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Why The Alternate Ending Wasn’t Right For The Film

The alternate ending for Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners would have undermined the film’s “show, don’t tell” style that defined the mystery thriller.

Director Denis Villeneuve filmed two endings for his 2013 thriller Prisonershowever, the alternate ending would have undermined the film’s core identity. Prisoners twisting narrative follows Hugh Jackman’s Keller Dover and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki. After Dover’s daughter and her friend disappear in a small Pennsylvania town, the two investigate their whereabouts, each by their own means. Dover takes matters into his own hands by abducting a local unstable man, Alex Jones. In Prisoners’ original endingDover finally learns that Alex had been kidnapped himself and that the woman posing as his mother had held the two girls hostage. However, that’s not what happens in Prisoners’ alternate ending.

Prisoners opened to vast critical acclaim and it’s considered one of Denis Villeneuve’s best films. The movie’s attention to detail through expert cinematography earned it an Academy Award nomination. The film’s style of hiding its most shocking revelations in plain sight characterizes Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners as a gripping mystery, which culminates in its conclusion. The script is based on a short story written by Aaron Guzikowski, which is also partly inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

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The movie certainly doesn’t look like The Tell-Tale Heart on the outside, and Prisoners’ alternate ending resembles the famed story only in its themes. Whatever its inspirations, there were several other big-name actors that were considered for the project, like Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film was so popular that Prisoners even inspired the hit series Stranger Things. Ultimately, it was decided that Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal would be the best actors to tackle Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. Given that Prisoners’ original ending is an ambiguous and fitting finale, how would the movie have been different if the studio decided to use Prisoners’ alternate ending?

Prisoners’ Alternate Ending Explained

Prisoners ending Jake Gyllenhaal

After its multiple plot twists, Prisoners’ original ending concludes the story with Dover confronting Alex’s “mother,” Holly, who, in turn, shoots him in the leg and forces him into the pit. The movie’s final scene depicts Loki standing about as workers wrap up excavation work on Jones’ property. A faint whistling sound can be heard in the background. Loki shrugs it off, but as the noise persists, his facial expression indicates that he realizes something is off. The scene abruptly ends, and the credits roll in an ambiguous conclusion that follows Villeneuve’s vision for his mystery tale. Prisoners’ alternate ending extends the scene, depicting Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki moving the car and rescuing Dover from the pit. The ending used in Prisoners‘ final cut was Villeneuve’s idea, as the Prisoners’ alternate ending was shot as merely a second option if the studio did not approve of the director’s vision. It’s easy to see how Villeneuve intended to leave his imprint on the movie by completing it in an unconventional way, as any other conclusion than Prisoners’ original ending would’ve cheapened the mystery film as a whole. 

Why The Prisoners Alternate Ending Wasn’t Right For Vileneuve’s Movie

One of the film’s many strengths lies in its “show, don’t tell” method of storytelling, which is prevalent in the film’s final scene. Prisoners’ alternate ending with Loki rescuing Dover would have provided clear-cut answers for the audience, but it wouldn’t have fit as well with the movie’s established themes. For example, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners constructs the movie’s narrative in a way that frames Alex as guilty, despite him never admitting to kidnapping the girls or any definitive evidence to confirm him as the culprit. When Loki interrogates Alex, he frames his questions by suggesting a hypothetical series of events, planting the idea of what happened in viewers’ minds and allowing them to imagine it for themselves.

Accordingly, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners keeps an ambiguous ending that allows the audience to determine how Loki rescued Dover and what their ensuing interaction entailed. Prisoners’ alternate ending would’ve left nothing up to the imagination. The aforementioned instance of Villeneuve framing Alex’s guilt ends with the audience proven wrong, thus it begs the question of whether we can truly assume that the suggestion of Loki finding Hugh Jackman’s Dover goes exactly how the film appears to suggest. The essence of what makes Prisoners‘ original ending stand out derives from its expert method of developing its mystery by making the audience guess in all the wrong directions before revealing that the truth was right there all along. In that way, it can never entirely be concluded that Dover was rescued and reunited with his daughter.

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