2010, 15, Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer
Shutter Island is not an easy watch; it’s a compelling one. Reflecting upon the film, adapted from the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, it might occur to you that the most deeply disturbing part were 4 little words that hold a stratospheric bearing: said words were placed at the very end; said words were not spoken; said words were ‘Directed by Martin Scorsese’. As far as the plot is concerned, this is a B-Movie fresh from the school of Hollywood noir, which is encouraged by the 1954 setting and the minimalistic stroke orchestral unsettling score. It is difficult to prevent your heart’s beat from racing before you’ve even witnessed the first shot of a boat endlessly sailing out of the mist, taking you to Shutter Island. The boat holds US Marshal Teddy Daniels and partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), who head to the ominous island in order to investigate the confusing disappearance of Rachel Solondo, a patient from a mental asylum (Emily Mortimer). She was said to have disappeared – ‘…as if she evaporated, straight through the walls’. And so what begins as an unassuming mystery soon unveils its ulterior motive with splashes of conspiracy, lunacy and – yes, you are in the right film – horror. Old-school Scorsese layered the element of horror by way of a person’s psyche bubbling away, breaking down; Travis Bickle talking to a mirror; Tommy DeVito maliciously murdering two people for no good reason. Welcome now to the oldest school Scorsese has become educated in, with the horror-helping a lot more blunt. Not to detract from the feature’s actual genre: psychological thriller, but the thrills are less car-chase and cop shoot-outs than paranoid mind-screwery amidst dank asylum cells. Getting the picture? Teddy, the film’s protagonist, as you might have guessed, is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Marty’s Robert De Niro replica, holding his own to an impressive standard despite demands that could have dragged him downward. A blend of the characters he has played opposite the heavyweight’s camera before this, Teddy represents the innocence of a man who is powerlessly plagued by his past. Quite honestly, it is nothing short of a miracle how DiCaprio delivers a three-dimensional performance for a largely one-note creation, yet he manages to do so with flair, forever solidifying his persona - not only as heavyweight himself - but a bloody talented one. Teddy plays the role of the viewer, questioning everything but repeatedly being knocked back as if there is nothing to question. His frustration at the confusing lack of answers is our frustration; his fear for his safety is our fear for his safety. At one particular point of the film, we glimpse the sea lapping up against the rocky terrain of the island, slowly eroding away. This could be likened to Teddy’s psyche. The increased exposure to the indisputable island is a danger. There are a number of inter-cut dream sequences where Scorsese slips into expressionism, at one point to such a huge degree you could wonder whether he had a checklist in his pocket whilst filming the picture. It is only upon second viewing that it becomes clear these are clues; jigsaw puzzle pieces; necessary pointers. It could be argued the film suffers for a second view is mandatory. Only on second view will you come to realise the scope of how intricately structured and cryptically clever Shutter Island actually is. Combined with this, the dialogue is a lot more suggestive than first realised – which accounts for its almost clunky, robotic nature at times. Ben Kinglsey provides the greatest delivery of lines (‘You blew up my car. I loved that car’), and truly affects as the annoyingly creepy Dr Cawley. The remainder of the cast revel in their roles, namely Max Von Sydow as Nazi Dr. Naehring and Mark Ruffalo as Daniels’ partner Chuck, making good on previous promise. Its influence is effervescently extreme; from film noir’s of the 40s and many knowing nods to Hitchcock (the vital lighthouse will make you roll your eyes at the thought of Vertigo). Most obviously is a scene pretty much lifted from Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor, which is thankfully more homage than rip-off. Although the average Marty fan may be hoping for quintessential Scorsese shenanigans, there is doubt as to whether disappointment will ensue. In many ways this holds a mirror up to his back catalogue. Boxes are ticked: a descent into psychosis straight from Cape Fear; visions of the deceased fresh from Bringing out the Dead; one man’s struggle to keep on top of matters, á la LaMotta in Raging Bull. Yes, violence may be a component to the cog that whirs in these films - however make no mistake, there is violence present in Shutter Island. The contrast is in its extremely sparing and suggestive manner which makes more of a shock when you notice that more blood is not spilt. Scorsese has assembled the film so tautly that your mind will play tricks on you. The aesthetic of expressionism is used so powerfully that you will want to wake from Teddy’s dreams as much as DiCaprio leads you to believe Teddy wants to wake from them too. Marty is continually having fun with what he is accomplishing here, dabbling and residing in territory never truly reached before. That isn’t to say there isn’t a fair share of uncomfortable shots. What we are subjected to is subtly, but shockingly evocative (a when-will-it-end tracking shot shows a day’s work for a firing squad). In actuality, a climactic scene is so painfully brutal that if there is any shred of emotion inside of you, you will attempt to squint away the intrinsic image. Key word: intrinsic. The work at display is never gratuitous and wholly necessary, which is to the credit of all talent at the fore, namely Mr. Scorsese. But does he have something to prove? To himself maybe, but certainly not to the movie kingdom. This kingdom should begin to prove itself to the man that it can continue to adapt and branch out to genre’s not grasped for a long while. To prove it can use its influences in a positively influential way - for Art’s sake. To not only prove that the Golden Age of Hollywood is not well and truly gone forever, but that the future of flicks will feature well-assembled, intriguing characterisation and plots, leading to affecting results to restore one’s faith in a good film. Shutter Island is all of the above.
Ultimately, it is a mixture of intrigue, expressionistic editing and evocative imagery that make Shutter Island a truly shudder-filled experience. Experience it twice for maximum potential