about the rise of Buddhism associated with the worship of man as a divine being and how it commenced as an individual’s tryst with suffering and his deeper enquiries into it. Gautama Buddha, aged twenty-nine, somewhere closer to what Viju would be, leaves his palace, family and wealth in search of a liberation, wandering the streets of northern parts of India as a derelict. Arriving at the object of his search of his own accord, he resolved to alleviate the suffering of mankind through his teachings. This is the similar basic premise from which Viju’s story is fleshed out- troubled by the tragedies lingering in his family, Viju leaves his home and arrives at the cramped streets of Mumbai, however, his departure is more a manifestation of his failing defence mechanism to elude the trauma. He doesn’t free himself of suffering, he buries it, unaware that he is sowing despair within and while spiritual leaders like Lord Buddha strived to eradicate human suffering, Viju taps into it, manipulating it to suit his whims and will, to fulfil his ambitions of being invincible. His trance sets him free in the wildest of ways, free to fall prey to his own ghosts. The dizzying title track can be taken to be the delirious interiors of Viju’s ambitious mind with all distortions and traces of clairvoyance, the unresolved trauma tying itself to the present and violently to his future as the Chosen One.
As corporate lords Solomon and Isaac decide on Viju being their man, the words Solomon utters goes- ‘He is the ONE’. Solomon, the name itself famously hails from the Bible, referring to the wealthy and wise king, proclaimed to be the builder of the first temple in Jerusalem. In the film which is charged with daring ironies, it is Solomon Davis who schemes to establish the largest evangelist organisation in the nation, a temple in his own terms where the collective consciousness of believers and their faith will be exploited for material gains. The people are hence built both as characters and concepts, despite few discrepancies, they are elevated to greater heights by the winsome, electrifying portrayal of the stellar cast. The ‘TRIpac’ group seems an echo of the pivotal concept in the religion- Holy Trinity. Excited of the opportunity before him, Viju rushes first to take a shower, THUD, he slips and falls. He limps his way through the royal chambers of Solomon and Isaac – his fall, the limp ominously heralding the sinister spiral down which he shall go.
When Isaac says the word, ‘God’, the focus rests singularly on Viju’s bemused face slowly attaining conviction. The chosen one may either invoke God from the heavens or source it from within. The atheist reaches for the latter, first naively in a fit of enthusiasm but latter aggressively, rubbing against his wounds as he goes along. Viju’s hands fold in a gesture of prayer with the rousing videos of Christ’s numerous miracles playing on, a surrender doesn’t arise, deeper desire for kindred power is what takes root. Bathed in heavenly golden lights, eyes radiating an intoxicating, inexplicable sense of power, in his first session Rays of Hope, lies the complete realisation of it. Every word Joshua Carlton utters praising the lord, he twists it back to his self, to his own ambitions for he serves no god but himself. There are no confines in the way Joshua Carlton is now framed, he is shadowed neither by doors nor windows, he is revered as the glorious, looming figure under whose feet, the crowd just crumbles.
Beyond a point the distinction between who is what blurs with the con-man perceiving himself as God, the chilling reveal surfacing in one of the finest tense stretches in the film where Matthews (who according to the Bible was a devout, here portrayed as a skeptic) questions Joshua on his confrontation with God.
The spiteful defence of JC emerges solely from his injured ego that it is he who is being challenged, cornered, facing the threat of defeat. Holding Matthews in the clutches of his wrath, Joshua goes against the fundamental values of the religion he heralds, eliminating any iota of doubt regarding what he stands for- himself. The trance deepens with the fatal blow from masters and it all beings to simultaneously make sense and fall apart. Almost dead, Joshua awakens on the Third day alike Christ and with ridiculously strengthened illusions, he is elusive of reality, claiming himself to be a precious descendant from the heavens. The film’s abstract play with illusions assumes a concrete turn as Joshua spirals out of his cobwebs and is grounded again with reality.
Thomas, who in the Biblical context moved from being a skeptic to a man of unwavering faith bears an ironically reversed arc here, revealing the darkness lingering within the bleak promises of the divine light. Holding his dead daughter in his arms, he rushes towards the Church, hoping a resurrection and he doesn’t head straight to the crucified holy figure, he first seeks out Joshua, imploring him for blessings- a veracious depiction of people consumed in a ridiculous tendency of worshipping men before the divine, always confusing one for the other- he shall be spared the blame for it all connotes to man’s own inventions of objects of faith.
One of the bold and startling strokes is in the portraiture of the holy figure witnessing the plight of Thomas crying out to him for help- Jesus himself seems to weep, to bleed, hurt in a sense of shame of being unable to help and of having been a part of this evil farce. The illusory sate of Joshua begins bleeding away and post the ride of vanity, he returns to the confines of human tragedies in the house of Thomas- his outburst framed through the door. This instance, darkness lies outside and not within the house. The decay of illusions also owes it to the reconciliation with trauma- Joshua revisiting the abandoned home and indulging in the inevitable suffering to be ultimately released from its painful holds.
The rousing climactic sequence plays out with a brilliant, daring subversion of religious myth- relating to the birth of the Christ himself- unfolding in the Mega Miracle Fest on 25th December. It is the day that Viju shall be reborn and Joshua dead forever as the god man confesses that he was a fraudster and no stars shine along, the skies only thunder announcing the end of the farce and the arrival of hope, this time in its truest sense. The settings themselves are hellish, misty, with bloody blasts of red as it mourns the collective psychosis of the mob. In line with the inherent irony of the tale, another fine touch is in Paul being the medium through which the confessions of Joshua Carlton reach Matthews and hence the people. The man who taught the Gospel of Christ to the first century world was indeed Paul, the Apostle.
Viju rises from here, recovering, reaching out to the true face of God- Love, affection, in helping a lost fellow being, a friend. Earlier when Joshua talks of his encounter with god, he mentions lying by the railway tracks and as Viju ventures in the lookout for Esther, the trembles of trains resound in the air and red light pours over. We see no reunion, no long yearned embraces, only the lead up to it, the reaching out, hearing glasses shattering. This sound being probably that of shattered illusions, of an awakening, the sound of an end to the long trance.
Atheist and existentialist in its outlook, terrified of men and their shipwreck in its soul, Trance strikes with all that counts and ultimately controls us, ranging from trauma, religion, corporates to human ambition. Paraphrasing, ironically again, the words of faith minister S. Kelley Harrell, in the end note to this exploration of thematic nuances in Trance, I only add: ‘Interpreting that ecstatic trip in a way that better grounds our reality, TRANCE is way worth much.’