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Let's Talk About Rosario Dawson's Full-Frontal in 'Trance'

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Apr 04, 2013 | 8:15am EDT

Rosario Dawson in Danny Boyle's 'Trance'

So much of culture revolves around visual perfection — especially in art, most explicitly in paintings. There are layers to a painter's work that often cannot be seen on the immediate surface of the canvas, merely left to the viewer's personal interpretation. Others are written in the layers upon layers of acrylic, gouache, or casein, ultimately bonded in pursuit of the finished product. It's a puzzle, in a way.

In Danny Boyle's new film TranceRosario Dawson goes full frontal — complete with her very there, very bare lady bits on full-frontal display for all to see. And while kneejerkists the Internet over may cry foul and/or objectification, it seems far more likely that her character Elizabeth Lamb's date with the razor was the movie's biggest puzzle piece. An artful moment that ultimately was the dime on which the whole film turned.

Trance is a study on the human mind: love, crime, relationships, obsession, greed. And on the surface and in its narrative structure, the film is also a study of the word “trance” in its various iterations. But what starts out as a straightforward crime thriller, quickly deviates into a multi-layered discussion on what makes people so darn complicated. "No piece of art is worth a human life," our initial protagonist Simon (James McAvoy) muses in the film. At first, it seems a comment on his exteriorly heroic actions to save the £27 million Francisco Goya painting "Witches in the Air." But by the end, you realize Simon is talking about so much more. Mainly, his obsession with hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb.

RELATED: James McAvoy: 'Trance' Is My 'Own Personal Horror Movie'

Simon's obsession with ex-girlfriend Elizabeth comes from his own need to possess her, thanks to his desire to be surrounded by beautiful things... and also probably a myriad of mental health issues I'm not about to have any sort of doctoral knowledge about. In the film, Elizabeth's role is unrolled slowly from the middle out. It is paced and tempered (much like her trance-inducing tone). She's wading in dark waters she's not sure she can control — regardless of her past knowledge of their own strength. And, to her credit, she swims in those waters very well — even if it does involve a few little deaths here and there. And yes, that was a double entendre you very smart person, you.

Visually, things culminate in Elizabeth's ultimate tightrope walking trick: she shaves away all the hair. Yes, down there. We entered this story — of Simon, of Elizabeth, of Franck (Vincent Cassel), of the art heist — in the middle, so it's no surprise that the unveiling of her handiwork is not at the beginning or end, but in the middle. You hear the sound of the razor, but you're still unsure, as is Simon. And when the door opens, we see not the final product, but rather Dawson's mid-section, before the camera slowly pans down, revealing what's going on below. And finally, a wide shot revealing her entire body. The moment reflects the nature of the entire film. 

Simon (who we can all pretty well establish is one dude with messed up s**t going on upstairs) is obsessive. He worshipped art and beauty, and he related to Goya in many ways because of Goya's often-seen-as-complicated relationship with women on the canvas.

The mere act of rendering an object, setting, time, or place in a concrete, tangible form such as art (especially painting) romanticizes it. And Simon, well he's a romantic — just one that happens to be really, really emotionally (and don't forget physically!) volatile and obsessive over the things he loves. He's put the p***y on a pedestal. That goes doubly for Elizabeth's. By shaving her vagina, she's continued to tow the increasingly invisible line between controlling Simon (and in turn, the whole situation), and setting him over the edge. The move ultimately has the desired affect — both in the moment, and in the end. Ladies: using the male objectification to their advantage since the dawn of time. Now with deadly consequences!

RELATED: Vincent Cassel Explains Why 'Trance' Is a Love Story 

But isn't that the nature of the beast? Elizabeth's actions are constantly tempered in their own duality — at once seeming to hold some greater meaning or higher place, but at the same time prove to be deadly, dangerous, and downright devious — to say nothing of the super-duper unethical bit in relation to her field. And so, too, was the act of shaving herself for Simon: in a way, it was a symbol of the love she had for him. In another, it was the ultimate power play: put your cards all out on the table, reveal your vulnerability to expose the weakness of others, and strike.

The idea of a woman using sex and her body to manipulate situations is nothing new. But so often it’s a tactic that — especially when used in storytelling —says more about the woman than the man. Whenever such methods are employed, it’s mostly to say, “oh look at this evil woman, using the oldest trick in the book! Taking the easy way out! So much for the high road.” Trance turns the idea on its head. Elizabeth is using her own body in a way that she knows has the potential for danger, but she keeps pushing on; moving forward into the gauzy unknown of Simon’s subconscious in order to finally put him behind her once and for all. It’s a move that bucks the stereotype about women that use their bodies — because by revealing herself to him in such a triggering and intimate way, she was taking anything but the easy road. It’s a take on female sexuality that is both dynamic and wonderfully-subversive as a plot tool than most instances of full-frontal nudity that we’ve seen on film.

Elizabeth is a complicated woman: her morals in the situation are no doubt a whole slew of shades of grey, but her act of follicle modification was a power play nonetheless. A femme fatale for the thinking art gal.

Follow @Alicialutes on Twitter

[Photo Credit: FOX Searchlight]


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