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Prisoners (Villeneuve, 2013)

I haven't seen many of Villeneuve's movies, but I really like everything so far. When thinking about Prisoners after a few days, there was a particular scene that somehow kept returning to my memory: When Gyllenhal's character is introduced, sitting alone in Chinese restaurant, not-flirting with the waitress. For some reason this scene struck me as "different".

That gave me the idea to examine all the first appearances of the characters in the movie. (SPOILERS)


KELLER DOVER (Hugh Jackman) - we don't actually see him, we start with a very static shot into the forest. The man is looking into the forest, it is his POV (which we find out quickly). But we can hear him praying, while a deer walks into the frame. When the camera pulls back, a rifle points at the animal. And just after "Amen", a shot is fired. Now, here's a little surprise: Keller, who was doing the praying has his son RALPH (Dylan Minette) shooting the rifle. It's a father-son-hunting-bonding trope. (Jagten has an interesting variation on the subject). While they're driving home, we learn about Keller's job and status, just by looking at the back of his car.

RALPH doesn't get to say much. It's hard to tell if he's looking up or is afraid of his father. He doesn't look rebellious.

ALEX JONES(Paul Dano) is completely off-screen when he appears the first time. There's a POV shot, but we don't know who it is. Actually, we relate to him through the menacing appearance of the van - although the country tune is not the run-of-the-mill "looming danger" track, the lyrics reference religion.

GRACE DOVER (Maria Bello) and her daughter ANNA (Erin Gerasimovich) are introduced with an out-of-focus shot through the windshield, suggesting death or religion. Also, quite remarkable - it's the POV from an invisible driver inside the car - it might want to show that Anna likes to get into cars. Also, the mother 'forgets the cake' and has to call on the others to 'wait for her' - she's not running the show.

NANCY BIRCH (Viola Davis) opens the door to the Dovers arriving, although the first brief shot we see her from the back, walking towards the front door. It shows a friendly middle-class home with all the gadgets that go with that.  Her husband FRANKLIN (Terrence Howard) merrily greets the children in the living room, holding a glass of white wine with the TV showing a football game. It doesn't get more middle class than this. I remember that when I watched this, I was wondering if there might be a theme about racial discrimination coming up somewhere. It doesn't - I got caught in my own film clichés. ELISA (Zoe Saul), the elder daughter is only quickly introduced (from the back), coming into the living room, just as briefly as her sister, Joy (from the back).

JOY BIRCH, the younger daughter, is clearly visible on-screen, when the two girls run walk down the street. The camera pulls back to reveal the van, like the rifle in the opening shot.

DET. LOKI (Jake Gyllenhal) sits in an empty Chinese restaurant, eating his dinner. Again, this character is introduced with dollying in from the back. When we reveal his face, he chats to the waitress about Chinese astrology. It looks like he's hitting on her, but he seems to be more interested in studying his napkin and getting the bill lowered. Even when the woman walks away he continues talking. This man is a weirdo. Still not quite sure, how this scene is to be interpreted inside the story, but it definitively stayed with me the longest. There seems to be a connection to religious motives - the prayer and the cross with the Dovers, and the Thanksgiving with the Birches, in contrast to Loki's name, his Freemason ring, and his casual interest in Chinese astrology.

ALEX is re-introduced on-screen. Again this is a shot from inside the car. The framing, the sound and the outview have been seen before: He is looking at a forest, like Keller did in the opening. He is inside a car, looking out - like we saw Anna appear. The framing is exactly like the shot seconds before of Loki talking on his radio.


HOLLY JONES (Melissa Leo) comes out the door, holding her dog in her arms, while Loki is looking at her cars. Her first reaction to his trespassing is mentioning her husband, who's dead. So she's a widow first, and definitively not the scared mother.

CAPT. MALLEY (Wayne Duvall) is glued behind his desk in front of a wall of diplomas. I don't think he ever gets out of that chair in all subsequent appearances.

Up to Alex' second introduction I really liked the introduction of the characters, the Birch's are lumped up in one scene, whereas the Dover's are laid out in mother-daughter and father-son groups. Later, it was decided that we don't need Holly carefully introduced (she is a major character) - or maybe it just ended up on the cutting floor.

Amazing location and shot


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