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deciphering the prisoners’ symbolic ending: The art of evoking suspense, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, is an intricate art. To create a compelling crime thriller in an era saturated with the genre’s cyclical clichés, you need to master narrative pacing and visual storytelling, along with soundscapes that heighten cinematic catharsis.
Nobody does this better than Denis Villeneuve, the visionary Québécois director who rose to fame with his critically acclaimed monochrome drama, Polytechnique (2009) and his revealing war thriller, Incendies (2010). However, it was his 2013 English-language debut, prisoners, that revealed Villeneuve as a master of suspense: it is a plot laden with moral perplexities, religious symbolism, and complex characters, who are caught up in their alarmingly Kafkaesque inner worlds.
Today we will unravel the rich symbolic fabric that runs through the prisoners. Needless to say, there are massive spoilers ahead.
plot summary: prisoners
Set in suburban Pennsylvania, with quaint, nearly empty streets and birch-lined alleys, the film centers on two families, whose lives are characterized (at least initially) by a kind of pre-world isolation. against the dangers of the world at large. The opening shot features Kelly Dover (Hugh Jackman), on a deer hunting trip with his teenage son, Ralph (Dylan Minette), setting the tone for prisoners from the very first frame: life is a hunt, in which you are the predator or the prey.
We see Dover (a carpenter by trade), stocking his basement with emergency supplies that could survive an apocalypse. A survivor and devoted defender of religious faith, Dover’s constant preparation for the worst is rooted in his desire to protect his family: his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), Ralph and Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), 6, of possible damage. However, things take a murkier turn when Anna, along with 7-year-old Jenny, the daughter of family friends Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), disappear after crossing the street in search of the anna’s red whistle: a symbolic chekov’s gun that comes back to haunt dover in the final moments of the film.
detective loki (jake gyllenhaal) appears, presented in one of the first noir shots, dining alone in a chinese restaurant, while a heavy rain assaults the window panes. The aura of grim ennui intensifies as Loki apprehends a possible suspect in the kidnapping case, Alex (Paul Dano), a socially inept and mentally challenged man, and the owner of the trailer out of which the girls were taken. last seen. The plot then unfolds viscerally, with the stakes high: Dover and Loki go their separate ways in search of the missing girls. While Loki’s ruthless determination depends on following the trail of tangible evidence, Dover acts purely on parental instinct, with a sense of conviction and retribution that feels justified and morally conflicted at the same time.
navigating the maze of symbols
In order to better understand the ending, it is crucial to analyze the symbolic underpinnings of the narrative and the events leading up to the climactic denouement. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay for Prisoners is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal short story, The Telltale Heart (1843), which explores themes of guilt, sin, regret, and paranoia, albeit within the context of gothic horror.
The heart of the symbolic labyrinth of prisoners is a semantic/metaphorical labyrinth, presented as a critical plot point, especially in the act of violence against children. The labyrinth is a prison of the mind, riddled with false starts, red herrings, and dead ends. It is a symbol of slavery and oppression, as highlighted in the case of the troubled and somewhat deranged Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian), another possible child abuse suspect and victim, who shoots himself in the middle of an interrogation. The maze is literally unsolvable, as it is simply an instrument of torture and subjugation, used by Alex’s aunt Holly (Melissa Leo), who is revealed to be the psychopathic child kidnapper all along.
faith, or lack thereof, is a driver of character motivations in prisoners. Armed with his faith in God and the mercurial rage of a distraught father, Dover chooses violence, brutally torturing Alex in the process, with catastrophic consequences. Loki’s faith, on the other hand, lies in his detective acumen, backed by a proven record of excellence. Behind Loki’s stoic demeanor is a distraught man, brimming with emotions of trauma and shame of his own. both men are paralyzed by their inability to carry out their versions of justice, being prisoners of their own faith. While Dover plays judge, jury, and executioner, mired in guilt, spiritual turmoil, and waning faith, Loki, complete with Mason’s ring, occult-tinged tattoos, and obsessive persistence, reaches the heart of the labyrinth and slays the minotaur.
the ending: does loki manage to rescue dover?
During the film’s climactic final moments, Dover is drugged, injured, and imprisoned in an underground shaft by Holly, who is hidden by a car in her driveway. As the audience enjoys the heartwarming confrontation between Loki and Holly, in which the detective manages to shoot the child killer and save Anna, Dover’s fate seems uncertain, trapped as he is, in a literal prison, only his whistle remains. her daughter’s red, a symbolic culmination of her distraught psyche.
However, despite saving the day, Loki returns to the scene of the crime, even after the forensic team leaves empty-handed: a reaffirmation of his hamartia, a mind that is delayed in unanswered questions, in attempts. loose ends. As Loki stands near the driveway, unaware of Dover’s presence in the pit, the last 30 seconds of the masterfully tense film finally implode with frenzied anxiety. At that moment, Chekov’s gun, or Anna’s red whistle, goes off, first a faint cry for help, which Loki initially ignores, then transforms into a steady but frantic rhythm. as comprehension falls on loki’s face, the camera cuts out.
by ending the film just before this moment, villeneuve proves, once again, that he is a master of perfect storytelling. Throughout Prisoners, we witness Loki’s compulsive persistence and Dover’s survival resilience, which eventually pay off in the film’s final moments. Detective Loki has heard the whistle blow, and due to the nature of it, he will undoubtedly rescue Dover from the well. the whistle morphs into a momentary ray of hope, just momentary, as dover will most likely go to jail for his crimes against alex (by the way, dover’s father was a prison guard, one of many metaphorical ironies of the movie).
Inmate Related Reading (2013): All Denis Villeneuve Movies Ranked
Instead of enacting a hackneyed resolution, Villeneuve climaxes the thriller at the perfect moment, as a result of which we, the audience, continue to linger on Dover’s fate, even after the credits roll. It’s hard not to speculate on what awaits Dover now that his family is safe, but he, a broken man, beset by sin and regret, cannot afford to stay with those he protects. so fiercely. The ending instills a sense of lingering anxiety in us, a sense of morbid curiosity, which is exactly what Villeneuve and Guzikowski intend. in this way, the narrative takes on a life of its own, living in our minds, branching off into divergent paths, creating a unique labyrinth in its own right.
prisoners is a cleverly crafted and carefully paced crime thriller, with landscapes (created by the wonderful roger deakins) that bleed with nihilistic bleakness, imparting a haunting sense of unease throughout. what makes prisoners a very competent thriller is its ending: without dialogue or further exposition, the metaphors speak for themselves, as they often do, in art and in life.
explained video of the end of the prisoners:
prisoners (2013) links – wikipedia
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