CHRIS: Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (Sluizer, Netherlands/France, 1988)

A young woman disappears from a busy motorway service station leaving her boyfriend puzzled. He spends years compulsively searching for leads that can explain how it happened and where she has gone, when her abductor, Raymond Lemorne, contacts him to reveal all.

This is a startling thriller that has been made famous by its chilling conclusion. It is fascinating as a narrative as it reveals many of its secrets early on, yet still manages to pull off a shock at the end. It is a suspense film that defies the conventions of the genre; like a magician that shows how the trick is done, yet still pulls a rabbit out of the hat that nobody saw coming. The impulse for the narrative is Rex (the boyfriend) demanding to understand more from Lemorne, questioning why, how, and what happened. Although it is a Dutch film, most of the dialogue is in French, which resulted it being disqualified for nomination for the foreign language category due to some pedantic formality. The English and the Dutch titles (Superloos, meaning Without a Trace) are not as effective as the French L’Homme Qui Voulait Savoir, which means The Man Who Wanted To Know.

This impulse to understand is also apparent in other more recent abduction narratives. The recently published THE PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS: THE FATE OF LUCIE BLACKMAN (2011) by Richard Lloyd Parry and the best-selling THE ROOM (2010) by Emma Donoghue are both driven by the same urge to explain and understand sociopathic behavior. The Lloyd Parry book is a detailed exploration of the disappearance of former BA air-hostess Lucie Blackman in Tokyo, concentrating on how the case disintegrated the fractured relationships in her family and on Joji Obara, a wealthy, middle-aged business man, accused of kidnapping women using soporific drugs.

Lemorne has a similar modus operendi. A series of flash-backs reveal how he practiced the abduction again and again, yet there is little explanation of his motives, which is the main source of frustration for Rex who is attempting to decode the situation.

Sluizer remade the film for America in 1993 with Kiefer Sutherland as the boyfriend and Jeff Bridges putting on his psycho-turn as the abductor. During the translation, all of the fascinating aspects of the story seemed to be straightened out and sanitized to something more conventional.

The original remains original.

One response to “CHRIS: Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (Sluizer, Netherlands/France, 1988)


    I wondered why this was left out of the ‘Confined Spaces’ Friday Five.

    One thing this film reminds me of is the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, not only do they frequently feature a protagonist whose own pathological obsession leads them (sometimes ironically) to a sticky end, but Poe was obsessed with the fear of being buried alive and several times uses it as a big shock ending (‘The Premature Burial’ & ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’).

    Although reading the wikipedia entry for ‘The Premature Burial’ it seems this was a common obsession in the 19th century, there was even a ‘Society for the Prevention of People being Buried Alive’:

    Their proposed Christmas outing to Wookey Hole was cancelled due to lack of interest.

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