How did Denis Villeneuve use “prisoners” labyrinths as a central symbol?

Breaking a secret is like trying to escape a maze.

Symbolism is one of my favorite things to do in film and television. It is this hidden layer beneath the surface of history that only really comes to light upon repeated viewing. One of the films that I think I’ve seen the most is the fabulous mystery / thriller Prisoners.

The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski. It tells the story of a father whose child and her friend go missing. 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, a possessed police detective searches the clues and tries to solve the riddle.

When the clues come up, a recurring symbol that we keep seeing is the maze. These mazes confuse the police and make things more complicated by revealing clues about a priest, his murder victim, and an old woman who is constantly lying.

Check out this video where the mazes are dissected from Storyteller, and let’s talk after the jump.

How is Denis Villeneuves Prisoners Use mazes as a central symbol?

The maze in the film has different purposes. We outlined the first one above – the idea that many clues lead to a way out of this mystery – the next one is more action-based.

This maze appears on a dead man’s necklace. The same maze is on the walls of a suspect’s house. We find out that the suspect was a kidnap victim trying to put his childhood back together. The more we dig into these mazes, the more we realize that they are interconnected.

The labyrinth ties the child to the dead person, and then the dead person is followed up to his wife, an old woman who continues to abduct people. It is interesting that the policeman finds out all of this thanks to the clues.

But the father of the missing children finds out by stupid luck. It shows that there is more than one way out of a maze. One requires skill. With the other, you have to stumble around and take turns until you open up.

Labyrinths are also important in Greek and Roman mythology, where they house a monster such as a minotaur (or a vicious kidnapper) and are also used to hold virgins captive. We’re missing two young girls, so it could be an allusion to that too.

The symbolism in this film adds another player and offers the audience something powerful to not only scare them but also embody the fear of getting lost. We’re on the edge of our seats trying to find a way out, just like the characters in the movie.

Let me know what you think of this symbolism in the comments.

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