That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)


Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 1:08 pm—Film

Prisoners (USA 2013, Crime/Drama/Thriller), Writer: Aaron Guzikowski; Director: Denis Villeneuve

I owe a thank you to Kickass Canadian Sam Hudecki for pointing me towards Prisoners—or, more to the point, for reintroducing me to the fascinating work of writer/director Denis Villeneuve.

Sam was a storyboard artist on Prisoners, not to mention a graphic artist on The Incredible Hulk and assistant art director on Splice. I met him at Queen’s University when we were both in the film program, and, to my great fortune, he wound up working as 1st assistant camera on my first non-student short, Sight Lines. He’s done amazing things since; check him out on IMDB.

Several weeks ago, Sam mentioned he’d had the pleasure of travelling to Georgia to work on Prisoners. So naturally I couldn’t wait to see it, especially when I realized it was one of Villeneuve’s films, and that its cast was ridiculously good: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano. If I had a list of favourites, all those actors would be on it.

I saw Villeneuve’s 2000 feature, Maelstrom, back in my film school days, when my pal TS and I were regulars at Kingston’s The Screening Room. It’s been more than 10 years now, and I have to admit I don’t remember the movie too well. But what I do remember is all good. The film is narrated by a soon-to-be-departed fish, stars the fabulous Marie-Josée Croze, and demonstrates Villeneuve’s ability to reflect on and appreciate women’s issues (for example, abortion).

I was very struck by that, much as I was when I saw 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a staggering Romanian film that was also written and directed by a man, yet showcases a remarkably sensitive and insightful look at the particularities of being a woman. In both cases, I found it moving and reaffirming to see that kind of appreciation from male filmmakers.

Anyway, my own appreciation for Maelstrom, coupled with Sam’s connection to Prisoners, made me want to get reacquainted with Villeneuve before seeing his latest film. I finally got around to renting Incendies, the writer/director’s crushing 2010 drama that won eight Genie Awards (including for Best Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Incendies was just as good as I’d heard. It had a very different flavour from what I remember of Maelstrom, but again it showed a real sensitivity to women’s issues, including rape, enforced pregnancy and a mother being separated from her baby.

So that’s where I was coming from when I saw Prisoners—from a place of great respect for Villeneuve’s profound humanity and artistry, and his talent for aligning himself with the views of the opposite sex. (I haven’t felt ready to watch his film Polytechnique, based on the horrific shooting of 14 young women in Montreal, but I’ll get there.) And while Prisoners doesn’t show the same sensitivity to women in particular as do some of Villeneuve’s other films, it still reveals the director’s underlying sensitivity toward the human condition in general, both in his touch with the actors and his ruminative, insightful camera direction.

Unlike Maelstrom and Incendies, Prisoners isn’t written by Villeneuve, and its lead characters aren’t women; instead, they’re two very macho men—Keller Dover (Jackman), a man on the hunt for anything that will lead to his missing daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), and Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), the man officially charged with finding her.

There are many themes and symbols in the film. Religion, entrapment, prisons of all kinds—both of one’s own making, and those imposed by others—not to mention puzzles, snakes and deer.

Prisoners opens with a gorgeous shot of a deer, standing unknowingly in the crosshairs as Keller guides his son in making his first kill. From there, the film takes us through a maze of characters and storylines, as Anna and her friend disappear over Thanksgiving, and Keller takes the law into his own hands when a suspect is released from custody.

We’re privy to many points of view, and each is somewhat obscured as the story moves from one character to another, not always stopping to catch us up on what we missed in between. In this way, Prisoners creates a scattered feeling, like waiting helplessly (hopelessly?) for the missing pieces to fall into place. With the film’s emphasis on faith, maybe we’re meant to imagine that this is what it’s like to live in a godless world.

Still, for all its twists and turns, Prisoners has a strong emotional pull. That’s thanks to strong performances; dark, moody cinematography that calls to mind the graininess of film stock; and, most of all, Villeneuve’s artistic eye. Because of the director’s great vision, he turns what could have been a fairly typical thriller into something more layered and impactful.

Villeneuve is a gifted filmmaker and, by all indications, a remarkable person with a lot to say. I definitely want to hear more. (For more on this, see my Kickass Canadians article on Villeneuve.)

I’m looking forward to Villeneuve’s next film, Enemy, due out in a few months. It’s based on José Saramago’s book The Double, which I intend to read before the movie comes out. Saramago’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, Blindness, made an interesting film (see my Blindness review), and with Villeneuve reteaming with Gyllenhaal, a multi-faceted actor who excels onstage as well as the silver screen (see If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet), this next adaptation is bound to be worth watching.

Plus, Sam returned for motion graphics and storyboarding on Enemy. How could I resist the work of so many great artists?

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