Prisoners is one of the best crime /mystery films I’ve ever watched; it is a near-perfect story from beginning to end. It has layered themes throughout it, and in many ways allows the viewer to project or intelligently speculate elements of the story for themselves. The symbolism is done right in Prisoners. Honestly, I wish films had more symbolism like that of Prisoners. Neither needlessly complicated nor overly simplistic, the mood of the film is immensely captivating and haunting throughout. Denis Villeneuve has made several good films and this is probably his best so far. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhall are convincing in their respective roles. Fundamentally the story is about a father trying to find his missing daughter, but like most good stories several themes are running throughout its narrative.
Jackman plays Keller, a devout Christian father, who is very orderly and prepared. His wife, Grace even mentions the fact that her husband is always prepared. Essentially Keller is a prepper, he’s also a carpenter. These facts serve a very specific purpose as the story unfolds. Keller has always been able to solve any problem that arises and his family feels very safe with him as of the household. As things unravel, Keller becomes more disordered and while order is connected with God and goodness, chaos is associated with evil and the devil/sin. Maze symbolism is linked with confusion and chaos and this becomes clearer as the story develops.
One of the refreshing aspects of this movie is that it really doesn’t subvert any of the traditional archetypes. That is one of the reasons it’s a great story. You can tell that Keller is a good husband and father, and that he’s been living a Christian life. Again, this is a refreshing characteristic of the film, overall it doesn’t diminish or criticize Christianity in any significant way. That alone is a rarity in most mainstream films today. For the most part faith plays no role in films, or it is ridiculed and mocked. Not so with Prisoners.
Gyllenhall plays detective Loki. It’s an odd choice in names, but it has meaning as well. Many things in this movie have symbolic meaning, and symbolic in the truest sense of the word. Symbols are not superficial but rather gateways to richer fuller forms of communication than mere words can provide. Loki has masonic tattoos and some Christian ones as well. He doesn’t play completely inside the rules (like the trickster god Loki of Norse mythology), and he’s had an obviously troubled childhood.
Loki and Keller have several intense scenes with one another. They all come off as believable and sincere. Loki sympathizes with Keller’s frustration with the investigation and seems to understand Keller’s multiple outbursts throughout the film. Loki wants to find the missing girls but he also wants Keller to let him do his job. The movie has a realistic back and fourths between both of them. Loki is really trying everything he can to find the children, but Keller understandably doesn’t really see it that way. If your daughter was missing what would you do? This is one of the many characteristics that make the movie very interesting because it plays on primordial emotions and instincts.
Keller does what many think they’d do or believe they are capable of given the circumstances. Are you really that sure of what you’d do? His friend is also missing his own daughter but isn’t as willing to go down the dark pathways Keller insists are necessary. The things he does are extreme, but he is under the most immense stressors anyone could imagine. His daughter is missing and she’s running out of time! You can be a very competent man like Keller and still not protect your child from abduction. This is a haunting truth and really gets you to think about the chaos of the world around you. In many ways Keller’s gut is correct, but not completely. Really that is usually how it is, is it not? He’s mostly right. You can tell his faith is quivering or swinging in the wind like his cross is dangling on the rearview mirror of his truck.
Keller ends up confronting the woman that is the cause of his daughter’s disappearance and is caught off guard by what follows. Interestingly, the evil in this movie is perpetuated by a woman. You don’t see that very often in pop culture today. We can easily forget or be deceived into believing females are incapable of malicious intent. The woman antagonist in the film is the personification of wretched bitterness. It’s her own resentment and cynicism that turns her into the devil that she becomes.
Keller in the end goes back to his faith, and that is something we should all do well to remember. It doesn’t mean you give up hope, or that you don’t do what you can to resolve conflict in your life. You do what you can with what you have, but don’t forget to allow others to truly help you. We can’t survive in this world alone, no one can. The film ends on a hopeful note, but it also allows you to continue the story on in your own way. It will stay with you, primarily because it addresses fundamental truths and doesn’t spoon-feed you what these things mean. It’s also one of the few mystery/suspense genre films that you can and should watch more than once. There are several things that aren’t totally obvious from one viewing. This is easily one of the best movies in the past ten years.