Saturday, February 20, 2010


Written by Laeta Kalogridis
Directed by Martin Scorcese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley

Warden: If I were to sink my teeth into your eye right now, would you be able to stop me before going blind?

From the moment this ominous ferry emerges from the thick fog to bring Federal Marshalls, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) to Shutter Island in the opening shots of legendary director, Martin Scorcese’s SHUTTER ISLAND, you know you’re about to watch a masterful movie made by a mindful man. It is instantly and unavoidably intriguing and it isn’t long after the boat docks that you realize you have as little chance of getting off this island as everyone else there, at least not with your wits about you.

Teddy and Chuck are on assignment to investigate a missing prisoner, I mean, patient, on Shutter Island. The mistake and the correction are made a number of times in the film as it is simply never really clear whether Shutter Island is a correctional facility or a mental facility. Whether there even should be a distinction for these particular prisoner-patients is up for debate just like the intentions of every character we meet on this island. Scorcese makes it so every man on the island is out for himself; even Teddy and Chuck just met as new partners on the ferry over. Subsequently, paranoia and mistrust run rampant in everyone’s mind and each day becomes a balancing act with each person’s personal sanity walking a very tight rope.

SHUTTER ISLAND takes place in 1954, when applied psychology was at a distinct crossroads between older, more barbaric means of treatment and more modern prescription methods to dealing with madness. One of the head doctors on Shutter Island, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) claims to not subscribe to either school of thought in favour of a more sympathetic approach that relies on the belief that it is actually possible to get through to the mind of a mad man. Despite this, he will not allow Teddy and Chuck to enter the heavily-guarded Ward C, where only the most dangerous, uh, patients are housed. This lack of full disclosure makes it hard to imagine that everything happening on this island is happening according to protocol. Perhaps it is but then what is the established island protocol anyway?

It becomes clear to Teddy that his time on Shutter Island is not meant to be limited to just this investigation. A case is being built against him to show him as just as crazy as every other patient there, effectively silencing any evidence he uncovers in his investigation. But while it may be clear to Teddy, it becomes pretty clear to the audience that nothing on Shutter Island is as it seems. What is the truth and who is actually telling it? Better yet, will we even believe it when we hear it? The answers do come and they are as unsettling as every other moment in this tight two and a half hour production.

As it is put forth a few times in SHUTTER ISLAND, to accuse someone of being insane is truly all you need to do to make it a fact. All protest made by the accused will be seen as logical dismissal of the accusation but not a valid argument against it. Scorcese knows the same rational will apply to the way the viewer will see the film, making visiting SHUTTER ISLAND such a deliberate and delicate mind trip. You may even wonder in fact whether you too don’t belong there by the end. This is what makes Scorcese the undisputed winner of his own elaborately designed game.


Ryan McNeil said...

I think one of the greatest lines I've heard in a long time is "Is it better to live as a monster...or die as an honest man?".

Great review of a great film, can't wait to see it again.
(BTW - If you're interested, L.A. blogger Big Mike Mendez and I podcasted about it...the episode will be up on my blog Monday morning).

Black Sheep said...

I didn't realize this film was polarizing critics so much. Some people really feel it is overrated mediocrity.

Dreher Bear (...Where The Buffalo Roam) said...

Great review. I personally enjoyed it as well. It's definitely the best film "so far" in 2010.