Tag Archives: Hypnosis

LIST CANDIDATE: HEART OF GLASS (1976)

Herz aus Glas

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Josef Bierbichler, Sonja Skiba, Stefan Güttler

PLOT: A Bavarian town at the beginning of the 19th century loses its master glassblower, the creator of a prized ruby-red glass. As the town’s lifeblood dissipates, the population goes mad, with a shepherd the only voice of reason remaining untouched by the malaise.

Still from Heart of Glass (1976)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In Heart of Glass, Herzog captures the effect of an entire town losing its mind. By hypnotizing virtually every actor, the dreaminess of the shots melds with the action of the citizens, creating a dark, dreamworld effect. The most grounded character, Hias, is a seer of visions both immediate and far flung—and he is the village’s only grip on reality.

COMMENTS: This pensive movie begins with a rear-shot of a man looking over a herd of cows. His first words are in voiceover, played against grand scenes of waterfalls and nature: “I look into the distance, to the end of the world. Before the day is over, the end will come.” This seer (Joseph Bierbichler) is named Hias, and he is a shepherd of a nearby Bavarian village. A group of townsmen come to him with words of fear: “the time of giants has returned.” Their town has just lost its legendary glassblower, and as the seer predicts, the end comes to them before the day is out.

Herzog’s Heart of Glass maintains the unearthly, disconnected tone that is set up in the opening shots throughout. Under the spell of hypnosis, the actors portraying the townspeople all behave as if they are several shifts from reality. The worst affected is the town’s magistrate, a man of means who, used to the great wealth the glass export brought in, crumbles when it is lost. First, he insists the glassblower’s house be dismantled and foundation dug up, just in case the secret formula is hidden therein. He demands the seizure of a davenport that the craftsman had given to his mother, in case the solution is to be found inside. He laments, “the untidiness of the stars makes my head ache.” The tragedy has no explanation in earthly logic, and the whole town faces their doom with such disbelief that no one can now seem to think for himself.

Events take an increasingly desperate turn. As predicted by Hias, one of a pair of friends dies breaking the fall of the other. A plan is hatched that all the remaining ruby glass is to be thrown into the lake, to make it turn red. Eventually there is murder and arson as the magistrate—the throbbing head of the hive-mind that’s taken over the populace—goes to greater and greater extremes to bring the secret back from the void into which it has slipped. Hias sees this, and laments, but cannot stop what occurs. During an enigmatic scene in the village tavern, he sits flanked by a white hen and a dancing simpleton, and prophesies far into the future, seeing World War I, World War II, and eventually nuclear annihilation: “…where the black box drops, green and yellow dust arises.”

Heart of Glass ends on an allegorical note. Having fled the doomed town, Hias returns to his beloved woods. Traveling through the primordial forest, he seems at one with it—until he peers into a dark cave. He goes into a fit and, upon recovery, has another of his visions. He sees two islands, “on the fringes of existence,” that have no other human contact, and do not know the earth is round. After years of spying the horizon, a man and his followers take off on a tiny craft to head toward the abyss. “It may have been seen as a sign of hope,” Hias intones, “that the birds followed them out into the vastness of the sea.” Change is terrifying, but it is also the only way forward.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The elusiveness of ‘Heart of Glass’ makes it something of a disappointment. But it is too mysteriously lovely to be regarded as a failure.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TRANCE (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Danny Boyle

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: After torture fails, gangsters hire a hypnotherapist to help their amnesiac comrade remember where he hid a stolen painting, but can they trust her not to play with the subject’s mind?

Still from Trance (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s watchable and a little weird (once the hallucinations finally start), but not as entrancing as it would need to be to make the List.

COMMENTS: Trance features a lot of twists and turns as it explores the corridors of memory, but ultimately this trippy guided imagery only leads to off-topic revelations, an action movie finale that could have fit in a Vin Diesel vehicle, and a smugly ambiguous postscript. If you’re highly suggestible, though, you may be able to relax and enjoy the trip through Simon’s tortured mind as he struggles to recall where he hid the stolen painting before petty gangster Franck loses patience and lets his thugs take a turn at more than his fingernails. The rough patches Trance encounters come solely from the script, not from the game cast, who do their best to sell the peculiar material. As another of Danny Boyle’s beleaguered, boyish (Boyle-ish?), in-over-his-head heroes, James McAvoy serves as an effective anchor. (Fifteen years ago this role would have gone to fellow baby-faced Scot ). Vincent Cassel, as always, embodies suave Continental decadence. But it’s Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth Lamb, the bored but sexy hypnotherapist, who steals the show, gradually overshadowing Simon to emerge as the movie’s central character. Brought in by Franck in a desperate attempt to recover Simon’s strangely repressed memory, she quickly, if subtly, asserts psychological control over the criminals. Tired of dealing with over-eaters and premature ejaculators, the doctor relishes her dangerous new assignment, and it’s not quite clear whether she’s in it more for the money or the thrills. Seizing control of the mission, she leads Simon (and occasionally the others) on a series of increasingly complicated guided hypnotherapy sessions; her subject always balks just before remembering the fatal hiding place, subconsciously terrified that if he gives up the information, he’ll be killed. As he is led deeper and deeper into the labyrinths of his mind, it becomes unclear where his trance state ends and reality resumes. Are sparks really flying between him and Dr. Lamb, or is it just transference? If he appears to get the upper hand on his captors, is it just a mental trick to get him to reveal the location? It’s a good, if somewhat hard to swallow, start for a psychothriller, and the film does keep you guessing through the early reels. But the plot ultimately doesn’t make much sense; it’s too contrived, and not just in the obvious sense that hypnotherapy has nowhere near this kind of mystical power. The story is also too concerned with misdirection, forgetting to find an emotional center; we have no real rooting interest among the characters. The trance sequences, which are for the most part meant to be indistinguishable from real life, seldom deliver the surreal payoffs that weirdophiles crave (although there is one excellent, startling image involving Vincent Cassel’s head that I unfortunately can’t describe it without ruining the surprise). Once the missing painting is finally found, there’s an empty feeling. Emerging from Trance, you feel like you’ve been to see a middle-of-the-road Vegas magician; you were entertained while the show was on, sure, but you’re already forgetting the tricks on the ride home.

If anything about the movie is hypnotic, it’s Dawson’s full-lipped sexuality. Fans of the actress’ vulva will definitely want to check Trance out; her pubic hair is a minor plot point.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Anything goes, which may make all this great fun for the hallucinogenically inclined, but since nothing in these sequences has any lasting consequences, suspense is difficult to amplify… the film is under the mistaken impression that its unmoored trance sequences are compelling enough to justify their implausibility.”–Zachary Wigon, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: À L’AVENTURE (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Claude Brisseau

FEATURING: Carole Brana, Etienne Chicot

PLOT:  Sandrine, bored with sex and life in general, takes a year off from the rat race

Still from A L'aventure (2009)

and meets some libertines who explore the intersection of sex, hypnosis and religious ecstasy.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This retro sex-drama only flirts with weirdness at the very end.  Considered as a conventional film, it’s neither profound, erotic, nor even very interesting.

COMMENTS: A post-revolutionary examination of the sexual revolution, À L’aventure feels like a talkier, less exotic Emmanuelle (1974).  The plot, involving a beautiful French woman who ditches restrictive monogamy and explores the limits of sexuality—including masturbation, S & M, group lesbian sex, and hypnosis-aided orgasm—seems torn out of a middlebrow softcore “art” film from the early 1970s.  Shout-outs to Freudian psychoanalysis, Indian maharishis, past-life regression therapy and other forms of esoteric knowledge confirm the initial impression that À L’aventure is the work of an aging hippie nostalgic for the days when sexual repression and conformity could be blamed for all society’s ills.  A celebration of that sort of lost naïveté could have made for a fun movie, but for Jean-Claude Brisseau, pleasure is a very serious and unfulfilling business.  The ecstasy seekers in À L’aventure rarely smile, and in fact spend most of the movie wearing dour, serious expressions and furrowed brows, as if they were attending a lecture on modern physics. And about half of the time they are, thanks to the presence of a part-time taxi driver and park bench philosopher who uses his screen time to explain the origins of the universe and the sociological significance of panties. The cinematography is beautiful when it focuses on the French countryside, and the sexual choreography can be arousing, but overall the project is off-puttingly pretentious.  Brisseau’s attitude towards women is subtly disquieting, as well.  In the erotic scenes men are marginalized and women fetishized; he prefers to film lesbian sex.  His obsession with the female orgasm is strange; he uses it as a symbol of unobtainable ecstasy, seeming to forget that about half his audience is capable of obtaining it.  On the surface, Brisseau appears to worship women, but there’s something in his attitude reminiscent of an 18th century European admiring the Noble Savage; he seems more interested in romanticizing female sexuality for his own ends than he is in exploring or understanding it.  In terms of its ideas, the film is confused and uncertain, but not entirely vapid.  The theme of freedom versus convention is treated more subtly than one might expect; at the end Sandrine’s sexual adventure leave her no more satisfied than when she set out, and there is a suggestion that the erotic/hypnotic experiments may have breached limits woman was not meant to transgress.  But in the end, the film’s fatal flaw is simple: it’s dull and talky, and the talk doesn’t lead anywhere enlightening.  Only an overeducated Frenchman could make sex this boring. 

À L’aventure is the third movie in a trilogy about female sexuality that began with Choses Secrètes (2002) and continued in Les Anges Exterminateurs (2006). After the first film, Brisseau was criminally charged with sexual harassment against two of his actresses, receiving a fine and a suspended sentence.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bizarre, at times almost surreal, very sex-filled and captivating in it’s own degenerative way.”–Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver (DVD)