Saturday, 16 August 2014

Prisoners: Frequently Asked Questions.


Q: What the fuck did I just watch?

A: Denis Villeneuve's tense, psychological thriller Prisoners.

Q: Wait, this film seems like an odd choice for you...

A: What do you mean?

Q: Well, don't you usually talk about weird, confusing movies? There's not a lot confusing about Prisoners...

A: You're right. On the surface, Prisoners is a fairly typical (albeit beautifully constructed) thriller that touches on all of the usual themes of the genre: revenge, insanity, obsession...But underneath that, the film has an allegorical subtext that takes it to a whole other level.

In short: Prisoners is the best film about the Iraq war ever made.

Q: Okay, that sounds like a bit of a stretch...

A: Hear me out. Prisoners is centred around an unquestionably evil act - the abduction of two young girls. On an emotional level, the fact that it's kids being abducted serves to punch the audience right where it hurts. On an allegorical level, it serves as a metaphor for 9/11.

9/11 was an act perpetrated against innocents - civilians, rather than soldiers. Those who died on 9/11 were not people engaged in a war against Al Qaeda. They were unengaged in acts of violence or war: just like the two children who disappear at the beginning of Prisoners, they were casualties in a much larger conflict.

Q: Go on...

A: In the film, Hugh Jackman's Keller Dover is meant to act as a physical representation of the Bush administration. Like Bush, Dover is driven by religion - the film begins with Dover reciting the Lord's prayer, and there are several key moments in the movie where he reaches out to God for support.

On top of that, Dover is depicted as an unashamedly patriotic American. One of the early character notes we get for the guy is that he sings the Star-Spangled Banner in the shower. And, just like Bush and his administration, Dover's initial response to the tragedy is immediate offensive action.

Q: So, if Dover is meant to be Bush, then who is meant to be Al Qaeda?

A: The true threat of terrorism is the fact that it is carried out by people not wearing uniforms. Terrorism doesn't have a face - it is an offensive ideal, rather than a country. Terrorists are able to commit the atrocities they do because they are invisible until the moment they strike.

Similarly, in Prisoners, the person behind the abductions is revealed to be the one apparently least likely to commit it: a quiet, bespectacled woman. Holly, the movie's villain, isn't set up as a darkly manipulative psychopath - for most of the film's running time she's a quiet, unassuming homebody. She represents the true horror of terrorism: she's the person you'd be least likely to expect. Add to that the fact that she's waging a war against a Christian God, and you've got terrorism's representation in the film.

Q: So Dover's torturing of Alex is meant to represent The War on Terror?

A: Exactly. Dover opts to use torture as a way of extracting information, much like the Bush administration. Did that shot of Alex with the bag over his head after he has been brutally beaten look familiar? Maybe because it reminded you a little of this:

The above photo was taken at Abu Gharib prison, and depicts a U.S. soldier apparently punching masked Ghraib detainees.

If you accept the "Prisoners as Iraq War" analogy, then it becomes clear that the film is a condemnation of torture. Not only is Alex an innocent in the movie, his torture is depicted as brutal and unjust: the most violent shot of the film is the one where we see Alex's swollen and bloodied face.

Q: So Prisoners is an Anti-Bush film?

A: Not entirely. Dover isn't the villain of Prisoners: he is just a misguided man desperate for answers. However, it is pretty obvious that the film isn't pro-Bush either - Dover's quest for the truth leads him to start drinking again, which has serious consequences within his family, and leads his son to question his true motives. I guess you could stretch the analogy here too, and argue that the way Dover's son confronts his dad is meant to represent the American populations' questioning of the effect the War on Terror had on domestic America itself.

Q: If Dover is the Bush administration, then who is Jake Gylenhaal's Detective Loki?

A: Loki represents centralist Americans after 9/11. Loki does not deny that the atrocity of the girls' being abducted is a terrible act - much like the way very few in America questioned the horror of 9/11 - but unlike Dover, Loki does not resort to violence or torture. Essentially, he represents the views and feelings of those Americans who campaigned against the War in Iraq: he is shocked by the act, and it begins to effect him personally, but he remains ambivalent to the "eye for an eye" thinking of Dover.

Q: So that's your argument - Prisoners is a film about the Iraq War?

A: Yep.

Q: Hey, do you ever just watch a film and actually enjoy it, rather than concocting these weird explanations in your head?

A: Not really. By the way, make sure to check out the next Frequently Asked Questions on The Underlook, when I'll be explaining how Transformers: Age of Extinction is actually about Eric Snowden and the NSA.

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