Guest Author - Barbara Rice DeShong, PhD.
What is evil, if not a “good” person, who, underneath his kind demeanor, is a cold and calculating murderer, a man who enjoys abducting and burying young women alive? Add that this killer is a family man, a loving father with a kind word and smile for his long-time wife and a chuckle and a hug for his children at every opportunity. Our very bad man rounds out his persona by being a medical doctor known among his patients as a caring an attentive clinician.
In the Dutch film “Spoorloos” (1988), remade in the USA as “The Vanishing” (1993), we are introduced to this truly evil man, introduced in the most terrifying of ways. The film opens with a young married couple, Rex and Saskia, on a holiday, breezing along a country highway in the Dutch countryside. Their amazing love for each other warms the heart as they laugh at endearing inside jokes and dream aloud of their future together, a future that is bright and wide open. When talking about their devotion to each other, Saskia mentions that she is terrified of being alone. Rex promises that will never happen.
A few minutes into the film, Rex and Saskia pull into an all-in-one restaurant, fueling station, and grocery store, the kind common in Europe, resembling a stateside truck stop if you limited the gas to automobiles and upgraded the food available. They decide to have a lunch, buying bread and cheese and a bottle of wine, which they enjoy together under the trees in the attached park-like area. Lazily they finish up their break, planning the rest of their holiday. Rex takes care of tidying up and his bride excuses herself to go to the restroom inside the convenience stop.
Rex takes care of supplies, returns to the car, and parks where she will see him when she comes back out the convenience store’s front door. Only Saskia doesn’t come back out. After twenty minutes or so, Rex decides to go in and find her. The store and café are very crowded and there is a line at the bathroom, which he thinks must account for why Saskia is taking so long. Ten minutes more, then Rex asks a woman set to go into the restroom next to call out his wife’s name inside, in case she is still in there and not feeling well. The woman returns reporting no one was inside with the name Saskia. What? Now he searches every corner inside and outside, but Saskia is “nowhere.”
What follows is a frantic call to the police who arrive convinced that Saskia has simply deserted her husband for another man. Rex is in denial, they insist, saying they see this kind of “runaway” situation on a regular basis. Rex searches the nearby countryside and village, flinging questions at everyone he meets. After a day passes, he has posters made Saskia’s picture and tacks them all over the area.
Rex gets no response until he receives a very strange letter, a letter from the man who abducted Saskia. His offer? He will show Rex what happened to Saskia, only if Rex will agree to go through what she did starting with the abduction. Rex, desperate to believe he might be able to find his love, agrees. The movie ends with Rex buried alive by the doctor, just as Saskia had been. The last scene is cut so that we see Rex pounding uselessly against the roof of his coffin, thinking of Saskia’s fear of being alone and his promise to never let that happen. Over Rex’s burial ground, we see the doctor having a picnic with his wife and children with much laughter and fatherly charm. The contrast shows us the deepest kind of evil.