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Prisoners explained

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Reader Interactions


  1. hi Chris, enjoyed reading the above – just one question: the FBI agent’s book about Finding the Invisible Man…… was that about another abductor who was obsessed with mazes and not the crimes committed by Holly and her husband? and if so, I guess its just coincidence that Holly’s husband had a maze around his neck and that they left mazes in the locked room?
    confused just by this bit

    • Hey Mary! Thanks for reading it all! And yeah, the book was about what Holly and her husband were doing. So no coincidence!

      • This is such a fantastic analysis. Rewatched the movie while reading this and you really nailed it. This movie is deeply moving and having this info you provided helps me get why I felt this intense sense of spirituality behind the movie but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

        • Really happy to hear that! Yeah, I had the same sense of spirituality. Especially on re-watches. It made writing the piece very cathartic. Glad that came through for you!

    • I’m also a bit confused about it. How could the FBI agent wrote a book about the murderer and even have a maze picture in it if: a. no children was ever found (alive or not); b. the murderer was never found. How did the FBI agent know about the mazes??

      • That’s a really good question. The only thing I can think of is 1.) The book was originally a work of fiction (I think there is something said about the book not making sense or being nonsense. Not sure though) and it came out before Holly and her husband started the abductions. 2.) Holly and her husband based their abductions off of the book. This would be how they have the image of the maze. Additionally, this would explain the necklace. It was probably a promotional piece to go with the book because it doesn’t look homemade.

    • Great analysis!! I also think that Loki foreshadowing his abuse and “imprisonment” and the boys school that the father ran is another situation that contributes to the prisoners idea. I wish they delved more into that aspect of him, but also thought that the brief mention left viewers trying to figure out it’s meaning.

  2. Hello! Just one question: how come the parents recognised their daughters’ clothes at the police station but didn’t realise that they were not the ones the girls wore when they disappeared? Especially Joy’s mother. Thank you!

    • That’s a great question! The best answer I can think of is it’s been long enough and they’re desperate enough for any lead that they don’t question it. But it does seem like it’s probably one of those oversights they hope we don’t focus on too much haha.

    • They recognised them because Bob Taylor breaks into each of the girls’ houses and steals them. Hence why, upon going back to the Keller’s home, Loki finds one of the socks in the bushes. What didn’t make sense to me was that the parents didn’t seem to remember what the girls were wearing at the time of the abduction.

      • Thanks! The Bob Taylor detail was one I didn’t include in why response. The simplest answer is just “They’re in shock and that makes memory difficult.” Because it’s actually something the girls had, how else would it get there? That becomes enough for them to not question it. They don’t expect someone to break into their house and take clothing.

        I can’t remember how much time passes in the movie. It’s less than a week? 2 weeks? A month?

        • Less than a week I believe. But I can see that the parents were in so much shock that they wouldn’t remember what the girls were wearing when they were taken. Plus, excellent point that they wouldn’t just jump to – “Oh! OF COURSE! Someone who seems like the kidnapper but isn’t the killer broke into both our homes and took our kids clothes.” Especially after Loki pretty much blew off Grace’s report about someone coming into their house.

  3. How do you know the Birch’s house is Alex’s old house? Have seen the movie three times and never put that together. Also, are we sure Holly is not in the van as well?

    Absorbing film, but the one thing that bothers me is that the whole film rides on Alex not talking, and I don’t buy it.

    • I don’t think I said that the Birch’s house is Alex’s old house. Just that Alex went to see his old house, which is near the Birch’s house. Holly could have been in the van. But I’m pretty sure she wasn’t leaving the house much anymore and wouldn’t like Alex going to see his old house. Seems like something he would do in private.

      I get thinking Alex not talking is weird/problematic. I think the film supports it by not having Bob Taylor or the girls talk either. It makes the case about the impact of trauma and that Alex just can’t put words to what he’s experienced. Which can work for some, but not for everyone.

      • I would like to add to this point regarding the absence of speech in Alex and in the children recovered from their kidnappings. The captor is seen in one of the last scenes attempting to inject the child with a drug – most likely heroin or morphine as Grace is seen frothing at the mouth as she is driven to the hospital by Loki. I imagine this is part of the routine for her prisoners that keeps them in a lethargic state in their imprisonment.

        Another similar piece of the puzzle which is teased to us In addition to this part of her routine was the large bottles of mysterious drink; addressed when keller is held at gunpoint and made to drink a third of the bottle. He is told “a third of that should do for a man of your size” and that it is her husband’s old secret recipe. When I watched I assumed that its contents were responsible for the heavy cognitive impairment that resulted in the state of the children upon their recovery at the hospital in addition to the mental trauma they suffered, and in the older victims contributed to a lifetime effect of mental vacancy and unresponsiveness seen in Alex. It could also explain that Alex could not respond until days into his captivity, finally giving him a break in this regular prescription as he regained a scrap of his ability to think.

        • I believe the drug Holly was injecting into Anna was ketamine. Loki’s fellow officer brought it up that the Invisible Man used an LSD/ketamine cocktail on the victims, as described by that book. It would also explain why the surviving victims displayed lack of speech; they were so warped by their drug-induced experiences they were no longer capable of communicating–prisoners in their own minds.

          Actually, now that I think about it, it is possible that Holly was in fact trying to kill Anna by administering a lethal dose of opiates in that scene, since she would have realized by that point that she was at high risk of being caught by other parties. That would explain why Loki was driving so recklessly to the hospital…

      • Perhaps another theme of the movie is communication. In the characters of Taylor & Alex, I agree with your accurate explanations that they are unable to speak & ‘frozen by cognitive dissonance’ & being unable to speak of something ‘as cosmicaly horrific as being abducted & what follows.” To put it another way, not only are they unable to speak, but they speak in a completely different language. If you consider the lessons a child would learn, being taken, taught to never speak up, an abandonment of all hope & good in the world. Communication with everyday people would be like communicating with an alien. The profound trauma capable of changing the intrinsic nature of a person, their beliefs, their language. This, to me is where the whistle provides significant symbolism. It is the key that ties the entire movie together. It was the loss of the whistle that initiated the trauma & subsequently a type of release or redemption for previous victims (Alex, Taylor) And if course, the end of the movie, is Keller’s only chance of survival, hope. The whistle is universal, no words are needed, no language barrier, only the unmistakable call for help. It comes from that which is inside of all is. The breath. The soul. A symbol that we can hear each other if we listen from inside.

        • Eloquently posited Jeff, this certainly fits into the message and subsequent explanation for me

  4. Ok, thanks for the response. I’ll press one step further…how do we know Alex’s old house is somewhere near the Birch’s house?

    • I actually know the answer to this! So, Loki had been investigating the house that the RV was parked in front of and he found out it was once the home of a couple whose son, Barry Coyler, went missing. Near the end of the movie, Holly Jones is explaining that Alex was the first boy they took after their son died, and that his name hadn’t been Alex that it had been “Jimmy. Or Barry. Can’t remember.” They don’t explain it outright, but it’s inferred that Alex’s real name had been “Barry Coyler” and that he had grown up in the house that the RV was parked in front of. Hope that made sense haha!

      • Thank you, Jasmine!

        • My questions is- the only reason Loki is at the fathers house is because he’s investigating level 3 sex offenders. Is the father a sex offender himself? What makes Loki go there specifically?

          • Hey hey! Yeah, it seems that’s the case. He says he’s checking 9 of them. I think we see 4-5 then the father.

    • When Loki went around talking to the birches neighbours one was Alex’s mom and she described how her son was also abducted one day when the van was parked outside her house. This house is the same as the one alex was parked at the day of the girls abduction

      • No that’s not what happened. Did anyone watch the movie? The address where Alex parked the RV was his old house. There was a for sale sign on it so Loki looked it up in case the owners knew anything and found a newspaper clipping that a little boy that used to live there had been kidnapped. So he went to speak with Alex’s mom (Barry’s mom).

  5. I loved a lot of the explanations here, hit the nail on the head. I also like to think of the final cliffhanger not as whether or not Loki will find Keller… but as whether or not Loki will decide to rescue him, only considering leaving him there as a justice for torturing Alex

  6. Excellent insight, Jasmine! I always wondered why Alex was just sitting there in his RV. The current owners would would have been creeped out. Or, if it was still his parents, quite surprised!

  7. Loved your summary and analysis! So many twists and turns. My question is who is the person that Joy sees in her flashback? She seems to think it is Kellar but that’s obviously wrong. It seems to be a male figure and not Holly, either. Since Bob Taylor was just a side plot to throw the viewer off, I’m inclined to think it was Alex?? Which seems wrong. Let me know if you have thoughts.

    • Hey Bianca! Thank you! I’m pretty sure it was Keller. Remember, he was over at the house one time and talks with Holly. That’s what Joy’s remembering. Which is why Keller knows to go back there, because it’s the only place he’s been that Joy could have possibly been.

  8. This is a genius piece of movie analysis! I almost enjoyed this analysis more than the movie.


    • Thank you! That’s nice to hear!

  9. I watched prisoners after it’s release and i was young so it felt just like another movie. I watched it a few years later and now 2021, the movie was on my Netflix suggestions pool, I was half in for watching it and I didn’t.. woke up today and first thing was to figure out the story. This piece is wonderful contextualises and puts in words what the movie does not so Thank you bc I enjoyed the read v much. Also loved seeing ppl comment on this masterpiece of a movie from so long ago. Ty Chris.

    • Happy to hear that Ayman! It’s always really nice to have that experience where you grow into appreciating a movie. I’ve had that happen and few times and it sticks with you.

  10. Why couldn’t Loki identify the dead body as that of Holly’s husband? That would have cinched the mystery early on.

    • The body had been decomposing for a number of years. And they may not have had anything to go on. There’s no prints. I don’t know if dental records are in the system. I imagine it would have taken some time to make the connection to Holly’s husband, if it was ever possible to do so.

      • Chris, this is an excellent analysis that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I just finished my second viewing, I saw it a long time ago. I stumbled upon this essay and now can’t wait to watch again. The discussion in the comments is also quite engaging.
        Regarding the above comments, I recall the detectives discussing the results of forensics on the body in the priests hole. They said specifically that the DNA and dental records came back with no match. Which makes sense to me regarding Jones’ character. He was a fundamentalist, right? And a criminal to boot. I can see him being pretty off-grid.
        Anyway thanks for the insight.

      • Adding to that, Holly probably never reported him missing (wouldn’t have wanted police poking around her place), so his name wouldn’t have come up when the detectives were checking past missing persons cases for a man who disappeared 5 years previously.

      • I na time, Loki was reading a news regarding keller’s father who killed himself long before. what’s the link with that incident?

  11. Wow, that was so helpful. I loved the movie and really appreciate you breaking it down like that. Prisoners is even more interesting after your explanation. I’ll watch again with a fresh mind. Thanks.

    • I’m glad it was helpful! Let me know how the re-watch goes!

  12. Hi Chris,

    Great Read – thanks for the detailed and thorough breakdown. Really insightful

    One question that bugs me – if Alex took the 2 girls in the RV, how comes the forensic team didn’t find any trace of them?

    • Hey Craig! I don’t think there’s a definitive answer. The van is clean, but the forensic guy does say that if there was a struggle they would have found some fibers. So you could try and argue that it just means the girls didn’t struggle. Maybe out of fear? Also, the first time we see the girls outside they’re wearing gloves. So you imagine they’d be wearing gloves when they went out again. Which could explain why there are no fingerprints in the van. They were scared enough to shut down and didn’t move much/touch much until Alex dropped them off.

      • Holly also told Keller that Alex was just taking the girls for a drive in the RV, so maybe they weren’t frightened until they got to Holly’s house and she decided to keep them.

  13. Hi Chris!

    My question is when Loki found Keller tortureing Alex, why wasnt he taken to the police station? How did he get to Holly’s house? Wouldn’t keller have been caught red-handed?


    • Loki didn’t find Keller torturing Alex. When Keller left the hospital, he went to Holly’s house. Loki hadn’t been able to keep up with Keller but thought he knew Keller was going to the old apartment building. So when Loki discovers Alex, Holly is making Keller her prisoner.

  14. Hi Chris –
    Brilliant article, enjoyed every word of it. I’ve got something to add:

    The use of the maze not not only serves as a representation of the cognitive dissonance of those abused or references the form of the information as it is laid out; it is also a cyclical device to show the nature of violence (as Kassovitz said, “la Haine attire la Haine”, or “hate breeds hate”). I think your quote from Villeneuve about the trees as ‘silent witnesses’ supports this.

    Moreover, The two victims of the kidnappings, Alex and Bob, are both questioned about the location of the girls. Alex says “In the maze”, and Bob simply draws it. We see from your examples (Alex telling Keller his girls cried after being interrogated, and his torture of the dog) that the abuse he has suffered has caused him to become capable of abuse himself.

    We also see that Alex and Bob face a diminution in their ability to express themselves, in speech or otherwise (of which, I am convinced the actors must’ve studied the behaviour of those experiencing anxiety or other trauma, as the accuracy is unnerving).

    These factors lead me to believe that the two girls, especially Anna, are potential abusers-to-be, because of their limited speech, the abuse they suffered, and the nature of inevitable violence in the cyclical maze, where abuse encourages more abuse.

  15. Why does Alex say “I waited but he never came”? Who was he waiting for?

    • He was parked outside of his old house in the camper when the girls came by and got in the camper with him.

      He says later says “I just wanted to play…and he never came.”

      His aunt also says that he “just wanted to play” and that’s why he took the girls.

      So was he waiting outside of his old house for someone else to play with who never came?

    • So Alex was originally Barry. And I’m pretty sure Holly Jones’s original kid was named Alex? I’d need to double check that but the movie is off streaming. But if the kid WAS named Alex, I think Barry/Alex is saying that when he was a kid, the Joneses lured him to their house by asking if Barry wanted to play with their son. Then brought him home and he kept waiting for “Alex” to come play. Except there was no Alex. And now he kind of re-creates this moment.

      • Hi, Chirs.
        Your movie analysis is very very great. I want to watch the film again. I checked internet, your analysis is really cool and comprehensive.

        I think “he” points to the husband of Holly. Because 26 years again, “he” lured Alex to play and kidnapped him. But 5 years ago, “he” was missing. So Alex wanted to meet “he” again and played the game.

        Other questions.
        What is the game detail? Why is there snakes? Snakes are the tempter on the Bible? What is the connection between the snakes and girl’s clothes as well as the gaze in the boxes of the home of Taylor. Is it the content of the game?


        • Hi Lory! “He” could be Holly’s husband, that’s true. When I re-watch the movie again I’ll keep that in mind and see how I feel about it. Right now, still leaning to it being Holly’s deceased kid.

          In the Bible the snake is definitely associated with temptation. In other mythologies, it varies. But there’s a common association with a snake eating its own tail, also known as the “Ouroboros.” That’s usually associated with the idea of the endless loop. Also known as: infinity. That kind of goes with the idea of an intricate maze, a labyrinth, where you get lost and wonder, and keep returning to the same spot, looping around and around, as you try and find an escape.

          I think that’s where I would start if I was going to write about the specific meaning of the snakes. That they represent Holly, right, as a tempter. But also the idea of the maze itself and of trauma, this infinite thing. People who have suffered trauma usually inflict trauma on others, in some way. Which creates that idea of the loop.

          And part of Taylor’s thing is recreating the “maze.” We see how he buries the mannequin in his yard. trying to mimic where the pit is in Holly’s yard (where Holly puts Keller and Keller finds the whistle). And it seems he gets clothes to dress the mannequins. I think, for him, he’s just been unable to escape the trauma. And is still “stuck” in it, so to speak. Which is why he ends up taking his own life.

          • Other interesting fact about the snakes: they have a connection with Loki too.

            “Skaði fastened a venomous snake over Loki’s face, and from it poison dripped. Sigyn, his spouse, sat with him holding a basin beneath the dripping venom, yet when the basin became full, she carried the poison away; and during this time the poison dripped on to Loki, causing him to writhe with such violence that all of the earth shook from the force, resulting in what are now known as earthquakes.” (Wikipedia)

            There is a scene at the end of the film when Loki saves the little girl and the culprit shoots him, injuring him, then his blood flow into his eye. This causes him to go blind, and although he doesn’t cause an earthquake like Loki in mythology, he almost crashes a few times as he speeds down the highway to save the little girl who is suffering from the poison.

            Also Loki’s symbol is the “Ouroboros”.

            Loki’s name means: prison, to break, to end, fire, which is also an interesting connection with he movie.

          • Snakes also as in snakes and ladders. Seem to climb to make headway and then slide down again but eventually someone wins the game each time played unless game abandoned. I like your explanation of why Keller was probably saved but when I watched, I assumed he wasn’t because he slid down too far and lost. I like your version of Loki saving him from hell of his own making but in spite of wonderful reasoning by Loki, what would have happened had Keller not listened to Alex when he was released and then not imprisoned and tortured him until he said they are in the maze? Also in the hospital when Joy says you were there. These are all clues Loki missed or were not brought up to him. It requires the work of both men to save the girls. And Loki was the catalyst in Taylor committing suicide. He is not the all-knowing, all powerful saviour. So maybe in the end Loki does save Keller because Keller keeps blowing the whistle. Takes them both to work out the solution.

  16. Loved this article it was very educational and breaks down the film in the easily digestible way you mentioned, you untangled this maze of a movie! Can’t wait to show this movie (and analysis) to my wife!

    One detail I noticed that adds to the religious motif is that Loki is actually his last name and his first name is David that we see at the end of the film in the newspaper article “Barry Milland AKA Alex Jones is reunited with family after 26 year”. It references Loki killing Holly as detective David Loki.

    Having a very prominent Christian first name and a very prominent Norse last name falls into place with the different spiritualities working together in the movie, which is maybe why he’s the one to save the child in the end.

    Also could represent David and Goliath and figuring out the maze was a Goliath task. Loki the trickster would be best able to figure out a maze (tricks) that bad people do/commit. Maybe all of this is in reference to him being the best detective they have and always is able to close the case.

    • Yo Zach! Really appreciate the comment. And completely forgot about the David first name. Yeah, I like the mixture of Christian and Norse. That really ties it all together, doesn’t it?

  17. I read somewhere Loki’s first name is David it’s on a screen or card that’s flashed in one of the scenes.

    • Mark just pointed that out in another comment! How “David” is very Christian/Jewish/Biblical while Loki is very Norse. So his full name only reinforces the combination of religions.

  18. Excellent analysis! Thank you very much for writing this… I came here trying to find something about the prominence of trees in the movie, because I noticed them but could not really figure it out. Reading what you wrote got me thinking if there is another layer to the way the trees relate to Kellers profession as a carpenter.

    As Villeneuve says, the trees are linked with the idea of necessary violence… If you look at that in the sense that trees are chopped down to build homes, there is a sense that this violence against nature is necessary to provide shelter and comfort. That’s why Keller being a carpenter, just like Jesus was, can’t be a coincidence, I think. As a carpenter, Keller is someone who destroys nature (trees) and uses the wood to build new things. This might be seen as an act of destruction, but also as a noble act of creation.

    His profession being the same as that of Jesus, and the movie opening with Keller’s devout prayer, also creates the false sense that Keller will be the ‘good’ in the film.

    Except, Keller uses wood and his carpentry skills to imprison and torture Alex. The exact opposite of what you would expect him to do based on what you know about his religion. I love the part where Keller sits next to Alex’ torture cell and can’t finish his prayer at the sentence: “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, he holds back the last part, breaking at ‘as we’. He is unable to finish his prayer because I think he realizes that what he is doing is not according to what he believes in, but still believes that this is an act of necessary violence and he can’t quite come to terms with himself on that.

    I think there’s maybe also more to be found in how Keller is a doomsday prepper and the way that relates to the idea of judgement day, but I haven’t watched the movie with that in mind yet.

    • Man, I didn’t even think about the carpenter thing. I mean, maybe I did in terms of Keller and Jesus lol. But not in terms of like…Norse vs Christianity. And this guy being a carpenter, someone who turns living trees into objects. That’s pretty fascinating.

      And now I’m reading your second paragraph and you’re getting right into that lol. Great minds, Jasper. Great minds.

      Yeah, holding back the last part of the prayer is a huge moment. As it starts to get into the idea of how properly is he executing his faith? And what are the benefits or consequences of his doubt?

      The doomsday preparation stuff does come back, kind of, with the whistle? Him being so a-type with all that stuff means he has his daughter carry that whistle, and it’s the whistle that he uses at the end to signal Loki. Damn, it’s such a good movie.

      • Thanks for your reply, Chris!
        I must say, I stumbled on to your site because of Prisoners but I really like what you’re doing here as a whole!
        I love it that you’re so active in the comments and engaging with readers, it encourages me (and hopefully other readers) to revisit movies with new perspectives in mind and discuss further.
        English isn’t my first language so I hope this made sense. But keep up the good work!

  19. Loved the movie and this thread, and it’s not like me to concentrate for two hours on a film. I can’t remember if he was listed above in the list of prisoners now but I was thinking Keller’s Son Ralph is a prisoner too. Keller tells Ralph he isn’t allowed to leave the house, he has to be an adult stay home and make sure Grace doesn’t see the news. Ralph tries to protest and is silenced by an outburst from Keller. Keller is free to leave but Ralph remains behind. I felt he was trapped moreso in the house by the news vans crowding round. I imagine it’s a pretty isolating position as he has lost his sister to the kidnap, his mother to the grief, and his father to his own agenda.

    • Glad you liked the movie! And yeah, Ralph is definitely a prisoner. He’s essentially trapped in being the caretaker for his mom. And seems to have no one to talk to about what happened.

  20. So the star on Det. Loki’s neck is a badge…so along with your hypothesis…his god is justice/prison. The other maze to be found would be that; Holly drugs her victims with a concoction that may have LSD or similar…the fbi book refers to this and she does as well, when talking to and then forcing Keller to drink. Which would therefore create a maze of the mind and memories. That would explain why Alex/Barry and especially Bob Taylor were unable to put together their memories and what it meant…maybe making them feel responsible and guilty. Years of possible uncontrolled drugging…would lead to antisocial behavior. As well as confusion about who they really where…id also venture to guess that abuse was also a big part of the experience as you also mentioned…so a confused prison of the mind. Just some observations.

  21. Thanks Chris for your work here!
    I prefer to believe Keller was found by Loki, his boss said he never lost a case.

    • Thank you! I believe the same!

  22. Hi Chris,what a great review. I am very much amazed with the way you see things about the movie and the way you tell them.Just wanted to say thank you.

    • I appreciate it, Erdogan! Thank you!

  23. How did Loki know she found her whistle? We only know that from Keller’s dream, right?

    • Did Loki know she found her whistle? I don’t recall that moment, if you don’t mind refreshing my memory!

      • Loki saw Anna wearing the whistle at the hospital so he asked Grace if she found it, but Grace told him that Anna kept insisting that Joy helped her finding the whistle before they were kidnapped but Grace thought she was just confused so she bought her a new one. So, maybe after recalling what Anna’s mother said, he might be able to link that to the sound of the whistle at Holly’s house and try to find Keller.

  24. Hi Chris, thank you. Excellent review, I enjoyed reading the things I understood, as well as the details I missed out on. I think the layman tends to miss out on the motifs but grasps the plot. Again, I appreciate your review. Best.

    • Thank you very much, Amir!

  25. I also have a question. What happened to “Alex” after Loki found him? He seemed very alive at the rescue, yelling for help. The next thing I remember is the detectives discussing giving Holly notice about Alex. The way they said it, sounded like a death notification to me. Thanks

    • At the end the news paper article said he was found and reunited with his family so he was alive, it seemed like a death notice to me too until I saw that. I think they were just going to notify her that he was found.

      • Thanks!

  26. While Keller’s actions was clearly out of line especially considering that he was basically talking to someone who is practically a child (mentally), what I am concerned about is if Keller should be punished severely for his actions given what he has knows about Alex from being sure that Alex knows the location of his daughter from singing their song and he told him in the parking lot, along side with harming the dog, he had a very strong case of suspecting him and the police didn’t seem to have made enough effort to dig more after him and seem to question Keller’s sanity.

    Another thing is the significance of showing the prepper mindset and taking everything in his own hand and his general lack of trust in higher authorities including police and perhaps even more broadly God, and how that changed when he was in the most helpless situation in what he prepared nothing for, and yet found that red whistle which will save his life.

  27. one question. It seemed to me that Holly heard Loki´s car pulling up in her drive way, why would she decide to try to kill Anna with a syringe at that moment? (if that was what she was doing) And why did she do it so slowly? Seems to me that she could’ve just opened the door normally and she would’ve gotten away with it, since Loki was only there to tell her about Alex.

    • That was still the day of Joy’s escape, maybe only a few hours later. Holly likely assumed that Joy had been able to provide enough information to reveal her location. Remember that Keller had just shown up there too. If Keller could figure it out, it was just a matter of time before Loki did too.

  28. Late to the party! Love this piece.

    Can you explain the girls flashback when she sees Keller? Why does that trigger a flashback where she thinks he was there?


    • he was there he visited Holly’s home before he realized she was the kidnapper he said he was there to apologize for scaring off Alex and he came in and they talked but he left when he saw the paper saying that Bob killer himself. The girl saw him or heard him though he didn’t see the girl.

  29. Chris, you have written a very good essay, and most of your explanations are sound and thoughtful. And since I am German, I really liked that you noticed that “Keller” is a Geman word which is “cellar” in English ?
    However, IMO the movie definitely has a few plot holes which qualify as fridge logic. Not everything is clever or meaningful. I am bothered by the fact that there were no traces at all of the two girls found in the camper van, although they have been abducted in that van! It is of course not completely impossible because Holly could have cleaned the van thoroughly. But the CSI experts would surely have noticed if the van had been cleaned very recently, and that small detail would have been suspicious as well. But the worst plot hole is that nobody figured out that the clothes which were found in Taylor’s possession were not worn by the girls at the time of their abduction. When someone goes missing the police investigators always try to establish very carefully how the missing person was dressed! And even if all four parents were confused when they looked at the items – which is highly unlikely – the investigators should have noticed that according to the parents the items in Taylor’s possession were not worn by the girls on the day of their abduction. I also think it is highly unlikely that Taylor managed to break into both houses and steal the items without being noticed at all. He would not have known where to find the stuff. And how could he know where the girls lived in the first place? To be fair, the idea that the clothes may have been stolen is actually never mentioned in the movie. We only learn that the items have been bought. But isn’t it also highly unlikely that Taylor managed to buy clothes which looked exactly like the items worn by the girls? This explanation also doesn’t hold together.
    As a forensic psychologist I also question the alleged motives of some of Alex’s and Taylor’s actions. It’s too easy to say “Oh, well, they were completely messed up because of their own abductions when they were kids!” And – as you said yourself – the whole plot development depends a bit too much on the fact that neither Alex nor Taylor are willing to talk about their experiences. Alex may have become too attached to Holly and the only home he had known for many years. But IMO the explanations for Taylor’s weird actions do not hold together upon close scrutiny.
    I still enjoyed the movie and your article, though ?

  30. I wanted to just add one thing! Thanks for the excellent analysis.

    It is mentioned, in the scene discussing the FBI agent’s book in Taylor’s house, that Taylor was abducted as a child but escaped after three weeks. Thus, we know how long he was there. The length contributes to your analysis of the compounding effects of abduction over time, depicted in the varying lengths of how long they spent “in the maze” – Joy seems the most available afterwards, but Anna is more slow to integrate; then Taylor, who is surprisingly capable (has a house, quite a capable thief, etc) while still being extremely myopic and distressed; and Alex, who is the mostly deeply shut off from the world.

    Also, I wanted to add that it is mentioned that Alex had an accident with the snakes. I wonder if perhaps he was strangled by a snake for a time, causing a lack of oxygen in his brain, which could also add to the severe mental damage he displays. (Though it is mentioned it was a small accident, and that Alex was merely afraid of them.) Taylor remembered the snakes, and it was Holly’s husband who had the obsession, so it makes sense that we don’t see them again in the film at Holly’s house.

  31. Absolutely brilliant analysis, I wouldn’t ne surprised if it is the best lne there is. Thank you so much!

  32. This really helped me make sense of what I found a disturbing and confusing film. I expect to be returning to this site again.

  33. Watching the movie for the first time, I noticed that Loki was also non-communicative at times, especially around the parents. For example, he doesn’t say a word when introduced to Joy’s mother and she hands him photographs of her daughter. It made me wonder if he also was carrying around some past trauma.

    On the character names, I took Keller to be a variation of killer because he hunted, owned a handgun, and was prepared to use extreme violence to protect his family. Dover seemed like a portmanteau of dove (peace) and lover. Perhaps it was intended to reflect his personality, peaceable in normal situations, but with a killer instinct ready to take over when pushed by circumstances.

    Birch was also interesting as a name because birch trees are thought to be resilient, bending but not breaking. That idea is expressed in Robert Frost’s Birches and also the Blackfoot myth Why the Birch Tree Wears the Slashes in It’s Bark. The Birches certainly seemed far more resilient than the Dovers, who were breaking in different ways.

  34. Brilliant analysis.
    I would love to hear your take on the current covid “crisis” and response.
    Tired of all the brainwashed/braindead people out there…need to know there are people out there figuring this out like RFK jr.

  35. I just noticed something interesting. I noticed how Holly cares for her dog and I wonder if Alex abusing it is his way of getting back at her (His abuser). Everyone describes Alex as pretty internal and passive, but I wonder if (in his own traumatized and child-like way) he is trying to break out of the maze! By visiting his former home, he must remember a time before he was entrapped!
    I noticed this strange bit of dialogue from Loki:

    “You know IF YOU KNOW something
    about what happened to these girls and you DON’T TELL US, YOUR AUNT WILL GO TO JAIL too. You want that for her? After she took care of you all this time?

    And what if he does! What if deep down he DOES want her to go to jail! My question is, why didn’t he just tell the detective everything right then! But he is stuck in that child-like mentality and he did know what was going to happen to those kids, like he did with so many others. What if he was like the sex offender priest, who thought no one would believe him if he spoke out, so the priest thought that only HE could stop Holly’s husband the way that he did!
    When I think of mazes, I think of complications. Alex knows where the children are, but if he wants his Aunt in jail, and therefore stopped for good, he can’t tell…so it’s complicated. The priest is a registered sex offender, but how should he stop a child killer? Why did Holly’s husband brag/confess to him? Did Holly’s husband have more dirt on the priest that could have gotten him in more trouble? Who knows! But to stop him, the priest ties Holly’s husband up and leaves him to die. Why? Because it’s complicated. Franklin says and believes that he would do anything for his daughter, but ( like Peter in the Bible who acted cowardly when he thought he would act bravely at Christ’s crucifixion ) Franklin (who thinks he can play the trumpet, but can’t) is not a killer. He doesn’t have the practical personality to do whatever it takes for a certain result…that’s not bad, but in this situation, it makes things complicated. Rather than face the sobering realization that she may have left the protection of her family entirely on her husband’s shoulders ( according to the screenplay, she drank wine and was tipsy at the Thanksgiving get-together, but he just drank milk), she would rather sleep because she loves her children and husband deeply and gladly serves what he prepares in the more safe and secure world that he is trying to create for them…so it’s complicated. There are SO many other examples of this in the film! No one acts exactly as they or we expect or hope they will act because they are human and humans make things complicated and maybe because we are complicated (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beings) and when anything confronts us in these realms they just don’t “happen” to us, we have to navigate through them and we can easily get lost!
    Holly and her husband lost a child and in their grief, shock, and anger, they navigated their way to blaming God just as Keller navigates his way to blaming Loki. Because Holly and her husband seemed to be active, external types, they don’t internalize their pain, but externalize it! If God caused them to loose their faith in this way, they will play God and cause others to loose their faith in this way too. Keller will take matters into his own hands too! It’s complicated and not effective. Keller doesn’t get the answer he seeks from all the torture HE did, but by Joy’s miraculous escape and him making the connection that she saw him at some point. The abusers can only shake their fist at God so long as they assume that all the parents they abduct the children from will have the same re-action to their loss as they did. Though Keller was having a most difficult time thinking and behaving Christian or Christ-like, their never was a scene where he cursed God or threw away his cross.
    People are complicated. Good people do bad things, bad people do good things…The wicked knowingly and methodically try to spread their wickedness to as many as they can. But sometimes, by shear grace, all the good and bad complications of what people do and think come together to form a hope-filled outcome. In this film, no character will ever be the same. Alex and Keller will probably go to jail. Will Franklin and his wife have to testify against Keller for amnesty, because they were part of Alex’s torture too. What will it do to their friendship? The little girls are not the same (one clings to her mother for dear life and the other is stoic)? But Anna still clings to her whistle…a symbol of her father’s protection because I believe that he is still the hero in her life. Loki will find Keller and Keller will be rescued by someone else and face that new realization that he could never have been a self sufficient island unto himself and his family. People need people and people need grace. That unmerited favor that we cannot predict or control. Keller needs someone to find him and pull him out of that pit, but he also needs that whistle that’s only down there because his daughter was down there because she got kidnapped looking for it, though he gave it to her for her rescue so many months or years ago. He equally needs the cold and frosty weather because he’s shot and maybe this will keep him alive a little longer (don’t know, I am not a doctor) or keep the drug from effectively knocking him out. He needs someone like Loki to be there at the right place and time! He needs grace and so does Loki…he relies heavy on his ability to observe and pay attention to details. His rapid eye blinking is almost like a tick that may have varies meanings…one of which is that the man rarely blinks. It’s almost as though his body forces him to…but during the chase to save Anna’s life, Loki was driving blind. I don’t know where his faith lie, but it was grace that got him through.

  36. I must reiterate how spectacular this review was. I thoroughly enjoyed it and now need to watch this movie again. What a brilliant dissection of it all. You did an amazing job! And yes, I love the juxtaposition of David Loki’s name.

  37. Holly and her husband, who used to be fundamentalist believers, might have practised snake-handling as part of their faith and would have kept snakes for that purpose. These snake-handlers believe that God will reward their faith by making them immune to snake venom… And yet their son dies of cancer. Also, I thought Holly was injecting Anna with venom and that Loki was rushing the girl to hospital to get her the anti-venom in time.

    I believe that Loki will find and rescue Keller because: 1. He always closes a case and he said he would find Keller, 2. When he discovers the door to the basement behind the fridge, there is no staircase (the hole under the car also has no ladder) yet he quickly drops down to investigate and finds the body, 3. The whistle is red, the colour of blood, and ”life is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11), 4. Blowing a whistle in order to be heard, and thus saved from dying in the hole, is the equivalent of being ”saved by the bell” from being buried alive.

  38. Wow, I suppose I’m late to the party because I only just watched it on Netflix. But again, wow! I’ve never read such a detailed and thorough review of a movie (well aside from LOTR-but that has a whole cult following). I am impressed by how you have dissected each and every detail down to the meaning of the characters’ names. I especially appreciate that you explained the connection of religion & faith-I never thought much of it and I’m somewhat serious about my Catholic faith myself, well, until those fundamental issues arise that you have raised ofcourse! ‘How do we make sense of the bad in the world? ‘How do we have faith when bad things happen?’
    Anyway just brilliant write up.

    • Thank you Miss A

  39. I was confused when Alex said that he was waiting for a man to come back and he never did. I assumed that it was Bob and he was referring to when he was captured by the police in the van at the rest stop. I thought that Alex and Bob had kidnapped the girls and Bob had left Alex to take the fall. This would explain why Alex was not able to drive the van.

  40. This is the best analysis I have read. You’re so thorough and the ending is brilliant. I believe that Loki will save Keller.

    • Thank you!

  41. That was a great analysis. There’s one thing not mentioned that I can’t shrug off. There’s a moment in the movie where Loki is searching for clues in old newspapers and he founds a note of a man, a correctional officer, who commited suicide (allegedly) after his son was abducted. This is the father of Alex or Bob Taylor. The article mentions that his co-worker Mr Dover didn’t make any comments.
    I thought that was a major clue about the protagonist Keller Dover but at the end of the movie it seems to be a complete coincidence.
    I guess it was made to distract/confuse the viewers.

    • That’s really interesting. I never caught what was said in the newspaper. It could provide some backstory about Keller but there’s nothing concrete enough (at least as far as I’m aware) that you could really point to. Just some assumptions, like “Keller’s dad saw what happened to his co-worker and decided to become over protective of Keller. Which led to Keller’s survival mindset.” Something like that. Not sure how much I buy into it, but it’s an example.

      • Wasn’t that newspaper article about Mr Dover Snr committing suicide? I thought it was. It was on screen so briefly, and Netflix’s Pause function obliterates whatever I’m trying to read, so I didn’t bother.

        We weren’t given any other reason for Dover Snr’s death, were we? I thought this was the whole reason behind Keller being obsessed with preparing for the worst, that his dad had been facing something he was unable to cope with and killed himself as his only way out of that situation.

        Great and detailed review, Chris!

        • Hey Aggie! The pause on Netflix is infuriating. I’m not sure about that detail. It would add some nuance to Dover’s backstory. And can be argued is another example of being in a prison. Appreciate the kind words!

        • Finally returning to the movie and looked into this. You’re absolutely right.

  42. Chris, what do you think or D.’s explanation regarding Alex waiting in the RV and crashing into the trees: …Alex said that he was waiting for a man to come back and he never did. I assumed that it was Bob and he was referring to when he was captured by the police in the van at the rest stop. I thought that Alex and Bob had kidnapped the girls and Bob had left Alex to take the fall. This would explain why Alex was not able to drive the van.

    So Alex AND Bob abducted the girls?

    • I could see that. It’s a solid theory. I hesitate though because Bob was out of the house and living on his own. We know he’s still traumatized by what happened but not that he’s necessarily still in contact with Holly or does Holly’s bidding. The girls never mention a second man either. And I’d imagine Holly would have said something about Bob, just to telegraph it to the viewer, if this was actually what happened. Alex might have just been referring to Holly’s husband who did go missing and who Holly and Alex were both wondering if he’d ever come back. It just points at a larger abandonment issue Alex has. I believe they say that Alex often drove the van and looked at his old house? Or implied that he drove on his own just fine.

  43. I have made a discovery of hidden symbols in movies. Before you trash this post, and think I’m a nut case, please view the first 5 minuets of my video. Then you will see that what I’m saying is absolutely true. Please also note the professors I have been working with at the end of this video. They are from USC, UCLA, Columbia, Yale, and Chapman University.

    Here’s my video showing my discoveries:

    Click this link or cut and paste link:


    And use the PASSWORD: “UCSB1971”

    Thank you,

    Steve Weston

    • I’m only 13 minutes in right now, but it is interesting!

  44. Hi Chris and everyone 👋 who has commented.
    I got the dvd from my local library by chance and watched it and before I did I checked, it got 8.1 score. I thought, must be good. And I also found this thread by Chris by chance. And I read some of it after watching the film a little. I thank you ❤️ all from the bottom of my heart. Without your amazing, insight ful comments I would never have got any of it at all. It’s just too confusing and I skipped some of the violent parts. While I was watching the film in board day-light, I crotched my teddy bear with me, something I don’t normally do as it’s that scary! I shall watch it again. It’s a really great movie. I searched for more movies with the actor Jack G after watching Nortunal Animals. I am from a complex family, nothing like what the film portrays but still some issues and I thank my last lucky star,
    and feels all is well in my life. Just one quick question, why the hunting scene at the beginning? Thank you my good people and a wonderful site for film’s discussion. Blessings.

    • Hey! I’m sorry I just saw this. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that usually the highest quality movies find a way to distill their themes or narrative in the opening shot/scene. It’s a silly, basic example but the opening of The Lion King is the rising sun. And the movie deals a lot with the circle of life, the dawning of a new age, new beginnings, etc. etc. Or Fight Club deals with the mind and the opening credits occur while the camera travels through the main character’s brain and out a poor of their forehead.

      So the beginning of Prisoners gets at themes of nature, religion, and violence. Three things that we see come up again and again throughout the film.

  45. The s**cide of Dover Sr definitely is the reason why Keller doesn’t want to renovate his childhood home and adds another layer to that house where Alex is eventually imprisoned.

    • Oh yeah, that’s a very good point!

  46. Hi Yuen,
    The first scene shows how Keller trains his son to kill.
    The justification given by Keller Snr. to Keller Junior is that killing is okay because the animal population needs to be maintained.
    In a sense, this is what Holly Jones and her husband carries on too…by killing children.

  47. The ‘Monkey’ and ‘Rooster’ zodiac signs, which Jake discusses with the waitress foreshadow the character traits of Jake (Loki) and Hugh (Keller).

    Also isn’t the name ‘Keller’, too close to ‘killer’?

    • That’s an interesting point about the zodiac signs!

  48. I have a question about the scene where Joy said: ‘that Keller was there too’. Was that really Keller or was that someone else, and was she confused because of all the drugs she used bc of Holy.

    • It’s a little of everything. Keller had been at the house. And the girl had been drugged. So she was in a pretty loopy state. It seems accusatory at first mostly because it’s confusing. How could Keller have been there too? But then he remembers he had been at Holly Jones’s house and puts 2 and 2 together.

  49. I just finished watching the movie and was looking for an explanation, and this is just amazing, thank you for your analysis and thanks for all the comments, what an incredible movie. Great acting, including Melissa Leo as Holly, so soft spoken, chilling. I was so impatient with all the people not talking, but it makes sense now, the priest, bound by his guilt and confession rules, Alex, most likely having been drugged from an early age on which alters your brain and personality, and God knows what else these people did to him and Bob. Thanks again!

    • Thank you, Martina!

      • This writeup helped explain a few things I was uncertain of but I still found too many parts of the movie unbelievable and just plain frustrating.

        The murderers are killing kids on a decades-long crusade against God because their own child died. Possible, but as a main oremise it seems a bit thin.

        Alex is perfectly able to taunt with a cryptic, “They didn’t start crying till I left.” He can drive, he can play with the girls, learn and sing their song, has the wherewithal to take them back to be tortured and killed, but is too traumatized by his past to say anything else? I don’t buy it.

        Why isn’t the aunt’s house and grounds searched with dogs?

        Even without dogs, in all the time spent around the aunts house no one noticed there were tracks behind an old supposedly non-functioning car?

        The standard Hollywood police chief who constantly undermines the investigation is so completely overused.

        So are such small things as duct tape over someone’s mouth. Doesn’t every house have duct tape in it? Stick a piece over your mouth and see how ridiculously easy it is to open your mouth. Does no one in Hollywood understand these simple things or are they such standard props that we are supposed to accept them knowing full well how ludicrous they are?

        The lights in the derelict apartment apparently don’t work but plug-in job lights do, OK.

        Why does no one ever check a door handle before breaking it down or crawling through a window?

        Why does a seasoned police officer with no unsolved cases stare at a suspect to the point of spooking him, or sit in a roadway blocking traffic until he draws attention himself? Why do police always yell from a distance to freeze!, show your hands!? How does a top detective let an old woman finish an injection, pick up a gun, stand up, turn around and get shots off instead of just taking her down when she has her back to him?

        How do you create a plot with supposed depth and cleverness and use so many ridiculous elements? It’s like Hollywood thinks they have conditioned us to just accept anything and call it clever. For some (many?) it may work, but I think they’re mainly just fooling themsves.

        • Hey! Thanks for the thoughts. Regarding Alex. Yeah, I think I need to amend it a bit to add the consideration that part of Alex enjoys hurting Keller. The same way Holly and her husband lost their kid so started inflicting pain on others. Alex suffered so he’s kind of relishing in causing someone else to hurt. Kind of like when he lifts the dog.

          Dogs: Holly said initially that she kept the girls in the hole while the police were around. Then after Alex was let go, I think the police chief was hesitant to do anything more. It’s likely that since the girls probably went from the van to the hole that the scent wasn’t lingering in a way the dogs would notice. If the dogs came by at all.

          Duct tape: I think we’re supposed to accept it lol. Not saying it isn’t annoying. But, yeah, seems to be one of those suspension of disbelief things that has become implicit to the whole artistic form.

          Lights: Buildings usually have power broken into sections. An upstairs bathroom could lose power but the bedroom down the hall might be on a separate breaker and still have power. So it could be something like that. Or it could be that the wiring for the lights was bad or the bulbs all broke or something. I don’t think it’s entirely unrealistic. Especially in a building that has so many issues.

          Door handle: Loki checks handles a couple times.

          Staring at suspect: Just because Loki has no unsolved cases doesn’t mean everything he does is perfect. Or that he’ll never make a mistake. And staring the person down is kind of a legitimate tactic. A normal person probably doesn’t run off like that. They may walk away. Or say something. But they probably don’t sprint like that. It’s like the negotiating tactic of not saying anything. Other people feel nervous in the silence and start saying stuff just to fill it. And might even negotiate against themself because they’re nervous.

          Sit in a roadway: I don’t think he necessarily minded Keller seeing him.

          Yell from a distance to freeze: So you can say you said it.

          Let an old woman finish injection: He walked into the room after she had started the injection. Her back was turned to him. All he would have been able to see is Holly crouching over the girl. Not what was actually going on. I also don’t think the weapon was visible. So he’s doing what he should do and giving her a chance to surrender.

          I’m usually pretty pedantic about things like this. Especially with Christopher Nolan movies. Of any filmmaker ever, he’s the biggest beneficiary of audiences not caring about little infuriating logic inconsistencies. But I think most of what you said in Prisoners is within the realm of acceptable. Maybe you still disagree though.

  50. First great site and analysis!

    My biggest take was that the ending sentiment wasn’t believable. Alex reunited with parents??? How? The dude has severe burns and 20+ counts of kidnapping (molestation???) and murder on him. Will never see the world again. It doesn’t matter that he was tortured.

    As for Keller going to prison… I mean we would need modern examples of this type of situation. Be really hard to find. But how in the world would a jury ever find this guy guilty of anything when he saves two kids, finds/stops the biggest kidnapping ring in the country, after the police basically screwed up bad. The girls would have died if Alex was home. Your basically kidnapping/torturing someone who is going to kill your daughter if they are released. No way you find 10 people to give a guilty verdict… let alone one when US laws would allow the defense to basically go over every missing kid in the area for the past 20+ years.

    So yea great movie that kind of blew the ending which I mean it doesn’t mean much and maybe it isn’t meant to be definitive. But giving the audience clues that Keller is facing lengthy prison and Alex is going home… Well it is quite the opposite in reality.

    • Another factor here is Alex’s real parents who have been prisoners of the situation basically having what should be the greatest day of their lives – finding of their lost son – become almost a bigger tragedy than losing him.

      Now these parents have a son that kidnaps/molests/drugs/kills little kids. I have kids and if they were ever kidnapped I would pick them being killed than for them to do what Alex did. His real parents are the prisoners. Whatever segment of their brain that allowed them to not think about his disappearance their entire living day cannot ever be altered or returned. They are thinking about him, his lost life, and the lives of all the kids (two right down the street) that he devastated.

      After this all goes down a lot of parents get closure, the two families go home and deal with court stuff, but this family has a living ghost that haunts them 24/7. Crazy that this wasn’t covered. Maybe the newspaper article was premature (but then why show it)?

      • Hey again! And yeah, that is devastating. You’d worry that he’d maybe keep trying to do take kids. We saw him hurt the dog. So he definitely has a cruel streak. I guess it’s a glass of water situation. Is it half full or half empty? Some people will choose the hopeful outlook that being away from Holly means he has a chance at a decent future. And others will have a more cynical outlook that he’s become who he’s become and is kind of terrifying.

    • Thank you! Yeah, Regrading Alex, I guess there’s still a lot that’s up in the air. I could see something like him initially being reunited but then the DA drawing up charges later. We’re really only within 24 hours of all the information coming out.

      Keller would definitely not have charges pressed. Or the DA who brought the charges would lose their next election lol. Especially after they find him in the hole and see he was shot. It is frustrating that we don’t get some more closure though.

  51. Chris, this was a fantastic analysis of a complex story, and dead on. What did you think about the performances? I thought that the casting and acting were the weakest part of the film. I think that Jackman (whom I like) was awful, not believable; art of this may be due to the accent, as the Aussie tried to sound like a ‘Joe Sixpack’ American. I find this often ruins performances for me; in this case, not awful, just distracting; and despite all of the cursing and yelling and punching, I just didn’t buy it. I didn’t think Maria Bello was good either. The other couple was fine, both solid performances. I thought that Alex and Bob were weirder than they needed to be, and in their bizarreness, not real, and therefore, not anyone that I could mourn for, though what they’d been through was terrible. Gyllenhaal was just OK, not especially convincing. What was up with the nervous twitch? Devoid of humor, just not especially ‘real.’ I thought that ‘Holly’ was the best performance, a bit melodramatic, but very creepy and a smooth transition from Auntie to Killer. Just my two cents. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Warren! It’s…weird. I think the movie is definitely one of the best of its decade. But the only performance I really love is Jake’s. The rest are just kind of…doing their part? And maybe a tad under utilized. Kind of similar to the movie Zodiac. It’s almost like the style and story carry the movie and the cast is just kind of there. Rather than the cast elevating in their own way. Avatar is kind of similar. I didn’t find any particularly bad the way you did. Just not anything more than “did what they needed”.

  52. Thank you for explaining this! I read a few explanations after watching the movie and this was the best and most cohesive one! I also appreciate how you still respond to comments after a year. Thank you for your insight Chris! 😀

  53. Awesome article Chris and I love that you’re still replying to people after all this time!

    A small foreshadowing detail I noticed is when Alex signs his name to be released from the police, it’s revealed that his middle name is “Winterman” which is a reference to a book by the same name by Alex Walters about a serial killer that targets children. Makes sense that he would have gotten this name from Holly and her husband…

  54. Thanks for the analysis. I think this movie is getting a second life on Netflix, and I just watched it. The whole piece around the priest and Holly’s husband seems a little loose to me. If someone would have put 2 and 2 together they could have solved it way sooner. Why didn’t the priest report him to the authorities at the time? Why didn’t Loki look into it more? A lot of hot-headed guys losing their minds and screwing things up in this movie.

    • Thanks, Justin! I guess the priest didn’t report because it was a confession and he felt unable to tell authorities about it? So the next best thing was to imprison him? Which seems like a weird call lol. I think Loki didn’t necessarily have the time since he was more concerned about the girls.

  55. I know am very, very late to this conversation so I may not even get a response. I somehow had never even heard of this movie before it popped up in Netflix. I thoroughly appreciate your analysis of the film. But one thing I can’t wrap my mind around that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere is that Loki has symbols tattooed on his fingers that very clearly (at least to me) look like the letters MAZE. This along with his tic-like blinking and rather aloof/angry behavior made me think he was somehow involved or another victim. Also his attire with the fully buttoned-up shirt is sometimes seen on people with fundamentalist religious beliefs. But nothing ever came of what I thought was going to be a revelation. I know he tells the priest he had some bad trauma as a child at boys school but that was the end of it. What is your opinion of the tattoos? Am I crazy for thinking they say MAZE? My husband immediately noticed it too. Just a red herring and a coincidence that a cop investigating a crime involving mazes would have that tattoo?

  56. Hey. I just finished watching prisoners and this post was so well written I had to give props. I love reading about analyzing media. Great movie. Great writing. You’re doing Odin’s work 🙂

    • Appreciate that, Tucker!

  57. Hi, I also am very late to the conversation but i just watched the film and finished your analysis and i loved them both! Thank you so much for explaining the film to me!
    I just had one question:

    When Loki is reading through old articles in the newspaper, he comes across one article that the film seems to focus on for a moment. the article is about s prison guard who ‘supposedly’ killed himself. it definitely wasn’t an unimportant piece of info as the film did narrow dow on it. do you know what this was in reference to? or was this just a red herring?


    • Thanks, George!

      The prison guard in the newspaper article was Keller’s father! It gives some backstory to why Keller has that property and why he’s a bit…traumatized. His father’s sudden death is what caused him to become the doomsday prepper that he is. It also gives the address of the apartment building. Loki realizes it’s where Keller was “getting drunk” and that’s why he begins to suspect Alex might be there.

  58. In my opinion, the idea is suggested that Mr. Jones was previously molested by the Priest. The Priest didn’t report him because the Priest had yet to be identified as a predator himself, and if he’d turned in his newfound prisoner (Mr. Jones) then Mr. Jones might reveal that the Priest himself is a predator.

    Being a prisoner to his proclivities,he continued to abuse children beyond Mr. Jones’ abduction, but the Priest was not ready to accept the abuse he is ultimately responsible for in the form of accepting justice.

  59. Very great analysis! Just a couple of quick corrections from someone who has seen the movie too many times:

    1. You refer to there being no indication how long Bob Taylor was imprisoned by the Joneses—Loki mentions when he’s holding the FBI book that Taylor escaped after 3 weeks.

    2. You refer to Loki as being his first name and that he has no last name. It’s actually the opposite—his last name is Loki and we never know his first name (though in interviews with Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal they explain that Loki had a complex back story that we are never told, and that his first name is actually “David.”)


    • Took too long to catch up on comments. Thank you! Those are good catches. Will update.

  60. I was about to go to sleep after rewatching it tonight but I was puzzled again because I didn’t dive into it when I first watched it. Thank you for this and I have enjoyed it. My question is, if Alex really did kidnap the girls and Bob was really a red herring then who was the male kidnapper (who wore a hoodie) who grabbed Anna while they were trying to escape in Joy’s flashback?

    • Glad the movie guide could help! I just went back and looked at the scene. We see a figure leave the room the girls were in. Then someone in the kitchen. Then the girls run out the door and someone in a coat grabs Anna. I would assume it was just Holly. It’s not a great answer, but remember that the flashback isn’t necessarily objective. We’re seeing a version of what the girl’s describing rather than a scene in real-time.

  61. Wow, great explanation. Really helped put the pieces together!

    “What’s it mean that Keller prays to God to save him from the hole and it’s Loki who’s there? Does Loki represent a spirituality beyond Christianity? Or the sum of other religions being in service to the Christian God?”

    Loki (symbolizing religions that are no longer believed in), might be the secular option and suggests we only have each other to rely on. Both characters didn’t have faith in the religious sense but in an empirical way, using their own abilities and understanding of clues and evidence which they trusted in. The problem of evil is hinted at so it’s probably touching on questions about the existence of any gods, old or new. Rather than a clash or “war” with the Christian god.
    The sum of other religions being in service of Yahweh doesn’t seem to be an option because the other characters who are Christian have endured terrible pain without help and a pagan ends up helping through skills and evidence. So it might be a commentary on theological arguments and God.

    The script was brilliant and raises great questions. In real life the lines between “pagan” and popular religion is not as black and white. Grace, personal salvation (and savior figures) and so on are from Hellenistic religions which were later called “pagan” by the Church. A great scholar on Greek Hellenism, J.Z. Smith did a great piece for Britannica that sums it up. Dr James Tabor is another good source on that.

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