Emotionally disturbing and endlessly tense, Prisoners takes you in like an innocent victim and doesn’t let you go until the last whistle. Penned by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners is a distraught insight into the heartbreak of child abduction. Although some of the leaps in storytelling are a bit fantastical, the story’s roots in religion and the power of the Word keep us grounded.
The film opens up with an eerie voicing of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) saying The Lord’s Prayer. Mid-prayer, his son shoots a deer. Preservation of the strong, or at least that’s what Dover claims. From the get go, we see the role religion is going to play. From The Lord’s Prayer, to the minister who had a dead body in his basement, to the cross around Dover’s neck, to the tattoos on detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), religion is everywhere, which sets the tone for much of the film. With God at his side, Dover feels he is strong enough to protect his family from anything, and the abduction of his child is only something to test his faith. An epiphany near the end occurs while Dover is reciting The Lord’s Prayer again. Good vs Evil. God vs the Devil. Angels vs Demons. All these notions are prevalent throughout the story and help us get through this ordeal with the families.
Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) also has his child abducted. And it is with Dover and Birch that we are witnessed to the disturbing, heinous, and brutal beatings given to Alex Jones (Paul Dano), all in the name of preservation of the strong. For Dover, it is about him saving his child, at all costs. The brutality of Jones’ beating is tough to watch at parts and at times it is unexplainable, but the raw emotion displayed by Jackman during the scenes are incredible.
The most telling part of the story is the investigating detective on the case “detective Loki.” Loki is first seen in the film eating at a chinese restaurant, alone, on Thanksgiving. Essentially, he is devoid of all religion at that moment, but there is something to be said about a man with one name, who is alone and only wants to help others. He is the savior, come to guide us through the trouble at hand. Gyllenhaal’s performance is fantastic, as his steadfastness keeps us going, even though the families are crumbling at the center. And strangely, and perhaps more telling, is that we are never given a first name for him and his last name, Loki, is the name of a mythological Nordic God, one who was, at the onset, presumed to be both a god and a devil, similar to the balance in life. This juxtaposition is fascinating when correlated to Prisoners, as he provides a perfect balance in the film between good and evil.
In the end, though, it turns out, Prisoners is not about being taken, but about being saved.