Shutter Island

Tonight, for my viewing pleasure, was the new Martin Scorsese film Shutter Island.

Back when I was in my teens, and Leonardo DiCaprio was the heartthrob of Titanic, I can’t say I had much respect for the boy. He was easy enough to look at, but I can’t say that I enjoyed anything I’d seen him in. Plus, in my typical sour grapes way, I decided that anyone that swooned over by the tween masses wasn’t really worth my attention.

Since then, I’ve been biased against Leo, and unfairly so. Leonardo DiCaprio has really grown as an actor, and this movie is an excellent example of a really immersive character.

Shutter Island is an emotionally powerful movie, that will tear at your psyche until you feel like you are coming undone right along with the protagonist, Teddy. For everything that this film lacked in the musical score, cinematography, and – dare I say it? – plot; it more than made up for with sheer raw emotional power. This film will batter your mind like the hurricane at the start of the movie.

Caution! This review contains SPOILERS! Please proceed with caution, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

The tension in this movie is cranked up to 11 right from the beginning. I recently praised the new Mel Gibson film Edge of Darkness for kicking things off without long boring introductions. Shutter Island takes a little longer to get us going, providing some introduction before sweeping us rather artfully into Teddy’s world of conspiracy and paranoia. Things do not start with a bang, but rather with a more creeping sense of psychological horror that perfectly sets the tone of this thriller.

Though the movie has it’s share of blood, it is not gory, demonstrating that you do not need to put everything on display to the audience to horrify them. The film does not ever shy away from the heart-rending images of human cruelty and violence, plunging you head-long into Teddy’s tortured world as a veteran of the second World War, haunted by the things he did during his service.

Twisted dream sequences will draw you further and further into his tormented emotions and mind, despite being someone what heavy-handed with the exposition. Several of the lines during these sequences are awkwardly blunt, in distracting counter-point the far more subtle web of conspiracy and paranoia that binds the other-wise amazing cast of characters together.

Every character (except, in my opinion, Dolores) is well acted and well cast. Every actor brings a massive presence to the screen, filling their roles with an emotional intensity that overwhelms without turning into a messy cacophony, never becoming clichéd.

For all the praise I have for this movie, I felt it did suffer from some considerable flaws. The music was distracting, not tension-building. They have aimed for that sense of rising tension, the one where you walk down a dark hallway and when you reach the end the monster leaps out of the dark a devours you in a crash of epic music; but they have missed. The music frequently employs this tactic when the hallway is not dark, and instead creates a sense of dissonance from knowing that there isn’t any monster today.

The use of flashes of lightning in the migraine sequence started out well, and was almost applied with a sense of artistry, but ends up being tacky and ugly. Perhaps they should have quit while there were ahead on that one. And this one’s just a nit-pick, but when filming the lighthouse, it feels like the perspective was a tad poorly thought out. I assume that the lighthouse is a factual feature of Peddocks Island, and therefore the perspectives used were real, but in an early shot the lighthouse is shot from a low angle, when it is later revealed that the lighthouse is built down almost at sea level. Maybe the changing tide accounts for the discrepancy, I’m just saying that it looks weird.

Now, you might remember that I called out the plot for having problems. And where do I get off accusing the plot of having issues, hrmm? It’s not like I’ve ever written anything that had a solid (or even coherent plot). Well, this came close to ruining the movie for me, and a review is just my opinion, so I’m putting it out there.






The thing I loved most about this film was the sheer degree of emotional investment I felt. If you’re reading this, you probably know me, and you know that I get emotionally investing in things, and it doesn’t take much. However, this movie swept me away on a tidal wave of paranoia and confusion.

So, when the twist came, I felt cheated. You gave me Teddy, poor Teddy. I was sympathetic to Teddy. I wanted to know what they were hiding from Teddy. I wanted Teddy to win, to get off the island, to find some modicum of peace for his soul.

Then you took Teddy away. Teddy was never real, he was just a player in a story. It felt like a cheap shot, a tacky way out of having to resolve Teddy’s story. I was disappointed. Maybe I’m biased because I liked Teddy so much, but I struggled to feel the same sympathy for Andrew that I had built for Teddy. There was just something so “oh, it was all a dream” cop-out about it.

All that being said, I will grant the writers that looking back over the movie, things take on such a different tone in light of knowing the twist. Like the Sixth Sense, this movie I want to watch again, because it’s a different movie the second time around. Like the board’s refusal to grant “Teddy” access to patient records… that makes so much sense now.





At the end of the day, I came away from this movie rocked to my core. I felt physically sick. Although I feel that the problems in this movie were particularly glaring, somehow they can be forgiven in the light of how powerful this film is.

This isn’t a movie of pulse-pounding action, but if you want your mind engaged deeply for two hours, you should see this film.

… and speaking of mentally engaging…


~ by ghostwolfe on February 26, 2010.

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