Shutter Island

18 Sep

Director: Martin Scorcese (2010)

Oh boy, Marty. They were not kidding when they said this was an incredible film. And that it was robbed of its worthy Oscar nominations (yes, bold claim) whether it be due to the early release date or the sheer number of films the Hollywood machine churned out in 2010. Either way – in Shutter Island, Scorcese has once again created an absolutely engaged and gripping film, once again with the help of protégé and Scorcese poster boy Leonardo DiCaprio.

US Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives on Shutter Island with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to visit the imposing Ashecliffe Hospital, an Alcatraz-esque facility for the criminally insane, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of their most violent inmates, Rachel Solando. Dark, brooding and as shrouded in mystery as it is in cloud and mist rolling in from the sea, ravaging the craggy coastline, Ashecliffe is not the most welcoming of places – this is not improved when the pair are introduction to head psychiatrist and all round terrifying man, Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley).

Living up to his rightful reputation as an stunning director, Scorcese tears each character apart, gradually revealing their histories, fears and motives whether it be through the acting itself or the use of flashbacks and hallucinations. Using these non-linear, surreal narrative techniques, Scorcese plays on the obvious psychological implications of the psychiatric hospital setting, immediately setting the audience up for retrospection and wariness of the character’s thought processes – and our own. It is also through these frequent flashbacks that we get to learn about Teddy, a necessity considering his closed persona in the face of the guards and psychiatrists in the hospital. Suffering from severe migraines, Teddy is plagued by visions of his dead wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams) who was killed in a house fire. She tells him Rachel is still on the island – as is Andrew Laeddis, the criminal who started the fire that led to her death. These echoes and whispers from the past directing Teddy fall all too close to the theory that madness is contagious… While Teddy battles with the secrecy running through the corridors of Ashecliffe, his own personal secret history begins to surface as he tries to bury the memories from his army days, where he was one of the soldiers who liberated Dachau concentration camp in World War II – but was also part of the Dachau massacre. These eerie flashbacks not only help us understand more about Teddy but also throw up questions about the notion of captives and their captors and of the humanity that seems to be put on hold when ‘punishing’ those who have wronged. But who are we to decide who can wield this power?

The looming Ward C, the inaccessible lighthouse and rumours of lobotomies, government experimentation and psychotropics preside over the first half of the film, weighing in on the urgency Teddy and Chuck feel to solve the Rachel mystery and mainly get off the island. But when a storm hits the island, the ferry transporting people back to the mainland seems even less likely to stick to its daily schedule leaving the Marshals trapped on Shutter Island until it is deemed fit for them to leave…

Shutter Island is a gripping genre tale, with Scorcese doing a masterful job at encapsulating the obvious gothic, Bronte influences from Dennis Lehane’s original novel – which is certainly going to get on my reading list immediately.

It goes without saying that DiCaprio is excellent, but since he was indeed robbed of the Oscar nod – and again for Inception – I feel it should be said anyway. The venerable Ben Kingsley sends shudders down the spine, icily presiding over the hospital while Mark Ruffalo brings a gentle naivety to Chuck to counteract Teddy’s somewhat untrusting character. Coming in at over two hours long, Shutter Island is no light feat, but as plots unfold, twists tangle into one another, and the island winds rage on with tingling pathetic fallacy, clock watching is the last thing on your agenda. As the credits roll you are left truly on the edge – if not off- your seat and ready to rewind and watch it immediately again to see whether perhaps this time you might be able to predict the precise moment when things start to go truly array…

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One Response to “Shutter Island”

  1. filmdrift September 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Excellent review and great blog. I too loved Shutter Island. I did a little article earlier this year where I listed 5 great 2010 movies which were not nominated for an Oscar, and Shutter Island was one of them. Thanks for the post. : )

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