The Vanishing ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This was one of two Criterion Collection DVDs I checked out from the Oldham County Public Library yesterday, selected specifically for this month's DVD Talk Criterion Challenge. The only bonus feature to be found is the original theatrical trailer, which has a rather disturbingly lighthearted tone. A recurring point of discussion in my movie circles is the giveaway trailer, so thoroughly summarizing the film that the audience finds little surprise. The aforementioned theatrical trailer for this film is guilty of being very forthright about the story, but this is an instance where there are some extenuating circumstances.

Based upon a novel in turn inspired by an urban legend, Spoorloos [The Vanishing] begins already somewhat behind the 8 ball. We know from its very premise - traveling woman disappears, man searches for her - there are only a few possible outcomes. It's like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" with, like, three final chapters.

Yet what director George Sluizer's film manages to do is concede the obvious and dares us to come out from behind our presumptuous cynicism and answer the question, "Do you really want to know what happened to Saskia?" As Kim Newman put it in her 2001 essay, "Rex’s revelation also indicts the audience’s culpability—after all, we too want above all to learn the answer, even if it is truly appalling."

We're not tag-along detectives, seeking to help Rex find Saskia. We're sadistic voyeurs, enthralled by the brazenness of Raymond Lermorne in much the same way that our interest in Patrick Bateman supersedes any sympathy we may have for his victims in American Psycho. The truly interesting villains don't even see themselves as villainous, which is part of Raymond's intrigue. His rationale for abducting Saskia is dazzling: he wishes to prove that his moment of heroism would eclipse the darkest act he could think of performing, to test the absolute value of his goodness. It's the kind of intellectual exercise that, on paper, holds a lot of genuine interest. Thankfully, of those capable of appreciating the academic value of such hypothesis, scant few would ever consider actually trying to apply their curiosities.

And that's really where Spoorloos finds its place. The film allows us to vicariously go in places our own values would discourage us from exploring. We're not here to ask how, in Rex's position we might handle the abduction of our loved one (though I do appreciate that the film shies away from making Rex out to be a righteous avenger, as has become the fetish in contemporary cinema best personified by Taken). No, Rex exists solely so that Raymond has a proxy for confessing and explaining everything to us.

Spoorloos is not a film of the escalating depravity that characterizes American Psycho, but Raymond and Patrick are clearly kindred spirits. Patrick is more outrageous of the two, certainly, but there's something about Raymond that suggests he may operate on a "higher" level. His actions, after all, are couched in an admittedly repulsive philosophical argument about the nature of man's goodness, whereas Patrick kills more to test whether anyone in society is paying the slightest attention to what he does. There's that specific moment when Raymond dismisses the appeal of abducting prostitutes: they're willing to get into his car, and no one will miss them. There's insufficient challenge to the act of abduction, then, that prevents him from truly exploring the depths of his darkness as he needs to do. Patrick, of course, makes no such discrimination and indeed, favors prostitutes and other victims who will not be missed.

On a lighter note, I kept thinking the whole time that Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu (Raymond) bore a strong physical resemblance to Major League Baseball pitcher Eric Gagne and also to a former classmate I never liked. In some shots, Gene Bervoets reminded me of Christopher MacDonald.

How It Entered My Flickchart
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] > Henry Poole Is Here
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < Citizen Kane
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] > Hollywood Homicide
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < Mission: Impossible
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] > Jerry Maguire
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < Back to the Future, Part II
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < Dracula (1931)
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < Dead Calm
Spoorloos [The Vanishing] < Day & Night

Spoorloos [The Vanishing] entered my Flickchart at #253/1411