‘Prisoners’ is an intense abduction mystery movie that chronicles the kidnapping of two girls who live in Pennsylvania. When Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins investigating the disappearance of Anna and Joy, he involves himself in a grotesque case much bigger than Loki realizes. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film comprises numerous elements which act as metaphors for character arcs, belief systems, and other facets of the story. Two such components are the maze and the snakes.
As the narrative progresses, Loki finds more threads connected to the case. When Loki pursues one of the leads, he stumbles upon the maze and the snakes, which seem linked directly or indirectly to Anna and Joy. But how exactly do they fit in the narrative? Why do Alex and Bobby mention the maze? Well, fret not, for we have an answer to these questions and more. SPOILERS AHEAD!
What Does the Maze Mean?
Bob Taylor’s circular maze is the thread that connects Bob, Alex, Anna, Joy, Holly Jones, and the dead body in the Father’s house. Detective Loki first comes across the maze when Bob Taylor draws it. Later, after Bob kills himself, Loki finds the picture of the dead body in the Father’s house. In the picture, he sees the man wearing a locket whose design is the same as Bob’s maze. Loki goes to Bob’s house and learns that Bob drew all the mazes from a book called “Finding the Invisible Man.” The book is written by an FBI officer who claimed that there were numerous abduction cases whose culprit was never caught.
Loki’s colleague also informs him that when Bob was a child, he got abducted but escaped three weeks later. However, the incident scarred him for life, and he became obsessed with mazes. Bob started drawing them on the walls of his house and imagined that the so-called invisible man was his kidnapper. Although the colleague dismisses the entire thing, Loki feels there’s something more to it.
Meanwhile, Alex tells Keller (Hugh Jackman) there’s a maze, which leads the latter to believe that his daughter Anna is likely in it. Keller tries to get a more concise answer out of the boy but is met with silence. Following this, Keller receives news that Joy has been found and is admitted to a hospital. When Keller reaches there and asks her about Anna, Joy gets visions in which she sees a maze book. On the cover, there’s a note which reads, “Finish all the mazes, and you can go home.”
Later, when Keller revisits Holly Jones’ home, the truth emerges. Holly confesses that she and her husband were devout Christians with a son. When he died of cancer, they started abducting kids to wage war against God, and Alex was the first person they abducted. Holly also mentions that after his disappearance, she had started slowing down but managed to continue. Following the confrontation, Keller gets trapped in an underground tunnel, after which Loki reaches Holly’s place. Loki sees a picture of a man with the same maze locket he saw on the dead body.
Earlier in the film, the Father told Loki how the dead man confessed to abducting several kids. Loki instantly connects this detail with the locket, the two pictures, and Bob’s maze. He realizes that Holly and her husband are the abductors who kidnap children. But why and how does the maze fit into all this? Well, the answer is slightly twisted but highly plausible.
Holly and her husband began abducting kids as vengeance for their son’s death. It is likely that the son loved solving mazes, and to relive their memories with him, the couple likely made all their victims solve the mazes. The book Joy sees likely belonged to Holly’s son, and this can also explain Bob’s obsession with the mazes. Since the couple used to drug their victims with the LSD and Ketamine cocktail, their minds might have been severely affected. The drug likely impacted Bob’s brain and made it difficult for him to get over the visuals of mazes.
When Loki enters Bob’s house, he sees that all the walls have mazes drawn. Later, Loki’s colleague says that Bob simply tried to imitate the book. In hindsight, we understand that Bob is one of the victims in the book, and he drew mazes all over his house to communicate what happened to him. The mazes were a desperate call for help.
Besides this, the maze is likely connected to the movie’s title, ‘Prisoners.’ When Anna and Joy disappear, Loki and Keller enter the maze to find and escape the truth. However, the maze holds them as ‘Prisoners’ for a long time as they try to go down different paths and follow various clues, which lead them to a dead end. In this way, even Anna and Joy are ‘Prisoners‘ in the maze who reside right at the center, which Keller and Loki are trying to reach. Another peculiar thing in the movie is Bob’s crates filled with snakes. What do they mean?
What Do the Snakes Mean?
Bob Taylor keeps snakes in the crate to show that Holly’s husband did the same. While conversing with Keller, Holly mentions that her husband kept snakes. When Bob got abducted, he must have seen how Holly’s husband kept the snakes. The man likely kept the snakes with the victims’ bloodied clothes. So, like the mazes, Bob also tried to show people what he saw. The snakes, clothes, and pig seem like an extensive way to recreate his memories and expose Holly Jones’ husband.
But, like the mazes, the snakes likely have a symbolic meaning. They represent Bob’s trauma which he keeps locked in the crates. When Loki breaks them open, the snakes come out, and Bob’s trauma rises to the surface. Thus, in the interrogation room, Bob desperately tries to communicate through the maze. But the snakes are out in the open, and it’s too late to capture or lock them back. Thus, when Bob realizes that nobody will understand his suffering, he kills himself. The crate of snakes is akin to the can of worms people do not want to open. Unfortunately, Loki opens it, leading to Bob’s death because he doesn’t want to relive the trauma.