Spoorloos
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FAQ for
The Vanishing (1988) More at IMDbPro »Spoorloos (original title)

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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

Yes, it is based on the 1984 Tim Krabb novella Het gouden ei, translated into English by Claire Nicholas White as The Golden Egg. In 2003, mainly due to the continuing reputation of Spoorloos, the novella was republished in a new translation by Sam Garrett under the title The Vanishing. This new edition can be purchased here.

For the most part, yes. The four major characters (Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets), Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege) and Lieneke (Gwen Eckhaus)) are all the same, the main plot is the same, Raymond's reasons for abducting Saskia are the same, Rex's obsession is the same, the end is the same, even some of the dialogue is the same. There are some minor differences however. For example, in the book, we are not introduced to Raymond until after Saskia has been abducted; in the film we meet him for the first time prior to the abduction. Additionally, whereas in the film only 3 years pass before Rex meets Raymond, in the book, 8 years pass. Another change is that in the book, there are less flashbacks. Also, in the book, Rex and Raymond spend less time together than they do in the film, and there is no equivalent of the 'name conversation' in the book.

The opening shot of the film features a stick insect standing on a branch. At first glance, the insect looks like part of the actual branch, but upon slightly moving, the audience realizes that it is in fact not. This is usually taken as a metaphor for Raymond. The film is insistent in its depiction of Raymond as an average family man, the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. He is presented as a man who can blend into a crowd, who is nonthreatening and completely normal, a man who, at first glance, seems to be something other than he actually is (ie he seems to be a normal upstanding member of society when he is in fact a cold blooded sociopath). This is metaphorically hinted at in the opening shot, where the insect initially appears to be part of the tree, until it moves and reveals its true self. A stick insect can easily be mistaken for a twig, just as Raymond can easily be mistaken for a normal decent human being.

When Rex and Saskia first enter the tunnel near the start of the film, Saskia tells Rex that the previous night she once again had a dream which she has been having recurrently for some time. In the dream, she's enclosed in a golden egg from which she can't escape, which is floating through space. However, in the most recent occurrence of the dream, it was different; "This time there was another golden egg flying through space. And if we were to collide it'd all be over."

This dream is visually referenced several times during the film; the most important instances of which in terms of interpreting the dream being the scene towards the end of the film where Rex digs up the two coins, and the last shot of the film, where the pictures of Saskia and Rex from the newspaper remain on screen, whilst everything else fades to black.

Saskia herself interprets the dream as being about "unbearable loneliness," but in the context of the film, it is safe to assume there is more to it than that. From a purely analytically perspective, analyzing the dream in and of itself, it could imply an inherent unease in her psyche about the relationship, or it could simply be an irrational insecurity in herself, a fear of loneliness (autophobia) or a fear of being abandoned.

However, more symbolic interpretations of the dream are possible, indeed are invited by the film. For example, one theory is that that Saskia is in one egg, and Raymond in the other, and when they collide, Saskia's life is finished. In this sense, the dream is prophetic. Another theory is that the eggs refer to the coffins, hence Saskia's inability to break out, and, once again, her dream is prophetic.

A more common interpretation however is that the dream is a precursor of the burying and subsequent unearthing of the two coins. When Rex digs the coins up towards the end of the film, he looks at them, and they glitter and stand out in the dark earth. It is also to be noted that they are touching one another. This, in tandem with the dream, may suggest to Rex that, to paraphrase Saskia, 'it's all over', that the egg housing Saskia and the egg housing himself have collided, and as such, he must take the final step and drink the coffee.

Important in this sense is the scene where Rex explains that he too has had the same dream as Saskia; "In my dream we found each other, out there in space." This prepares him for the discovery of the touching coins. By his also having the dream, he is able to imagine that he and Saskia are both in separate eggs, but that they find one another in space. Then, when he finds the touching coins, it is as if it were a manifestation or realization of his dream, and it gives him the courage to drink the coffee.

The final shot is also tied into this interpretation; the notion that Rex and Saskia find one another. Many fans interpret the final shot to mean that both Rex and Saskia have been set free; their eggs have been shattered, and they are finally together. In this sense, the film has a metaphorical 'happy ending' insofar as Rex and Saskia reunite, Rex fulfills his promise never to leave her, and neither of them will be alone ever again. Both Saskia's dream prior to the kidnapping, and Rex's dream after it thus function as precursors of this event.

However, it is also worth noting that in the final shot, the two 'eggs' do not collide, they are separated, perhaps suggesting that Rex has failed, and that they have not found one another in space, they are both still drifting, each imprisoned in their own egg, totally alone forever.

Whatever the case about the final shot however, the dream is most likely best understood when looked at in tandem with the coins, as a symbol of Rex and Saskia separately travelling through the universe, with their only chance for freedom and happiness being to find one another.

As mentioned above, Rex and Saskia bury two golden coins when they stop at the gas station. This serves as a symbol for their love; the two coins will forever be together, thus symbolizing Rex's promise never to abandon Saskia.

Later, the coins become emblematic of the two golden eggs in Saskia's dream (a dream also subsequently experienced by Rex), and it is upon seeing the two coins that Rex is inspired to submit himself to Raymond.

When Rex is talking to the gas station manager (Roger Souza), he suddenly runs out to the car to find the bikes are gone. The significance of this scene is never fully explained in the film. Rex is obviously a keen cycler, as is revealed later on in the film during his conversation with Raymond about Dutch names, and the holiday that he and Saskia were on was obviously set to involve biking.

Some fans suggest that perhaps Raymond took the bikes, but there is no evidence for this in the film. A more likely scenario is that the bikes were simply stolen due to the car being left unattended for so long, and Rex's consternation is due to the fact that the bikes were symbolic of the time he and Saskia were going to spend together. It is also a form of insult to injury; his wife has just been abducted, now his bike has been stolen.

Raymond places the spiders in the draw of the table, and then when his daughter Denise (Tania Latarjet) finds them and screams, he turns it into a game whereby all the family screams as loud as they can. Later on, Raymond is talking to his neighbor Laurent (Pierre Forget) and he asks him if he heard any screaming, to which Laurent responds he didn't.

Obviously, Raymond is checking to see if the sounds of screams carry to the next house, presumably with the intention of bringing whoever he abducts to the chateau.

Most likely so he doesn't panic during the abduction. It seems he is running test abductions at first, checking his pulse rate hourly to monitor its rate over time. Presumably, he wants to get to a point where his heart rate remains steady when he performs the actual abduction.

When Raymond asks Gisele Marzin (Raphaëline Goupilleau) into his car, he doesn't recognize her as Denise's volleyball teacher. When she reveals who she is, he is at a loss for words, and she advises him to try a gas station instead of a city street.

It seems that Gisele thinks Raymond is simply trying to pick someone up for casual sex, and as such, she advises him to go somewhere more anonymous than where he is.

When Lieneke leaves Rex in his office, he types her name into his 'Available women' database, and is told "The name is not on the list. Press any key to continue." At this point, the word 'Saskia' begins to appear on the screen, appearing in various different places and staying visible. Other women's names then begin to appear, along with phone numbers, but each time another name is presented, it is erased by Saskia's name. As Rex watches this, he appears at first confused, but then happy, smiling to himself as Saskia's name is proliferated on the screen.

The significance of this scene is never explained in the film, but there are a number of theories as to its meaning. Perhaps the most common is that the screensaver is a message from Lieneke, pointing out to Rex that his obsession with Saskia takes over from everything else, and that she literally 'erases' all the other women in his life. Another theory is that the screensaver isn't actually doing what we see it doing, that it is instead Rex's mind playing tricks on him, he has gotten to the point where he literally sees Saskia's name everywhere. A third theory is that Rex himself has created the program, partly to comfort himself and partly to remind himself that he is still in love with Saskia no matter what else happens, or who else he meets. If this is the case, his smile thus indicates his true feelings, as Saskia once again becomes foremost in his mind, replacing Lieneke, and all of the other 'Available women'. The screen thus represents his true state of mind; Saskia is always foremost, subsuming any other concerns or distractions.

Perhaps the most commonly asked question in relation to the film is why does Rex drink the coffee, thus submitting himself totally to Raymond, an action which ultimately leads to him being buried alive. It is often suggested that Rex's decision to submit to Raymond makes little sense, that there would have been other avenues for him to pursue in forcing Raymond to admit the truth, and his decision to drink the drugged coffee is both irrational and hasty.

Many fans suggest that Rex could have gone to the police, or taken Raymond somewhere and tortured the truth from him. First of all, Rex is not presented as a character capable of torturing someone, and, more importantly, as he makes it very clear himself, he does not hate Raymond, he simply wants the answer; this is his driving principal. Indeed, Raymond himself even points out Rex has every reason to kill him, but that if he does so, the answer will remain hidden. As regards the police, upon their initial meeting, Raymond tells Rex that he has taken precautions, and if Rex speaks to anyone, the opportunity will pass, and, once again, the answer will remain hidden. Even if Rex did get the police to arrest Raymond, they would have no way of extracting a confession unless he chose to confess, which he obviously wouldn't. Additionally, Rex has no evidence, only Raymond's word, who, if confronted with the police, could easily deny he said anything of the kind.

As such, Rex's decision to drink the coffee is a complex one, but in the end, it all comes down to one simple fact; as Rex explains during his TV interview, the worst thing of all is "not knowing." He states in this interview that he will literally do anything just to find out what happened to Saskia; it has become an obsession for him, it has come to define him, and as such, when presented with the chance to finally discover what he has been searching for the last 3 years, he takes the opportunity.

As explained above, from a more symbolic standpoint, he is inspired to drink the coffee after finding the two gold coins, especially their significance in the light of his dream, but there are also more practical reasons behind his decision. Rex has spent vast sums of money in his campaign to find Saskia, he has been back to France five times to possibly meet the abductor, he neglects his current girlfriend, telling her that if he had the choice, he would turn back the clock, and return to the moment prior to Saskia's disappearance. There is an inherent emptiness in Rex, and Raymond offers him the chance to fill that emptiness. Raymond plays on the fact that Rex has become defined by the search for answers, pointing out that if he refuses this opportunity (which he refers to as a "unique chance"), another will never arise, and Rex will have to live the rest of his life not knowing what happened, which is something he simply cannot do. If he doesn't drink, he will spend the rest of his life searching for something that he knows he will never be able to find. His raison d'etre has become finding out what had happened to Saskia, and the only way to know was, due to the machinations of Raymond, to put himself in Raymond's hands

As with Rex's decision to drink the coffee, Raymond's reasons for abducting Saskia are complex, but essentially come down to two simple factors; on the one hand, he wanted to know if he was capable of committing an evil act in contradistinction to what his fate and his nature tell him to do; Raymond specifically decides to do the exact opposite of what he would normally do, to go against his instincts. On the other hand, he felt that his daughter's valorization of him as hero was unjustified unless he could prove himself unable to do evil, if he could, then he would be a true hero.

Of vital importance in this are the two flashback scenes; the scene where the young Raymond jumps from the balcony, and the scene where Raymond saves the girl from drowning. In relation to the first scene, Raymond tells Rex


When I was sixteen, I discovered something. Everyone has those thoughts, but no one ever jumps. I told myself "Imagine you're jumping." Is it predestined that I won't jump? How can it be predestined? So, to go against what is predestined, one must jump. I jumped. The fall a was holy event. I broke my left arm and lost 2 fingers. Why did I jump? A slight abnormality in my personality, imperceptible to those around me. You can find me listed in the medical encyclopaedias under "Sociopath" in the new editions.
Then later, in relation to the incident where he saves the child from drowning, he says

My daughter was bursting with pride. But I thought that her admiration wasn't worth anything unless I could prove myself absolutely incapable of doing anything evil. As black cannot exist without white, I logically conceived the most horrible deed that I could envision right at that moment.
Here, Raymond outlines for Rex exactly why he has done what he has done. Firstly, there is a slight personality defect which prompts him to act contradictorily to how one usually acts. The jump represents the moment he self-diagnosed himself as a sociopath; the 'normal' reaction for a person would have been not to jump, but Raymond does jump. In his mind, this goes against his fate, as destiny had determined that he wouldn't jump, and as such, it proves to him that he is capable of doing things which one would assume most people are predestined never to do. Secondly, to prove himself a hero, he must first prove himself incapable of evil, which, of course, he fails to do, thereby proving he is not in fact a hero.

In Raymond's mind, these two events crystallize one another; the first proves him capable of going against his destiny, the second necessitates that he attempt to commit an evil act. When these two events are looked at in tandem, a complex, but logical psychopathology becomes evident. By diverging from his predestiny, Raymond proves himself capable of doing things which are out of the ordinary. He is forcing himself to do something he thinks himself incapable of doing, or should be incapable of doing. When it comes time to see if he can commit evil, his earlier discovery of his ability to cheat destiny comes into play, and once again, he shows himself capable of doing something most people are incapable of doing. In his mind, killing Saskia is no different than jumping from the balcony; both incidents were tests of self.

The original R1 US Criterion Collection DVD, released by Criterion in 2001, contains the following special features:

Theatrical Trailer

A 4-page essay from film critic Kim Newman

Additionally, the Criterion DVD features a remastered digital soundtrack (in the original mono), and newly created English subtitles. The picture has also been digitally remastered and is offered in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 anamorphic.

The 2014 R1 US Criterion Collection re-release features the following special features:

A new 2K digital restoration

A new interview with director George Sluizer

A new interview with actor Johanna ter Steege

Theatrical Trailer

An essay by critic Scott Foundas

Yes it is. The 2014 US Criterion Collection edition features the same special features as the 2014 Criterion Collection DVD. However, as with all Criterion Blu-rays, it is Region A locked.

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