Samia Kemal ’14
Set during Thanksgiving Day in a grey and wintery suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Dennis Villenueve’s “Prisoners” presents a tale that prods yet again at the question of what is “right” and “wrong” by delving into the heart of a “Parent’s” worst nightmare.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jakman) is a stouthearted, religious, and over protective father whose self-reliance and preparedness crosses over to compulsion. His basement is a hodge-podge of natural disaster combatants ranging from wood, to chainsaws, to dirt, to multiple types of tools. Dover brings his family of four to neighbor Franklin’s (Terrence Howard) house for Thanksgiving for a low-key, unassuming family get-together. While the adults are joyfully regaling in the holiday spirit, the young daughters of Dover and Franklin beg to play outside, and the families agree under misunderstood circumstances that the girls would be looked after by their older siblings. When both families come to the realization that both girls are nowhere to be found, the last remaining insight into their disappearance lies in the presence of a sinister-looking RV parked on the street that has since disappeared with the girls.
The RV is later discovered by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who, due to his success for solving sixteen missing children cases, has been assigned to investigate the case of Keller and Franklin’s missing daughters. When Loki enters the vehicle, he finds Alex (Paul Dano) a young man with the IQ of a 10 year old who appears to be the only link to the disappearance of Joy and Anna. After keeping Alex in custody, Loki determines that he could not be responsible for the disappearance of the girls, and releases him. This decision enrages Keller, who firmly believes that the key to finding his daughter lies in answers that Alex is simply refusing to reveal. Keller later kidnaps Alex, and attempts to torture answers out of him.
It is this pivotal moment that creates a shift in the film: who is now the kidnapper? The torturer? The prisoner? In some ways, Villeneueve creates characters that each satisfy these roles. The title of “Prisoners” aptly represents each character of the film for they are each a “prisoner” in their own unique way. Whether they be prisoners to their desires, compulsions, addictions, obsessions, or legitimate locked-up prisoners, Villeneueve means for his title to permeate its way throughout the film, rather than to one instance.
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are also especially riveting in the film. Hugh Jackman delivered an Oscar-worthy performance for I felt as though I was actually watching a man whose daughter had just been kidnapped. Jackman didn’t waver in his performance, and its evident that he gave all he could humanly give in his delivery. Gyllenhaal’s character is equally powerful as he depicts a character that is as enigmatic as the tattoos on his body and wholly committed to the case.
“Prisoners” is the type of film that is so rife with symbolism, theories, and question marks, that one could dedicate an entire Senior Thesis to discussing its intricacies. After watching the film, a friend and I unknowingly wiled away two hours discussing questions, references, and potential character backgrounds. Though there is a level of complexity in “Prisoners,” it does not detract from its straightforward storytelling. In some ways, it is the perfect balance of concealing and revealing, giving the audience a multitude of things to think about long after the credits stop rolling, and also quenching their thirst for an explanation.