Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

12Mar10

It is easy to be fooled into thinking Shutter Island isn’t a big release. For some cynical financial reasons, Paramount thought it would be best to focus on promoting Where the Wild Things Are, and consequently to push this film’s release date, and thus, in turn, to push Martin Scorsese (what on earth were they thinking?) back until after the Oscars. This means Shutter Island will get nowhere near the attention and praise it deserves. That is why it is my duty to praise it here as much as possible, and try to ensure that no-one misses out on a maestro’s continuation of lifelong top form.

Before the film started, I was trying to establish just how Shutter Island would fit into Scorsese’s body of work. He has seldom set foot outside of the gangster genre, and when he has, with the exception perhaps of Cape Fear, it has never been to delve into the world of horror and film noir. Hence my skepticism when the trailer arrived earlier last year indicating what his next project would be. I don’t think anyone would have guessed Shutter Island would be a Scorsese picture, were it not for his name being tagged on at the end.

Justifiably so, for in no shape or form at all does Shutter Island resemble a Scorsese film. It is completely new territory for him, but he masters it as if he has been making this sort of film all his life. From the very first scene, in which DiCaprio’s character, Teddy Daniels, descends upon the island, we get the impression that he’ll be arriving at a horrifying place. It’s like the arrival at Skull Island in King Kong: the water is fierce; the cliff faces are high. We’re not exactly sure what awaits.

It turns out that a psychological journey is brewing for Daniels that makes the identity crises depicted in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive look like child’s play. An ex-army man involved in the liberation of Dachau, Daniels is now, we’re told, an investigator. He is arriving at the island, dedicated to mental therapy for the most dangerous criminals, to solve the vanishing of an own-child murdering mother. It’s a bizarre and seemingly inexplicable scenario, and Daniels gives us good reason to believe the people running Shutter Island are doing bigger things than common knowledge suggests. With time, however, we come to doubt, believe again and re-doubt whether this is the case. We assume the search for the missing patient will dominate the plot, but in one of many twists it is soon brushed aside and replaced by a new issue, as the film whirls forward amidst the hurricanes and horrendous weather towards an incredible climax. I wish I could say so much more about what happens, but I can’t, because Shutter Island’s magic lies predominantly in its unexpected plot intricacies.

This is not to the detriment of the quality of acting or directing, however. Di Caprio’s best performances in his previous films have always come in scenes where he’s frustrated or fearful. Think of the cast-cracking scene in The Departed and the chair-breaking bust-up with April in Revolutionary Road. Shutter Island gives him over two hours of such high-intensity scenes, and he uses them perfectly to create the impression of a fragile, hallucinatory mind that’s being tortured on an island of hell.

The nature of the storytelling is equally brilliant. Scorsese litters Shutter Island with homages to Hitchcock (we see a shower-head face on, referencing Psycho, and the plot’s deceptive nature certainly parallels Vertigo), and Kubrick’s presence is felt in the pulsating music reminding one immediately of The Shining. The world, or rather the island, that Scorsese creates is incredibly creepy, and the film ends with the most aptly ambiguous final line imaginable.

It should come as no surprise to us that Scorsese nails it again with Shutter Island. He has produced consistently excellent material for over forty years, and this film is not just a continuation of this trend; it is a progression from it. As he diversifies further next year with a film on Sinatra, let’s hope this is a sign of further brilliant things to come from the God of American cinema.

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One Response to “Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)”

  1. 1 Greg Mooney

    Just watched Shutter Island and immediately came on here to read your review. I’m afraid I found the plot overall a little too predictable. On top of this, I dislike the idea of someone being delusional and much of the film being devoted to the person’s imagined world as it suddenly allows anything to happen and unfortunately I felt for the most part that what was happening was fairly obviously made up. As I had realised that much of it was not reality, I knew that whatever was said by various characters – real or not, it doesn’t matter – would have no bearing on the outcome and so I switched off trying to work out where it was going. The many shots of dismembered bodies didn’t do much to awaken my interest either.
    All in all though I reasonably enjoyed it as the short term suspense was good plus the ‘what’s in the box?’ question dangled over ward C and the lighthouse until the end. Of course the standard of acting was brilliant as usual from DiCaprio and co., but I think this film was designed to be watched twice in a similar vein to A Sixth Sense, however I think I might leave it for a few years until I mostly forget the plot before I could bring myself to watch it again!


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