The Vanishing

There’s the strangest image I had after watching the Dutch thriller The Vanishing. The entirety of the movie is an exercise in demonstrating the banality of evil – the lead villain isn’t a scenery-chewing monster, nor does he even have a motive for the horrible things he does. He just wanted to see if he was capable of doing something repulsive. And he is. The image it conjured up for me was a university classroom of students learning how to commit the perfect murder – with the film’s villain as the professor. Except it isn’t exciting; the students are bored with the monotonous lecture, complaining about the assignments and requirements of the class, and some can’t even stay awake. That’s the banality of evil – when something reprehensible becomes boring.

The plot of the film is simple: a man’s girlfriend vanishes from a gas station and he spends the next three years obsessed with finding out what happened to her. We learn the identity of her abductor early on – a composed chemistry teacher – and in a lengthy flashback we follow his preparations, learning alongside him the effort it takes to make a person disappear into thin air. It’s not easy work, and it is the films greatest strength that it takes it’s time to lead up to the pivotal moment at the gas station, only revealing the truth to us in breadcrumbs until we’re just as obsessed about finding out the truth as the boyfriend.

Much has been made about the ending of The Vanishing. It’s claimed to be shocking and haunting, but I found it to be a little flat. It is dark and disturbing of course, but only after the fact. Which I would argue is intentional because that’s what makes the ending frightening. What’s more horrific than knowing a person capable of a monstrous act who doesn’t feel a thing afterwards? Not being able to tell that person apart from anyone else.

Grade: A-

Sidenote: Don’t bother seeing the 1993 remake with Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock. The ending is completely changed because the original was too dark and depressing for American audiences. Funny thing is, the remake and the original were both directed by the same guy. The more you know.


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