By Dr. Rachana Patni
Watching Trance (2020) had all the highs and the lows one would associate with the ingestion of psychotropic and psychoactive substances. I was drawn to the description of the film because I have been accosted on a few occasions by peddlers of faith. I have found these experiences very intense, sometimes frightening and overwhelming, and I have discussed these with close friends till I was able to assure myself that there was nothing more I needed to do about it.
My experience of meeting some powerful God-men, who are trying to induce me into their fold, has often included a feeling of discharge of my own energy reserve to a sense of powerlessness that attempts to induce suggestibility. On one occasion, it was in a lift that I was told that my religion makes me a sinner and that I needed to convert. Another experience is of someone extremely powerful who prays (preys) on people in an authoritarian manner in his own religion and only talks about his God no matter what the conversation is about. Then of course there are the folks who arrive home to share the message of a ‘better’ path for the soul and I have also personally asked one man lurking about in scooters in residential colonies, praying religious tunes with a piercing sound that is potentially psychologically manipulative. The marketing executives are everywhere but one time, I walked straight into the kind of hard-sell that happens for shared-holiday properties and of course I hadn’t even signed up for it.
At the end of a visit, where my husband and I had gone to view a property, we were taken to this floor to show us something amazing about the building. For some reason, my intuition cautioned me against going there. However, we were being shown around and so we went along as we would need to make an informed decision. The floor basically looked like a huge banquet and function venue. Inside, there was soundproofing and some very expensive sound system and amphitheater arrangement and there was space for a band, along with what looked like a modern pulpit. We were informed that this was a plush venue for a religious meeting that took place on weekends. We were also made the meet the God-man in-charge. Having a fair bit of idea about how to stay within my own energy vortex rather than being pulled in, I felt my legs being drained of all energy. This experience has made me seriously enquire about the level of training these professional Godmen receive in the arts of hypnotism and mesmerizing.
The film Trance seems to have given shape to all of these strange experiences I have had and so it was comforting for me to watch the film, even though at another level it is a deeply disturbing and disturbed film. The film is about the life of a motivational speaker who is an atheist and is a habitual user of psychotropic drugs, and how he gets inducted into a high-profile job as a Pastor performing miracles. He uses his knowledge about human motivational systems to create a dependence on faith in order to grow a major commercial empire that is based on people wanting to consume hope and miracles.
This film exposes several of the things that connect the commercialisation of religion to the high that religious experiences may provide. The theatrical performance, using props, scripts, actors, and cues as well as suggestibility induced through timely musical interludes, that creates a sense of euphoric faith in people is something that people consume as much as they are consumed by their experience. This experience creates a sense of upliftment and empowerment, and as with the very powerful way in which human belief works, when people truly believe in the faith, things actually begin to work for them. It is only in the background story that we can see how much of a con-job the whole thing is but the average person who comes in for their weekly fix of hope, miracle, and faith, goes out rejuvenated to face the harsh realities of the world outside.
There is one aspect in Trance where a child’s father chooses to only treat her illness with holy oil and holy water and she succumbs owing to his blind faith. This very troubling part of the storyline does not seem to adequately impact any of the people involved in the commercialization of miracles. The brutality of this undertaking makes it far more dangerous and takes it to another level of callousness and brazen exploitation of the people in the system.
But then I sit to think about how all of us are constantly being given half information about everything. Things that we consume that come bottled and stamped may misinform us through intelligently misleading sign-positing. For example, I may go to buy a carton of almond milk and it claims to be free of everything like additives, preservatives, sugar, and yet when I read the fine print, it is another story. Experiences, which is currently the ‘thing’ being commoditized and commercialized, need to be consumed with much care and vigilance. We may, otherwise, pay a lot more than we bargained for.