And Like That....She's Gone
The Vanishing is directed by George Sluizer and is based on the 1984 novel The Golden Egg by Tim Krabbe. The film stars Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege, and Gwen Eckhaus.
We all like to think the climax of a mystery is the ending, when it's finally revealed who the murderer or who the kidnapper is, the chance for us to finally put all of the puzzle pieces together. I love a good mystery as much as the next person, but George Sluizer's The Vanishing (Spoorloos in Dutch) delivers an ending that has nothing to do with revealing the identity of someone, yet is so incredibly haunting and is certain to stick with you long, and I mean long, afterwards. So much so, it would make even the most decent of mysteries cower in fear. A lot of what makes The Vanishing so special is its unusual narrative structure, finding ways to build suspense even when it seems like there's no way the movie could be building suspense, because of what it tells us early on.
As I speak of suspense, I should mention that The Vanishing also works as a thriller (maybe even more so than a mystery), for its mystery is an exercise in heart-thumping tension and not just as an object of curiosity. I would credit George Sluizer as something of a Dutch Alfred Hitchcock, but I don't know enough of Sluizer's filmography to properly give him such an honor. Honestly, I think had Hitchcock been around long enough to see this film, he would have had nothing but praise for it. The Vanishing isn't "Hitchcockian" by any means, never utilizing Hitchcock's signature techniques like his voyeuristic camera movements and fear-inducing framing shots. But it knows how to build suspense in a way that makes it seem Hitchcock-like, and that is a compliment of high order for any thriller.
The story is about the disappearance of a young woman named Saskia (Johanna ter Steege). The film opens with Saskia and her boyfriend Rex (Gene Bervoets) travelling on holiday in France. Saskia mentions to Rex a recurring dream she has about drifting through space while trapped inside a golden egg. The two have an argument, but quickly make up. They stop at a rest area after they run out of gas, where Rex promises to never abandon Saskia. The two bury a pair of coins underneath a tree to symbolize their love for each other. Saskia goes into the station to buy some drinks just before the two head out. She does not return. Rex frantically searches for Saskia, only finding a handful of possible clues related to her disappearance. The search goes on for three years, but Rex never gives up hope.
What happened? Where did Saskia go? Was she abducted? Yes, Saskia was abducted. And believe it or not, the identity of the abductor is given to us before the abduction even happens. We don't learn the specific details of how Saskia was taken until late in the film, but we know for the majority of the film who the abductor is. The abductor's identity is not a colossal spoiler by any means, but I won't give a name, just so, if and when you see the film for yourself, you can go into it blind.
- The Vanishing builds up to an ending that is more horrifying and spine-tingling than your average gore-fest in an R-rated slasher/horror flick. Yes, I said that already. I don't care. I'm going to tell it to you again. Much of how the ending is so effective is because of how the movie spends a lot of time exploring the mind and habits of the abductor. The abductor is a perfectionist; we watch him meticulously practice his kidnapping routine. We also learn that the abductor is a loving husband, a caring father, and a professor. On the outside, he appears to be a perfectly normal person, living a full life. But on the inside, this man is a deranged sociopath and a much scarier one because of his outward appearance.
- The film takes on a more nonlinear narrative, and it really, truly works. After Saskia disappears, the movie almost immediately takes us into some time earlier, were we get a look into the life of the abductor. Once we flash forward to three years later, the movie goes back and forth between a distraught Rex trying everything to find Saskia and events from the abductor's past that affect him in the present. Instead of building suspense by having Rex think and work like a detective, the movie builds suspense by bringing Rex and the abductor closer and closer together, until they finally meet, and all hell breaks loose.
- I needed to take a bit of time to fully process this movie after I watched it, and after doing so, the closest thing to a low point that I could come up with is that the movie could've taken some time to show us more of how Rex and Saskia came to be, how the two grew to love each other. Rex bemoans how much he misses Saskia, but he doesn't proceed to tell us exactly how his life is different or incomplete without Saskia. Did she always look after him in tough times, perhaps help him through some financial struggles? Was it her laugh or her cheerful personality that made him fall for her? The time that the two spend together in the beginning of the film is brief, and in that time, we only see the two have a small argument and Saskia tell Rex about her golden egg dream. In other words, a bit more character development for Rex and Saskia would have likely catapulted the film into the territory of masterpiece, and the ending might have been even more haunting than it already is.
But you know what? The Vanishing is a borderline masterpiece as is, and I can't believe I didn't come across it earlier. It's a mystery thriller whose unconventional structure works as a hybrid of those two genres, and a film that builds suspense in a way I never thought imaginable for a film that centers on someone's disappearance. The film grabs hold of you from the start and never lets go, applying the ultimate squeeze with its ending, an ending you may never ever forget. The Vanishing's mystery isn't the whole story, though. The story is also an analysis of a sociopath and what goes through the mind of such a person. And the fact that a sociopath may very well be posing as a normal, every day person? Those are the kind of realities that keep you up a little bit longer at night.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: