Symbolism is one of my favorite things in film and television. It's that hidden layer beneath the surface of the story that only truly comes out upon repeat viewings. One of the movies I think I have seen the most is the fabulous mystery/thrillerPrisoners.
The movie was directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski. It features the story of a father whose child has gone missing, along with her friend. The police have a suspect, but insufficient evidence to make an arrest. So the father kidnaps the suspect and tortures him to get answers. Meanwhile, an obsessed police detective searches through the clues, trying to put the mystery together.
As the clues come forward, a recurring symbol we see over and over again is the maze. These mazes confound the police and make things more complicated as clues are revealed with a priest, his murder victim, and an old woman who's constantly lying.
Check out this video dissecting the mazes from Storytellers, and let's talk after the jump.
How Did Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners Use Mazes as Its Central Symbol?
The maze in the movie has several different purposes. We outlined the first one above—the idea that many clues lead to an exit from this mystery—the next is more plot-based.
That maze shows up on a necklace of a dead man. The same maze is found on the walls of a suspect's house. We find out that the suspect was a kidnapping victim, trying to put his childhood back together. The more we dig into those mazes, the more we realize they are connected.
The maze ties the kid to the dead man, and then the dead man is tracked all the way back to his wife, an old woman who is continuing the practice of kidnapping people. What's interesting is that the cop figures all this out thanks to the clues.
But the father of the missing kids figures it out through dumb luck. It shows that there's more than one way out of a maze. One requires skill. The other requires stumbling around and taking turns until one opens up.
Mazes are also important in Greek and Roman mythology, where they house a monster like a minotaur (or vicious kidnapper) and also are used to keep maidens captive. We have two young girls missing in this, so it could be an allusion to that, as well.
The symbolism in this movie adds another player and also provides the audience with something powerful to not only scare them but embody the fear of being lost. We are on the edge of our seats trying to grasp a way out, just like the characters in the movie are.
Let me know what you think about this symbolism in the comments.