Tuesday, December 12 , 2017, 8:58 am | Haze Smoke 40º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Prisoners’

It's difficult to express the depth of evil and moral struggle this film presents

3 Stars — Troubling

The loss of a child is difficult under any circumstances, but when it is by abduction it can unravel a parent's soul. Willing to do anything to find their child safe, it is easy for a parent to lose their moral footing and stumble into a confusing journey where violence is justified as love. The complex moral tale of Prisoners is the brainchild of writer Aaron Guzikowski and impressively brought to the screen by director Denis Villeneuve.

Using the bleak fall landscape that weeps and freezes along with us, the two young girls who are abducted are friends. Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) is the daughter of Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), while Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) is the daughter of Grace (Maria Bello) and Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman).

On a Thanksgiving afternoon while their families are enjoying one another at the Birch home, the girls want to go back to the Dover home to get a special whistle of Anna's. Disregarding their parents' guidance to have their older siblings, Ralph Dover (Dylan Minnette) and Elza Birch (Zoe Borde) accompany them, it eventually becomes clear that they are missing. Panic sets in as the worst nightmare of a parent becomes a reality.

When police are called, they respond immediately to what are thought to be obvious clues, primarily that of an out-of-place motor home. The lead detective assigned to their case is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). An intense man whose nerves are expressed through his twitching eyes, Loki provides little emotional support as he assures the two families that he will find their daughters. When this promise is not quickly realized, the parents begin to take matters into their own hands.

A mystery with many unexpected twists, the theme of the tale is best expressed by a confessor who seeks a priest to deal with the evil compulsion that has captured his soul. Explaining that he is "waging war with God," he is replicating his own sorrow over his own lost child by taking the children of others in order to destroy their faith and trust in God. This demonic plan is extraordinarily effective, while at the same time showing the conflicted reticence of moral people caught up in an evil horror.

There is no debate that the loss of a child can have a profound impact on the soul of a person. That it strengthens some and debilitates others is also clear. One interesting part of the film is its complex presentation of the Christian father who recites the Lord's Prayer while teaching his son to kill a deer. This juxtaposition is also seen as he prepares for any conceivable danger by stockpiling food and ammunition declaring that he can defend his family against anything that might attack them.

But what is lacking is the presence of any Christian community or pastor's care. Though there is a priest (Len Cariou), he is presented as an alcoholic willing to do evil to stop evil. In real Christian life when tragedy occurs, the family is surrounded by their church community that would help parents face unadulterated evil while keeping connected to God and their true moral selves.

Prisoners is a powerful film with excellent framing, acting, writing and directing. It is also a worthy exploration of the inner beliefs and strengths of people who face the greatest fears of life.


» Every parent imagines what it would be like to have something happen to his or her child. With whom did you identify in this film? How would you have handled such a moment?

» When Grace Dover uses medication to sleep through the horror, she also was not present to help keep her husband grounded. How different do you think the story would have been had she been in conversation with Keller?

» Keller's belief was fostered by his own father that he could be prepared for anything. This false belief helped drive his violent reaction when facing something he could not solve. How do you deal with the reality that all of us will face danger that we cannot prepare for or protect our loved from?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >