Director Denis Villeneuve filmed two endings for his 2013 thriller Prisoners—however, the Prisoners’ 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 (Paul Dano). In Prisoners’ original ending, Dover learns that Alex had been kidnaped himself and the woman posing as his mother had the two girls. However, that’s not what happens in Prisoners’ alternate ending.
Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners opened to vast critical acclaim, the movie’s attention to detail through expert cinematography earning it an Academy Award nomination. The film was so popular that Prisoners even inspired the hit series Stranger Things. 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. Given the 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
After its plot twists, Prisoners’ original ending concludes with Dover confronting Alex’s “mother,” Holly, who, in turn, shoots him in the leg and forces him into the pit. The 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 strengths lies in its “show, don’t tell” storytelling, 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 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.
Prisoners keeps an ambiguous ending that allows the audience to determine if Loki rescued Dover, and what their interaction entailed. Prisoners’ alternate ending left nothing up to the imagination. Villeneuve framing of Alex’s guilt ends with the audience proven wrong, asking whether we can truly assume 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 the truth was there all along. It can never entirely be concluded that Dover was rescued.
What Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski Said About The Prisoners Ending
As mentioned, it was director Dennis Villeneuve who chose not to use the Prisoners’ alternate ending. He wanted to leave the ending ambiguous and let the viewer come to their own decision about what happened after the screen cut to black. Aaron Guzikowski, the screenwriter who penned the movie, said he was surprised that the studio accepted the ending that played out in theaters (via Buzzfeed). When asked about the cliffhanger ending, it turns out that this was not a Villeneuve creation, but one that Guzikowski wrote in the original script when he sold it to the studio.
“When we were shooting, we did shoot a version where it goes a little beyond where the fade out is. There’s a version where he moves the car and sees Hugh down there, and so on. None of us really wanted to do that version, but we wanted to make sure we had it in case once the film was put together it seemed like it really needed it.”
Guzikowski also explained the scene was showing what most people assumed would happen. However, he said it was better left ambiguous, leaving that small chance that no one would hear him or save him at all. However, even with the ambiguity of the movie’s ending, the screenwriter said there was no way Loki would have left Dover down there to die. In the end, the studio let them make a very dark movie with an open-ended ending, and Prisoners was all the better for it.
Next: Every Jake Gyllenhaal Movie, Ranked From Worst To Best