Prisoners (2013) Ending Explained – Why do the Jones couple abduct the children?

Prisoners Plot Synopsis

Dennis Villeneuve arguably became a household name owing to helming one of America’s most cherished detective thrillers in recent times, Prisoners. Owing to its quality and generational impact, the film has been touted as Villeneuve’s introduction to mainstream Hollywood.

A star cast, headlined by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, adds charm to the riveting narration and twisty story. The central story of Prisoners revolves around the investigation of two missing girls, Anna and Joy, led by Detective Loki.

But his job is not straightforward as Keller, Anna’s father is restless in the pursuit of his daughter and kickstarts his own investigation into her disappearance. The prime suspect is a mentally challenged man, Alex, whose innocence remains a question mark throughout.

Loki’s relentlessness eventually gives him a big breakthrough, leading him to the door of uncovering decades of unsolved crimes and a religious conspiracy to “Wage war against God”.  This explainer not just magnifies the various aspects of the film’s ending, but it also finetunes points from the plot that might have seemed ambiguous to the viewer.

Whose body did Loki find in the priest’s house?

Loki was in the initial stages of the investigation when he met Holly. Alex had just been released after nothing could be found to incriminate him. In conversation, she let out that her husband died many years ago. If you remember, when Loki got the first call to the priest’s house, he revealed a body downstairs in the basement. The priest showed him the body and explained that he himself came to the house. The confession was so shocking – that he had murdered about sixteen children – that the man of the collar left him to die down there.

Over several years, the body has decomposed to unrecognition. But one thing is still intact; the necklace of a maze. It mostly plays out like a motif for the story and the viewer as well. Taylor continues the mystery behind them, even drawing one for Loki when arrested to tell the location of the girls.

The FBI agent’s book, which was mostly overseen in the first viewing, had a detailed outlay of how the “Invisible Man” deployed the use of mazes to kidnap little children.  Both Alex and Joy also refer to reading a book where the task is to complete the mazes. Hence, the man in the basement was indeed Holly’s late husband. Why he went there at all is a mystery beyond all of us and probably best suited for you and your quiet living room.

What did the drawings on the wall in Taylor’s house mean?

At this point, we know that Holly and her husband professed an obsession with mazes and giving them to children they abducted to obsess over. So much so, that two of “their children”, Alex and Taylor, both were still reeling from its effects. The drawings, more or less have nothing to do with the plot, but everything to do thematically with the film. And to some extent, the character of Taylor and how a certain thing can have different impacts on everyone individually. It is almost like a red herring that creates doubt, in the same manner, that Alex distracted the conversation from Taylor.

For Taylor, it is his language of communication. Although he lives far away from the house he grew up in, he cannot let the trauma go. He has made it into a game for himself to keep all the negative thoughts away. So, when Taylor did make a maze for Loki, he was being truthful.

The drawings in his house were iterations of his obsession with them that he had picked up while in his abductors’ home. But the significance of those drawings extends more meaningfully beyond Taylor or one single entity. In the film’s theme, it reinforces the central idea of imprisonment for its characters and even the viewers. We will be discussing the significance of the title in the upcoming segment.

Why did Taylor burgle the Birch and Keller residences?

This aspect of Prisoners still hasn’t had a clear explanation. The question of why he went there kept viewers – like yours truly – bothered after multiple re-watches. But after so many, a faint idea appears in front of us. Remember how the police found one of Anna’s socks outside their window after the burglary happened? And how Grace claimed that she wasn’t wearing that particular clothing on the day of the abduction? Taylor did not go out of sympathy for the girls, of course. That theory that floated the four corners of the internet proves how ignorant some people can be and live in their make-believe.

Taylor went back to steal their clothing. He rummaged through the bedrooms of the girls looking for something that he can use to give the impression that the girls were dead. The police found the bloody clothes and the blood belonged to slaughtered pigs; not the girls. Maybe Taylor even fancied the idea of replicating his abductors’ deeds and expertise in hiding their crimes. The investigation was already all over the place and another distraction like this would be the final nail in the coffin.

How does Keller realize Holly is the abductor?

Hugh Jackman played Keller with such preciseness, that he seemed like the antagonist until the very last moment. Credit to Dennis Villeneuve and his team for being courageous enough to actually have that scene from the hospital in the film. A grieving father would go to any extremes to find his daughter, even if it means risking arrest or forcing a little girl who has just run away from the most terrifying time of her life, to live it back. So, the hospital scene. Why does Keller suddenly run? And why did Joy say, “you were there”. Both are puzzling questions.

Now, the trick here is in the play of the words. Try to put them together and see what happens without the pause or the flashbacks that Joy has of when she and Anna were kept bound in a room. “You were there. They put tapes on our mouths!” Keller had visited Holly’s house two times.

Once in the end, and before that, at the start of the film when he went to enquire about Alex. The girls were kept in the next room and could hear Keller’s voice. They recognized it but couldn’t scream for help as there was tape on their mouths. It took a moment for Keller to put two and two together, but once he did, there was no stopping him.

The significance of the title

It is quite apparent by now that the central theme of the film is how every character in it is a prisoner of something in their own right. Physical, emotional, or mental; the movie is a metaphor for people’s external and internal prisons. Keller, Alex, Loki, Holly, Anna, and Joy; all of them represent the above three categories. Dealing with their conditions took a huge effort out of them, pushing certain dark clouds of uncertainty about whether they could come out of it or not.

Them enduring was not an absolute outcome given the labyrinth-like narrative, which itself is like a mystery for the viewers to figure out and get out of the “jail” or “maze”. We do not get full information on almost any of the key clues to solve the murder; an intentional diversion to keep us guessing.

Prisoners Ending Explained: Is Anna telling the truth about the whistle?

Holly and her husband began abducting children when their own son died. This was their way of waging “war against God”. In fact, the ending also reveals that Alex was the very first child they kidnapped, who has been with them ever since. Taylor, who was the other prime suspect for a while, was the next one.

Holly had a special bond with both of them and along with her husband, maybe even loved them as their own. Loki had an instinctive reaction to the photo of Holly’s late husband kept on the table. He instantly recognized the necklace from the drawings that were found in Bob Taylor’s house. He shot Holly down, as she tried to do the same but sustained injuries. In that adrenaline rush, he drove Anna to the hospital, while Keller himself is trapped underground.

Now the most ironic part here is that Keller’s disappearance isn’t really treated as one. In fact, in an earlier scene, he ran away from the police (in the hospital) and it is assumed on their part that he either fled or maybe even died in an accident due to his drinking problem. Holly had hidden away his car when he first came, so this police theorized notion is understandable.

When the forensics team works on exhuming more buried bodies from Holly’s yard, Loki returns to duty from the hospital. Very faintly, he hears Keller blowing Anna’s emergency whistle from the pit where Holly threw him after drugging him. This rescue whistle is featured in the first fifteen minutes of the film when Anna asked to take Joy to find it at their house.

As it turns out, she did indeed find the whistle, which was used as a long-standing Chekhov’s gun throughout the film. There is another scene when Anna visits Loki in the hospital where she is seen wearing the whistle. But as Grace explains, it is a new one, even as Anna claimed it wasn’t. If that is not a new whistle, then what is the sound we hear at the end? It is her old whistle as she is telling the truth. Otherwise, it had to be a huge coincidence that Keller found another child’s red whistle down in the pit.

The whistle can also be viewed as Anna’s inadvertent Evenstar for her father; a light to vanquish the darkest of darkness. It is a bit of a cinematic coincidence that he is whistling just when Loki, the instinctive detective whom Keller knows to be brilliant, is standing him. But what is left to our imagination is the gap between Loki recovering in hospital and coming back. Keller must have done this quite often but the other guys who were on site probably didn’t care as much.

Loki’s emotional involvement with the case made sure he saw it through to the very end. It is highly probable that Loki went in the direction of the whistle and found Keller. I mean, come on; it is Loki. We have seen how keen, determined, and singularly devoted he is to his job; a prisoner, nonetheless.

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15 thoughts on “Prisoners (2013) Ending Explained – Why do the Jones couple abduct the children?”

  1. I felt the ending could possibly mean this:
    Loki heard the whistle and then the second time pretty much knew it was Keller. But was debating, should I rescue Keller or let him die protecting his children? Maybe it was better for him to be a martyr for his wife and childrens’ sake, their “hero,” than to spend his life in prison and be a disgrace to his family for the rest of their lives. Thinking the children might turn out damaged because their dad was in prison and had done such a heinous thing. But on the other hand, even though their dad died, he died a hero. He died saving them and that would be something to be proud of, although sad. Loki might have also thought he might not be the same dad they had known after he had opened up his beastly side. Look like he was debating these things in his head and then it cuts off of course. So, we never know which one he chose.

  2. A film that stays with you and keeps you wondering, especially since it did not conclude,you are literally left out in the cold with Keller
    Some of the scenes are horrific and I wish I had not witnessed the utter cruelty to Alex. Many of the characters had some kind of mental illness.
    Did we know of Loki’s back ground?. On occasion the dialogue was rapid and mumbled and so difficult to interpret.
    He seemed a troubled soul.
    It was a Greek tragedy for all characters who were indeed prisoners of their fates.

  3. Keller was a monster who tortured a mentally challenged young man who was himself a victim of kidnapping just as Keller’s daughter was! He was not a good man. If not to die in a whole in the ground, he definitely deserved a long prison sentence.

  4. “In fact, in an earlier scene, he ran away from the police (in the hospital) and it is assumed on their part that he either fled or maybe even died in an accident due to his drinking problem.”

    of course they assumed that keller fled after they found out that he had tortured alex.

  5. Just watched the shortened ending version. They don’t show him walking away from the whistle noise, but turning back and looking curious.
    Also those generators would make a lot of noise when the crime scene crew is there.
    I might just be and optimist since the original ending had him being found.
    In my mind that is what the look on his face at the shortened “more dramatic” ending means.

  6. I liked the movie, it was super emotional and showed raw feelings, a parents love for their child and the need to protect the child, there are no limits as to what a loving parents would do to save and rescue their child in trouble. This strong love justified the crimes the father had committed because his intentions were so pure. However, after watching and feeling the fathers emotions, and seeing how hard he fought and how nothing else mattered except her safe return home, how could the ending be so dry? The father was the little girls true hero and we don’t see them reunited, we don’t know if he ends up freezing to death, they ended the movie as if someone just broke off a big piece of the film off with an axe! At least that’s how I felt. They “killed” the ending of the movie, it feels incomplete. If he froze to death, ok, if he went to jail ok, the audience could deal with those endings, but the fact they didn’t shine any light on it, makes him seem unimportant just like the way the police was treating him, or you could call this a lazy, unemotional ending opposite of what the whole movie was based on, did they give up on finishing the movie cause they got lazy?????

  7. Very disappointing and disturbing, movie. Especially for parents who have kids. But then again, it’s only a movie. Yes, but I’m sure in this lost society we are living in, this does happen in real life. Right?

  8. I first saw this film in the theater with the “original” ending where Loki does indeed rescue Keller from the underground pit. Loki notices that the Trans Am isn’t in the same place where it normally was parked, so he climbs in (keys are still in ignition, remember?), moves the car just a bit, and discovers the wooden covering to the underground pit. And also, I could have sworn that Alex (Paul Dano’s character) towards the end of the film blurts out, “She made me do it!”–inferring that Holly had somehow manipulated him into kidnapping the two girls. Also, the synopsis above argues that the crew working on recovering human remains on Holly’s property probably “didn’t care as much” as Loki, but don’t forget they were playing a radio loudly which would drown out any whistles being blown by Keller beneath ground. I prefer the original ending over the Netflix ending, but both are good endings to a very well-crafted piece of entertainment.

  9. I thought he was left under the car and Loki thought he was overworked and imagining things. It was cold and the scene goes dark. Making you think he died for his child. The wife had referred to him keeping them safe and the other dad had said he would die for his child. O felt he had spine both things that were foreshadowed. I thought Jackman died and was left in the cold under the car.

  10. we have seen both endings but we can only find the one where he was not pulled out from under the car, where is the one when he was found under the car?

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