In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Prisoners, we answer questions you have about the movie. If you’re curious about plot explanations, meanings, themes, lessons, motifs, symbols, or just confused by something, ask and we’ll do our best to answer.
- Keller Dover – Hugh Jackman
- Grace Dover – Maria Bello
- Franklin Birch – Terrence Howard
- Nancy Birch – Viola Davis
- Detective Loki – Jake Gyllenhaal
- Alex Jones – Paul Dano
- Holly Jones – Melissa Leo
- Bob Taylor – David Dastmalchian
- Anna Dover – Erin Gerasimovich
- Joy Birch – Kyla-Drew Simmons
- Written by – Aaron Guzikowski
- Directed by – Denis Villeneuve
Prisoners | Questions and Answers
Did Alex actually take the girls?
Yes. It’s one of those things where “Hurt people hurt people.” Alex was kidnapped and has lived with his kidnappers for so long that he’s kind of broken. It’s not clear if Holly asked him specifically to go take someone or if he just saw an opportunity and jumped on it. But Alex definitely brought them into the van and to Holly. Then Holly did the rest.
Why did Holly and Mr. Jones kidnap kids?
As Holly explains, she and her husband lost a child. They blamed God. And to make others lose faith in God they decided to kidnap kids. Another instance of hurt people hurting people.
Who was Bob Taylor?
Bob was another kidnapped kid, like Alex. Except it seems Bob aged out of the Jones household. He’s been living on his own but clearly hasn’t adjusted well. The trauma continues to dominate his life. So even though he’s free, he’s still a prisoner.
Why does Joy say that Keller was there too?
After Joy escapes and is taken to the hospital, she tells everyone that Keller was there. There’s an initial moment of shock. What could that possibly mean? I’m sure there are some viewers who may think this is the start of a twist.
Joy and Anna were just in a side room in Holly’s home. So they could hear Keller but because of how drugged up they were they couldn’t call for help. No one else at the hospital would understand the context of this, but Keller does. Which is why he takes off from the hospital and goes right to Holly.
Why does the movie open with Keller and his son hunting?
Narrative construction is a craft like anything else. And like all crafts, there are varying levels of techniques. We can quickly sum it up as basic and advanced. One of the more advanced techniques you’ll find in “higher quality” movies like Prisoners is using the opening shot or scene to distill the main themes or encapsulate the story.
A really basic example of this is The Lion King. The very opening is the sun rising on the horizon. The start of a new day. It’s basic enough. But it takes on deeper meaning when you realize Lion King is about the circle of life, endings and beginnings. Life and death. But mostly is a celebration of the life we have. Hence why it focuses on the sunrise more so than the sun set.
A more advanced example would be American Psycho. American Psycho is about perception and misperception. In the opening credits, we think we see blood. But in reality it’s a raspberry sauce for a meal at a fancy restaurant.
As Prisoners deals with themes of religion, violence, and nature, opening with a forest, Keller praying, and then pulling back to reveal father and son hunting, all kind of encapsulates what the film is about.
Why is Dover Keller a doomsday prepper?
At one point, Loki looks at an old newspaper article about the death of Dover’s dad. The father was a correction officer who took his own life. Dover, a teenager at the time, and his mother found the body in their apartment. The very apartment building Keller now owns and imprisons Alex Jones. It’s likely that Keller preparing for the apocalypse is a byproduct of his father’s unexpected death. It was something that surprised him that he couldn’t prevent or prepare for or fix. So he never wants to be in that position again. Meaning he now over-prepares for other disasters. It’s an example of the many existential and emotional prisons we see throughout Prisoners.
What did the priest do to Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones and Holly Jones were religious. Then their child died. So they became angry at God and started kidnapping other kids. It seems that after decades of this, Jones had an attack of consciousness and wanted to confess. He and Holly fought about this (speculation on my part but she mentions a fight before he disappeared). He went to the priest, confessed, and the priest freaked out and decided to take justice into his own hands. Why not call the cops? Good question. I think Alex and Bob would have been living there. So you’d think the cops could have caught Jones and Holly red-handed? Maybe it’s a vow thing and the priest felt like he couldn’t tell the cops? But if you’re going to leave the guy to rot in your basement…maybe you should just tell the police? Or maybe he just thought Mr. Jones deserved something worse than jail and accepted the responsibility of making sure it happened.
What did Holly inject Anna with?
It’s not specifically shown what’s in the vial, but we do know it’s some kind of drug. I’d imagine some kind of opioid.
Why didn’t Alex just tell Keller what was going on?
Alex is heavily traumatized by everything he experienced. It would seem less a refusal to tell Keller and more an inability to do so. Alex, like Bob Taylor, is still lost in the maze. A prisoner of his experience. That even when it’s in his best interest to explain himself, he can’t.
Though, I think it could be argued that he is just being cruel. The same way Holly talks about wanting to punish others, Alex could feel the same. “I went through this, so now you will too.” It would line up with how he taunts Keller at the police station. And the way Alex held the dog up by the leash. The pain Keller inflicts is nothing to the pain Alex has already gone through. And Alex might enjoy the power he has in causing Keller such grief.
Is it a coincidence Keller is a carpenter and a Christian?
Absolutely not. Keller is pretty symbolic for Christianity while Loki is symbolic for all other faiths. The fact these two work together while being in conflict isn’t a coincidence. And the fact that Keller’s fate is up to Loki is also not a coincidence. It feels like Prisoners kind of makes a case for faith transcending any one belief system.
Who was Alex waiting for?
I imagine it’s either Mr. Jones or Bob Taylor. Like maybe Bob drove them in the van to that spot, said he’d be back, then left. And Alex goes back to that spot to see if Bob will ever come back. I don’t think Alex would be as attached to Mr. Jones? But Bob would have been his only real kind of friend.
Did Keller actually save his daughter by kidnapping Alex?
Yes! Holly Jones says she would have actually gotten rid of the girls but she was so lonely with Alex missing that she kept them alive. You could read this as purely coincidental. But it’s similar to the way in which Anna goes to get her whistle and that very whistle is what will save Keller from the pit. It makes you wonder if the movie may want us to look at maybe a larger divine impact on events. Especially with how Keller will pray for God’s help only for the movie to immediately cut to Loki doing something that helps.
What question do you have?
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What was the deal with all the puzzles and snakes?
Hey Jessica! So Bob’s character seems to be the embodiment of the idea of lingering trauma. It’s like, he’s free from Holly and her husband, but not really. The outside of his house looks normal. He looks normal. But the inside of his house is completely messed up. And he’s also pretty messed up.
If I remember correctly, Holly and her husband liked maze imagery? And often had the kids do maze puzzle books. So that’s where all the puzzle/maze imagery comes from. They’re kind of burned into his brain and he draws them out of habit. It represents the prison he’s still in.
With the snakes, I don’t have a great answer. It’s probably something biblical? Especially since Holly said her and her husband started kidnapping because they were angry at god. Since the snake is thought to represent the devil and the loss of eden…maybe there’s something there? But nothing with the snake will fundamentally change or open up the movie.
Michele van Kooijk
What “accident” happened Alex Jones when he was a kid that triggered his low IQ? Holly mentions an accident with snakes, it not being such a big deal but him being terrified of snakes
He seems to be a perfectly normal child in the one video his mom has of him before being kidnapped
Also. I think Alex parks his R.V there because that used to be his home
When they kidnapped Alex, they put him, and the other children, in that hole in the ground that Keller ends up in. Snakes are in the hole, too. I’m not sure if Holly/her husband added the snakes or if they’re just naturally occurring?
Holly and her husband also drugged the kids a lot. I think after a few weeks or months or maybe even years that it had a pretty negative affect on Alex. He’s also just hugely traumatized from the whole experience. So it might not be that he has low IQ now. Just that he’s still in a state of shock and fear.
The house the RV was in front of was definitely Alex’s old house. Loki looks up the house, finds the old newspaper article about the kidnapping, visits Alex’s mom. Just doesn’t put 2 and 2 together until the end.