Shutter Island - 2010
Director(s): Martin Scorsese
Writer(s): Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay) / Dennis Lehane (novel)
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Editor(s): Thelma Schoonmaker
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley and John Carroll Lynch
Synopsis: In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer, who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane (IMDB).
Ok, I know what you are thinking: “Another Scorsese movie review?”. Yes, this is the fourth time I have chosen one of his movies, but this time around it is DiCaprio as the lead and not De Niro. It’s different in my head. But in my defense, Person I Made Up to Create this Set-Up, Scorsese’s resume is so vast (1967-Present) and varied that it’s hard to fight the temptation to dip back into one of his movies. So, let’s jump in.
Quick note: This review will contain spoilers. It’s been eight years, though, so I think it’s fair game.
When Shutter Island came out back in 2010, it was received with mixed reviews, partly due to the deceptively simple style the filmmaking and the reveal in the end that left some people with a bad taste in their mouths. Upon my first viewing, I enjoyed it a lot. It wasn’t my favorite DiCaprio-Scorsese work, but I didn’t see it as a bad movie like many others did. But something happened during my re-watch of the movie. Knowing the reveal shifts how you see the movie. Writer Laeta Kalogridis placed in countless clues both in the dialogue and in the visual form throughout the entire runtime. Tie that to the way Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson shot it, you are left with a completely different movie experience than the one you saw during your first viewing.
The story centers around Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a U.S. Marshal tasked with investigating the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. The hospital is on an island, and when we first meet Teddy he is hunched over a toilet, because he can’t stomach the water (more on that later). We meet his new partner Chuck Ale (Mark Ruffalo), and from the very start you can see that Teddy doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation. He doesn’t trust the hospital, the guards, the staff, the patients or even his partner. As Teddy digs deeper and deeper he starts to even question his sanity as things around him don’t add up.
The reveal is that this investigation was a charade for Teddy who is a patient at the hospital. The lead psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley) staged this elaborate plan to jump-kick the memories he has been trying to block from his mind. Once you have this revelation in the back of your head, everything leading up to it makes perfect sense. The acting from everyone outside of Teddy seemed off and, at times, bad. But they are supposed to be that way because they are playing characters that are acting for the sake of Teddy. The nurses are laughing while being interviewed, the guards are angry and barely performing a search party and Kingsley is smirking at every question Teddy throws his way. When you are watching it for the first time, you are confused and at times frustrated that these actors are barely giving Scorsese anything at all. The second time you are in on it and you are smirking away with Kingsley. My favorite is Ruffalo as he is eating up the scenery with this neo-noir detective voice and over the top realizations. The movie-within-the-movie aspect of the story is handled perfectly by Scorsese and he brings out great performances from all the actors involved.
Quick note: Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing prowess is once again on display, especially her ability to edit with sound transitions.
Now this reveal doesn’t come out of nowhere; you start to question Teddy’s sanity as he starts to unravel the more he digs into the hospital “wrongdoings”. My favorite clue comes from the introduction of Teddy as he says he can’t stomach the water. The lake being the place his wife (Michelle Williams) drowned their kids, you can see why he can’t stomach it no longer. Water is forever present in the story, in part due to the hospital being located on an island and the fact that a storm is currently hitting them. But its beautifully placed during a dream sequence he has of his wife. He sees her in the middle of a burning room, the story he told himself to cope with his wife’s death, and as he hugs her she starts to bleed. The blood quickly turns to water and she is now soaking wet despite them standing in the middle of a burning room. It’s his subconscious desperately trying to make him remember the truth.
Quick note: the incredible score elevates the visuals and sets a tone of confusion and dread that washes over every single scene.
Shutter Island is a great noir mystery thriller that grabs the audience by the neck and doesn’t let go till the very end. DiCaprio is completely unhinged and watching him swimming to his children in pure panic always makes the hairs in the back of my head stand up. The ending is endlessly sad as the last lines said by Teddy lets you know that he is choosing to be lobotomized because he can’t live in his reality; “Which would be worse - to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” Knowing all the darkness he carries inside of him and the demons he was trying to fight puts the audience in his shoes, making them question would they take the same route. It’s a movie that deserves many repeated viewing and the visuals from Scorsese and Richardson are a threat unto themselves. Martin Scorsese is why I love movies.
Shutter Island is currently streaming on Prime. Do it.
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