“The Vanishing” (1988)

"The Vanishing" 1988 posterA Dutch–French movie that is hard to classify. It is a gloomy and mysterious take on suspense-driven thriller. It’s better not to read anything about the plot before seeing it.

So how am I to tell you about it without spoiling it? Well, let’s just say that there is the vanishing in the movie, as you can guess from the title (original one being “Spoorloos” which means “Traceless”). And that you know more than the protagonist, because you get to know the antagonist’s identity. In a sense, you get to know the antagonist more than the protagonist. BUT, you still do not know everything till the last, extremely powerful, moment.

The mystery is intermingled with everyday life scenes. This would seem boring, but the brilliant director and cinematographer did their job very well: you are not bored one bit. The movie captivates you. You get more and more curious and frightened.

I saw it as it was in the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” and I can truly recommend it. I did not read about it anywhere (including the book) and I suggest you do the same.  Even the storyline put on IMDb gives away too much.

The main cast is wonderful and I would include Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s character when making any “best movie villain” list. I feel that he represents an actor who remains memorable despite his average appearance. Reminds me of Gene Hackman in this sense. Or Kevin Spacey.

Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu in "The Vanishing" (1988)
Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu

The viewers today differ from the viewers in 1988. What was shocking then, today seems almost mild. Yet, the movie stands the test of time thanks to the mysterious aura it possesses. Think about Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”: the plot there was “normal” but the narrative wasn’t, as James Stewart’s character became more and more disturbed.

In “The Vanishing” at first glance there are no supernatural elements, yet the story has some dream-like qualities. The movie is an adaptation of the novella “The Golden Egg” by Tim Krabbé and it certainly made me want to read this book, as the author was a co-writer of the screenplay.

"The Vanishing" (1988) tunnel scene
Opening scene in the tunnel

If you decide to watch this movie, you may ask yourself: what is so grotesque about it? It features no freaks, bewildering monsters, no “paranormal activity” (in a literal sense). Yet there is a mixture of comedy and horror: amusing scenes hide hideous truths. Horror that can terrify and amuse us at the same time is often grotesque.

In a film there is a place for sadism and derangement, but grotesque requires more than a sadistic character, right? Right. A psycho does not make a grotesque. But a psycho who pretends to talk to his domineering mother, and a moment later kills his hotel guest dressed-up as the mother (wig  included) is grotesque (if you know which movie I just spoilt you can pat yourself on the back). Similarly here, the antagonist has so many faces throughout the movie that the contradiction between them makes him grotesque. And he is obsessed with one idea. The idea so destructive that it dominates his whole life.

Firstly the motto for this blog was supposed to be “It was the truths that made the people grotesques.” It comes from the novel “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson. In my writing I will return again and again to this novel. In “Winesburg, Ohio” each grotesque character was obsessed with one idea and (most of the time) it destroyed him or her. One idea taken to the extreme can shake the person’s world. For the better or for the worse. “The Vanishing” shows one option.

2 thoughts on ““The Vanishing” (1988)

  1. Excellent piece. It’s a strangely unnerving film, which grips the viewer principally by the “vanishing” alluded to in the title, then the investigation which brings protagonist and antagonist together. What really makes this film stand out is how the ending brings it all together with such devastating effect.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Dan, it is very encouraging! I am going to write more about foreign movies in the future. I agree that the ending is crucial in “The Vanishing.” It really sent chills down my spine.

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