I thought since I’d already seen this film once before, it would be less of a nail-biting experience. However, if anything, the opposite was true, and I’m convinced Denis Villeneuve designed it that way. What was once an intriguing mystery with tense elements transformed into this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach as the camera would linger on objects and lines of dialogue crucial to the film’s conclusion. One example of this is the car parked over the hole in the ground the girls (and later Keller) are hidden away in. That simple image, especially when shown so early in the film, was crushing, as the characters searched desperately when the answer was under their noses the entire time.
Despite the almost unbearable tension, especially near the end, I consider this to be a film with a quite profound, and perhaps even beautiful message. The motive of the Jones family is to strip others of their faith in God, as they had experienced when their young son passed away from cancer. This idea of faith permeates throughout Prisoners and that’s ultimately what this film is about: faith, and how it is affected in the worst of times.
You can see Keller’s faith tested as he goes from a devout Christian (even uttering the Lord’s prayer before shooting a deer in the opening scene) to a complete husk of the modest man he once was. He convinces himself that, despite torturing a man with a child’s mind being a decidedly un-Christian thing to do, the ends justify the means, and when weeks go by and nothing comes of this cruelty, Keller begins to doubt the mercy of God. He can no longer recite the Lord’s prayer. This may be because he feels his actions have deemed him unworthy of God’s grace, or perhaps he believes if there is a God, they have no interest in helping him. If he were to give in to this seed of doubt, give up on ever seeing his child again, then Holly Jones has won.
You would expect the same from Keller’s wife, Grace, who spends almost the entire film curled up in bed, the only thing keeping her from crying all day and night being sleeping pills. She is mostly in a state of delirium, calling out her daughter’s name in response to the slightest bump in the night. Her way of coping with grief is one of the most heartbreaking in the entire film, and he shows no sign of looking to God for answers. However, when Anna is rescued at the end of the film, she thanks Detective Loki for his heroics, and, more crucially, thanks God for bringing Anna back from what she likely presumed was the grave.
This was the moment of realisation for me, the crucial single line that transformed this film from just an incredibly well-told crime drama to something much more. Despite all she went through, all the tears, all the pain, all the tissues and pills and endless nights, she still believed that God not only loved her, but would bring her daughter back. That is the difference, the reason why Holly finally met her end and her chain of needless child deaths was finally broken. Grace’s faith in God made it all end, meaning Holly’s mission had failed.
Evil was brought down by faith.
I’m not a religious guy. I don’t think I have or ever will believe in divine justice or even any divine being in the first place. When I say Grace’s belief in God saved the life of her child, I don’t mean that literally. What’s important is the fact that despite all the trauma that comes with losing your child, Grace still had faith, be it in God or something else entirely. Keller, alternatively, had faith in himself, when God seemed to turn his back and the police seemed to do nothing. That is what saves him in the end. Faith.
Not only did both Anna and Joy escape with their lives, not only was Alex reunited with his old family after 27 years, not only did the terrible crimes of Holly Jones and her late husband finally end…
Faith still remained. And that’s the most beautiful ending there could have ever been.