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The Vanishing

March 2, 2011

776. Spoorloos (The Vanishing)
Directed by George Sluizer
The Netherlands / France, 1988
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


Dutch couple Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege) are on holiday in France when their car breaks down. They quarrel, and Rex briefly abandons Saskia in order to fetch more petrol. When he returns, she makes him promise never to abandon her again. Soon afterwards, at a rest stop, Saskia goes missing. Rex dedicates years to searching obsessively for her.

WARNING: If you want to see this film without knowing any other details (something I would endorse), please read no further. Minor spoilers ahead.

Essential Scene:

Raymond Lermorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) is first seen at the site of Saskia’s disappearance. He is a seemingly respectable family man but, in a series of flashbacks, we learn the sinister truth about him.

Raymond has been renovating an isolated house. One afternoon, in the darkness of the tool shed, he chloroforms himself, starting a stopwatch just before he loses consciousness. When he awakes, he writes the results in his notebook, and begins to calculate how far he could travel before a potential victim would regain consciousness.

Raymond Lermorne: (voice-over) I’ll do it in the blink of an eye. Let’s see… 12cc is equal to… How much do I have? Yes, 18 minutes, 54 seconds. 18 minutes, 54 seconds is equal to… 17 miles, more or less. That leaves me a margin of 3 or 4 minutes. That’s not bad. Not bad.

He then rehearses inviting a woman into his car, talking to himself and miming the actions. “What a coincidence! You may as well get in my car.” He opens the door chivalrously for her.

As he walks around to the driver’s side, he applies chloroform to a handkerchief and hides it in his pocket. After taking his seat, he leans over and locks the passenger-side door, before seizing the imaginary woman and forcing the rag into her face.


I had been warned that The Vanishing is troubling, and that is an accurate description indeed. Not since Reverend Harry Powell has a cinematic villain so unsettled me. But while Powell is an omnipotent, dreamlike personification of evil, Raymond Lermorne is distressingly plausible. He is capable of leading a perfectly normal, even bland existence. He is also a self-diagnosed sociopath who is capable of committing the most evil deed he can think of.

Why? Well… I won’t spoil any more details, but suffice it to say, The Vanishing shat me right up. It’s a film I may never have seen were it not for this project. When I finally force myself to sit through Top Gun or The Sound of Music, I’ll remind myself to be thankful for that.

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