The Vanishing

The Vanishing (Dutch: Spoorloos, literally: "Traceless" or "Without a Trace") is a 1988 thriller film directed by George Sluizer, adapted from the novella The Golden Egg (1984) by Tim Krabbé. It stars Gene Bervoets as a man who searches obsessively for his girlfriend following her disappearance at a rest area.

The Vanishing was released on 27 October 1988, and received positive reviews. Sluizer remade the film in English in 1993; the remake was poorly received.


A Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia, are on holiday in France. As they drive, Saskia shares a recurring dream in which she is drifting through space in a golden egg. In the most recent dream, another egg containing another person appeared; she feels the collision of the two eggs would signify the end of something.

Their car runs out of petrol and they stop at a rest area, where a man in another car dons a false sling and orthopedic cast. Rex promises to never abandon Saskia and they bury two coins at the base of a tree as a symbol of their romance. Saskia enters the petrol station to buy drinks and does not return. Rex frantically searches for her.

Some time earlier, Raymond, a wealthy family man, secretly plots to abduct a woman. He buys an isolated house, experiments with chloroform, and rehearses scenarios in which he entices women into his car. When his initial attempts at abduction fail, he poses as an injured motorist in need of assistance and goes to the rest area out of town where he will not be recognised.

Three years after Saskia's disappearance, Rex is still searching for her. He has received several postcards inviting him to meet the kidnapper at a cafe in Nimes, but the kidnapper never comes. Unknown to Rex, the cafe is directly opposite Raymond's apartment, where he watches Rex wait. Rex's new girlfriend, Lieneke, reluctantly helps him search for Saskia. One day, Rex has a dream similar to Saskia's in which he is trapped in a golden egg. Unable to endure his obsession, Lieneke leaves him.

Rex makes a public appeal on television, saying he only wants to know the truth about what happened to Saskia. Raymond confronts Rex and admits the kidnapping; he says he will reveal what happened to her if Rex comes with him. As they drive, Raymond says that he has known from a young age that he has no conscience, and is therefore capable of anything. After saving a young girl from drowning, he resolved to commit the worst crime he could imagine to learn whether doing something good felt better. He describes how he kidnapped Saskia at the rest stop by posing as a traveling salesman and enticing her into his car after she asked about buying a gift for Rex.

Raymond takes Rex to the rest area. He dismisses Rex's threats of police action, saying there is no evidence connecting him to the crime. He pours Rex a cup of drugged coffee, and tells him the only way to learn what happened to Saskia is to experience it himself. As Raymond waits in the car, Rex rages, unsure of what to do. After digging up the coins he and Saskia buried years earlier, he drinks the coffee and awakens buried in a box underground. Raymond relaxes at his country home, surrounded by his wife and children.


  • Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu as Raymond Lemorne (his surname means 'the gloomy one'), a French chemistry professor, who in his teens realized he was a sociopath. To prove to himself that he is capable of "the ultimate evil", he decides to kidnap and murder a young woman.
  • Gene Bervoets as Rex Hofman, a Dutch traveler on a holiday with his girlfriend Saskia Wagter in France. Three years after Saskia vanishes at a service station, Rex is still searching for her, obsessed with finding out what happened to her.
  • Johanna ter Steege as Saskia Wagter, Rex's Dutch girlfriend who travels with him through France until she goes missing at the service station.
  • Gwen Eckhaus as Lieneke, whom Rex begins dating three years after Saskia's disappearance.
  • Bernadette Le Saché as Simone Lemorne, Raymond's wife. Like the rest of her family, she is completely unaware of Raymond's crime.
  • Tania Latarjet as Denise Lemorne, elder daughter of Simone and Raymond
  • Lucille Glenn as Gabrielle Lemorne, younger daughter of Simone and Raymond


Before working on The Vanishing, Sluizer became familiar with journalist Tim Krabbé through his articles about film making in the United States. These articles eventually became a novel which Sluizer adapted into his film Red Desert Penitentiary (1985). After Red Desert Penitentiary, Krabbé began writing a novel Het Gouden Ei (lit.The Golden Egg) As the film was set in France, Krabbé asked Sluizer about names of towns and he advised him on town names as well as family names. Sluizer had access to the early manuscripts of the novel and after reading the first few chapters he stated that he wanted to buy the film rights.

Krabbé initially offered to write the script for Sluizer after he had finished the book. Sluizier described the scripts first draft as "not bad, but not good" and wrote the second draft along with Krabbé. The two continued on a third draft together and Sluizer stated that they began having what Sluizier described as a "difference of opinion" on what should happen in the film, the placing of scenes and how to dramatically tell the story. Sluizer stopped working with Krabbé stating that he had bought the film rights and he will finish the script himself, which angered Krabbé. The film accurately portrays the narrative within the novel, apart from two factors: firstly, the film's narrative is more complicated than the novel. Extensive use of flashbacks and gradually revealed personality traits of the central characters; the second major difference involves the direct interaction between the characters Rex Hofman and Raymond Lemorne, who spend more time together following their meeting.

Sluizer was suggested by a casting woman to see Johanna ter Steege who was in a student play for the role of Saskia Wagter. When Sluizer saw Steege's hair was a similar color to his daughter's, he decided that she would be right for the role in the film. For the role of Rex, there was a choice between two actors: a Dutch actor and the Belgian actor Gene Bervoets. Sluizer chose Bervoets as his French was stronger but was unsure on set if he chose the right actor for the role and Bervoets which led to the two being slightly uncomfortable on set. Sluizer initially wanted Jean-Louis Trintignant for the role of Raymond Lemorne but found he was already booked for the entire year. On thinking of French actors who could fill the role, he thought of the actor Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu who was had a small role in his film Twice a Woman (1979). Sluizer found he had worked in television and leading film roles since Twice a Woman and got him signed to agree for the role.


The Vanishing was released in the Netherlands on 27 October 1988. In France, the film was released under the title L'homme qui voulait savoir ("The Man Who Wanted to Know"). Producers George Sluizer and Anne Lordon received the Golden Calf for the Best Full Length-feature film at the Netherlands Film Festival in 1988. The Vanishing was the Dutch submission for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988. The film was disqualified because the Academy determined that there was too much French dialogue in the film to meet the requirements. AMPAS deemed that the film was unsuitable to represent the Netherlands. The Dutch declined to send another film, leaving them unrepresented for the first time since 1972. The film was released in France on 20 December 1989 under the title L'Homme Qui Voulait Savoir (English: The Man Who Wanted to Know). Johanna ter Steege won a European Film Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1988.

Home media

The first North American copies of the film were released on Laserdisc by Image Entertainment on 3 November 1997. It was later released on VHS by Fox Lorber on 11 November 1997 followed by a DVD version released on 13 May 1998. The latest version of the film on DVD was released by The Criterion Collection on 18 September 2001. The Criterion Collection version contains the original French trailer and an essay on the film by film critic Kim Newman as supplemental material. Criterion released a new version of the film on DVD and Blu-ray on 28 October 2014.


The Vanishing was praised on international release. It was released in the United States in 1991 and made the list of Top Foreign films of 1991 by the National Board of Review. Desson Howe of The Washington Post praised the film's avoidance of cliches, noting that it is "refreshingly free of manipulative scenes involving running bath water, jagged-edge cutlery and bunnies in the saucepan". Howe also made note of the unusual move of revealing the kidnapper immediately and spending significant time learning about him. Roger Ebert wrote a similar approval of this in the Chicago Sun Times, stating, "One of the most intriguing things about The Vanishing is the film's unusual structure, which builds suspense even while it seems to be telling us almost everything we want to know." Stanley Kubrick thought The Vanishing was the most terrifying film he had seen -- even more frightening than his own The Shining - and called Sluizer to discuss editing. Of the negative remarks, Ken Hanke of Mountain Xpress referred to the film as "Okay, but wildly overrated and predictable." The Vanishing holds a very high critical rating at the film review database Rotten Tomatoes, with 98% approval rating from critics with an average rating of 8.3/10. Empire magazine placed the film at number 67 in their list of "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.

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