Film Reviews

The Vanishing George Sluizer

Rating - 8/10

George Sluizer adapts Tim Krabbé's acclaimed Dutch novel The Golden Egg into The Vanishing, an elusive psychological and philosophical thriller fused with an innately curious tale of obsession, which expounds its unique character development.  Probing and evoking concepts of identity, predestination, and the nature of evil (in the context of black and white designations), the film requires viewers to thoughtfully engage and deduce ambiguous images, dream theories and eccentric situations.

In the film's opening sequence, protagonist Rex Hofman unadvisedly drives through an abyss-like tunnel with his companion Saskia Wagter; as they descend further into darkness, the camera closely fixates on the couple as the situation prompts Saskia to recall a recurring nightmare.  Rex elaborates, "you're inside a golden egg and you can't get out, and you float all alone through space forever."  Expansive and multifaceted, this centripetal dream manifests at several other points throughout the film; notably, three years after Saskia's vanishing, Rex appears on national television to discuss his own corresponding version of her vision, which simultaneously mystifies his own identity and relays communal ideas about the concept of fate (or whether or not he will befall Saskia's presumable doom).  Rex even states that he's interpreted the dream as a sign of their inevitable reunion; however, its inherent visuals more accurately facilitate a metaphor for a meeting in the afterlife.   The film boasts a number of manifestations for the dream's significance, some metaphysical and some literal, beginning with the tunnel that first beckons Saskia's memory, the enduring plot to unearth Saskia, Rex's lonely apartment, and finally a wooden coffin. While the surreally-described reveries do not assemble visually, Sluizer imaginatively evokes the characters' disorienting moments through the verisimilitude of an unfiltered camera lens.

Like the mingling of languages (Dutch, French and even English at one point), The Vanishing inconspicuously and seamlessly assimilates flashbacks without definite visual effects or editing markers, leaving the viewer to decode and interpret.   This structure provokes perpetual inquiry rather than articulate confidence; the film operates contrarily to most formulaic mysteries with less melodramatic extrapolation and misdirection, instead wholly favoring idiosyncratic detail.  Even though the documentation of time and place is occasionally confounding, The Vanishing does not imprudently mislead but summons one to the anonymity of its familiar locales and characters.  With Raymond Lemorne's development prefaced in short enigmatic doses, the film amasses intrigue fluidly.  Introduced in the opening minutes as a mere spectator, Ray sits in a parked car applying a cast to his right wrist and sling to his arm, then stands outside the gas station store with a newspaper like a chameleon blending into a crowd.  In one of his next appearances, he is solely showcased arriving at his coveted house in Saint-Côme, huffing chloroform in a barn while timing its effects and measuring pulse rate, an anomalous step away from his unassuming first impression.

As Ray himself accounts, the reason for his ill-behavior is "a slight abnormality in his personality," which is imperceptible to those around him.  He verbally ascribes himself a sociopath and claustrophobe, but parallels of his meticulous perfectionism are underscored Rex's unrelenting fixation on his missing girlfriend.  Furthering the notion of ambiguous identities, Ray adopts types of stock charismatic personas in his premeditated attempts to abduct women.  In this contemptible hobby, Ray tests his moral willpower and defiance of fate or predetermined events.  He convinces himself of his inability to commit evil acts by conceiving the worst deed possible, yet remaining unable to commit it.  In fact, as Ray will gradually reveal to Rex, his expression is simply subjective, an extension of his sociopathic nature.  Eventually he elicits Rex's obsession to the point where he succumbs to his every demand, fulfilling his own definition of evil, possessing adamant control of someone's fate as a puppet master.

Kim Newman's Criterion essay provides several historical nods to cinematic enigmas like Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes and Terence Fisher's So Long at the Fair among others, yet most modern audiences will be inclined to correlate The Vanishing to Erik Skjoldbjærg's original vision of Insomnia (1997) with its subdued tonal inflections and ambiguity.  Sluizer's film is, in a sense, a genesis for disorientation of Jonas' character in Insomnia, which would later spawn a reputable English remake in 2002 from director Christopher Nolan.  Subtleties in each film can be traced to the wisdom of the directors and screenwriters; one of the brilliant nuances in The Vanishing is incorporation of the radio broadcast of the cycling marathon; the competition between Fignon and Hinault symbolically resembles the events and meetings between Lemorne and Hofman.  Ray Lemorne's constructed series of events and acerbic mailings for Rex exercise a patient battle of curiosities and wits to reach an ultimatum in the same sense that the race is an enduring battle of athleticism to determine an absolute champion.  By all accounts, The Vanishing indicates that obsession is contagious.