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Film / The Vanishing

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The Vanishing (known in Dutch as Spoorloos; literally "Traceless" or "Without a Trace") is a 1988 Dutch thriller film directed and co-written by George Sluizer, adapted from the novella The Golden Egg by Tim Krabbé (who also co-wrote the screenplay).

Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna Ter Steege) are two young lovers on holiday. After Rex makes a fateful stop at a service station, he comes out to find that Saskia has disappeared. Rex spends the next three years trying to find her, pleading his case in the media and severely hurting his new relationship in the process.

Eventually, Rex receives some postcards from a chemistry teacher named Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), who insinuates that he knows what happened to Saskia. The question then becomes this: with his desire for the truth crossed over into obsession, how far is Rex willing to go to finally find it?

The film was remade in 1993 by the same director with Kiefer Sutherland, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, and Nancy Travis. There was also a BBC radio play version in 2011.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the remake, the protagonist's new girlfriend realizes he's in trouble and rescues him in the nick of time.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the 1993 remake, Raymond Lemorne becomes Barney Cousins, Rex Hofman becomes Jeff Harriman, and Saskia Wagter becomes Diane Shaver.
  • Affably Evil: Raymond is impossibly charming and polite and seems to be a good father and husband. That's also why he decides to reveal himself to Rex: he feels sympathy for the man and wants to give him a shot at knowing what hapened to Saskia (while also giving himself a shot at killing again). He even makes sandwiches to Rex during their trip to France.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Raymond murders Rex in the same manner he murdered Saskia, he is never caught by the police, and it's implied that he will keep killing.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Raymond. He seems so mild for a kidnapper.
  • Black Comedy: Flashes of it here and there.
    • The scene in which Raymond clumsily practices knocking women out with chloroform is very darkly funny indeed.
    • At one point, Raymond is practicing the spiel he will try to use to entice a woman to go with him, saying he is having trouble hitching his trailer to his car. He tries to say, "I have to hitch it," in English, but because of his heavy accent, what comes out is, "I 'ave to eat shit." He breaks off, surprised, then decides to say, "I have to attach it."
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: In the 1993 remake of the film, the villain character is named Barney, played by Jeff Bridges. His justification for his actions in the remake are that he would feel unworthy of his daughter's love after saving a little girl's life unless he also committed an equal act of evil. It is this same reason that gives him the idea to do something horrible to get a kick.
  • Buried Alive: The fate of Saskia and Rex.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted in the remake. Rita tries to rescue Jeff and brings along the case containing his revolver. When it comes time to use it, she discovers the case is empty because she'd earlier bitched at Jeff for owning a gun and he got rid of it to keep her happy.
  • Downer Ending: Only in the original, and a famously disturbing one at that. Rex finally discovers what happened to Saskia: she had been buried alive, and he is going to suffer the same fate. And so, not only does Raymond walk away scot-free, but as he had taken a liking to killing, it's implied he'll keep doing it.
  • Dying Dream: The original novella ends with Rex hallucinating that he and Saskia are reunited as he dies.
  • Europeans Are Kinky: Raymond jokes to his wife that he might be the sole Frenchman that "can be proud that he has only known one woman in his life".
  • Evil Is Petty: There can't be a pettier reason to become a Serial Killer than seeing if it's possible to experience the same high from killing people than the one felt from saving the life of a kid.
  • Fatal Flaw: Rex's obsessive need to know what happened to Saskia, even at the expense of seeking justice for her, ultimately results in him bankrupting himself, destroying his relationship with Lieneke and allowing Raymond to kill him.
  • Foreign Remake: With an American cast and setting (although the director of the original returned).
  • Foreshadowing: Ten minutes before The Reveal, it is stated that Raymond is exempted from wearing seat belts due to being claustrophobic. This will ring a bell for those who remember that Raymond said that he inflicted to Saskia the worst that he could have imagined to someone. Once it is revealed that he buried Saskia alive, this scene makes a lot more sense.
  • For the Evulz: The villain is an emotional blank slate. The greatest high of his life was when he saved a girl from drowning. Now he wants to see if he can get a similar high from doing something really evil.
  • The Hero Dies: And in a very unpleasant way.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Saskia.
  • Insane Troll Logic: See Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • Internal Reveal: The audience knows who the killer is almost immediately, but Rex does not find out until the beginning of the third act.
  • Laughing Mad: Rex, when he discovered that the fate of Saskia was to be buried alive and he is now going to die the same way.
  • Karma Houdini: See The Bad Guy Wins.
  • Manipulative Bastard: As a good sociopath, Raymond knows how to lie and uses words to convince people to do/think what he wants. During his conversation with Rex about experiencing (or not) what Saskia has lived, he plays on Rex's obsession about knowing what happened to Saskia as he perfectly knows that Rex is at this point ready to do anything to just know.
  • Meaningful Name: Raymond's surname "Lemorne" could be translated to "the gloomy one", which references his states of inner emotional emptiness.
  • Not His Sled: The remake sanitizes the original's famously dark ending; this is the main reason it's considered to be inferior to the original.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Subverted; Rex first assumes that Raymond raped Saskia, as it is the worst he could have imagined, but Raymond refutes this.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: Subverted. The audience knows who the killer is from the outset, and Rex eventually learns who he is and how he killed Saskia - but the killer gets away with it anyway.
  • Rule of Symbolism: In the original book, named "Het Gouden Ei" (transl. "The Golden Egg"), the audience is explained that the lead character was having nightmares about being trapped inside a Golden Egg while his significant other is trapped inside another. They could only be released from their eggs if they crashed into each other. The catch? Their eggs are flying through outer space, and not on a direct collision course, so most likely they would never be free. Considering how the book and the original movie end, the symbolism of this dream is quite fitting. The remake not so much.
  • Serial Killer: What Raymond is eventually budding to become after killing Rex, it's implied he's going to do it again.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:Rex.
  • Screw Destiny: The villain claims that when he was a teenager he deliberately jumped off the balcony of his apartment just for the sake of doing this. He claims it resulted in him breaking his leg and two fingers (the subtitles say that he "lost" two fingers, but the actor playing Raymond has all ten. It's possible he was simply messing with Rex's head, or it may be a simple mistake in translation, or he could have been speaking about his toes).
    • In the end, that's also what Rex does in order to find out about Saskia.
  • Shown Their Work: Raymond is a very good example of a sociopath, or more likely a psychopath. He is a Consummate Liar, does not care in the least about the well-being of others, has a need for stimulation, is emotionally blunted, and has to always be right, even if he has to use Insane Troll Logic to prove his point.
  • The Sociopath: Raymond is likely a high-functioning type, and he is even aware of it. He is in a perpetual state of emotional emptiness, and states that the only times he has ever felt alive were when he jumped off of a balcony and broke both of his legs at the age of 16, when he saved a little girl from drowning when he was 42, and when he buried Saskia and Rex alive.
    Raymond: A small anomaly of my personality, imperceptible for the entourage. You can find me in medical encyclopedia, as a "sociopath" in new editions.
    • He may be even worse in the novel. When he's planning his crime, his first choice for his victim is his daughter. He only decides not to go down this road because he'd be caught far too easily.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Raymond is extremely ordinary-looking.
  • Together in Death: Rex's Dying Dream in the novella. However, the final shot in the film heavily implies that Rex and Saskia are not rejoined after death.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Justified and deconstructed. Raymond has to go through many possible victims, and his plan fails again and again because most of the women he is trying to pick up are smart enough to figure out something is wrong. Saskia just happens to be one of the few women he encounters who is naive and foolish enough to be taken in by his act.
  • Villain Protagonist: A lot of time is dedicated to the elaboration and modifications of Raymond's plan.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Jeff Bridges in the remake.
  • You're Insane!: Rex says this to Raymond when the latter proposes to find out what happened to Saskia by experiencing it. What does he answer? "It doesn't matter, really."