Shutter Island (2010) Dir. Martin Scorsese
Spoiler warning!

This movie has ambitions to be a witty thriller and a study of madness, but it fails to be any of these. Scorsese can’t decide which one he prefers. As a result, it is a “lukewarm” thriller with only few memorable scenes.

The opening sequence promises us a scary and mysterious story – a ferry emerging from the mist and a sinister-looking island accompanied by a hostile-sounding orchestra. We come on this ferry with a Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), who investigates a missing patient case. So far, it sounds innocently simple, as it usually does in the beginning. Later on, however, it fails to deliver a mind-blowing mystery behind the mental hospital.

The movie is not balanced well enough. The dialogue sequences are long, even too long – they should be much shorter since they don’t add anything important to the plot. Then, they are interrupted by action sequences that introduce twists and turns of the plot. On the one hand, they give the story a kick. On the other, it’s not synchronized with the dialogues to make an interesting combination. The movie also fails in the story itself. It tries to manipulate us into believing in the whole masquerade, but the story is too predictable at some point (for instance, we suspect that Tedd is patient 67) to trick us as Tedd is tricked.

As far as the Dachau episode is concerned, it is one of the unnecessary elements in the movie. The story suggests that Tedd has mental problems because of his family tragedy. Then, my question is why to introduce the war flashbacks in the first place? I agree there are a few good scenes there, for example, the shooting of the Nazi officers. Yet, Tedd’s story would still make sense if we didn’t know about his war past.

As much as I didn’t feel the ‘wow’ effect after watching “Shutter Island,” there are a few brilliant moments. First, there is a sequence in the C building, the building for the most dangerous patients. When Tedd is separated with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), he finds himself in a dark corridor. Then, he lights a match to see where he’s going. That’s the moment where one of the best scenes in the movie starts. Tedd strikes a match, we can hear a clicking sound of the match, it gives some light, the match goes out quickly, and we see the darkness again. It’s repeated several times with several matches. What’s great about this scene is the idea of being lost in one of the corridors of a nut house in complete darkness. The only way to see what hides in the darkness is to light a match, but then you never know what you’re gonna see. Moreover, the clicking sound when Tedd strikes a match also plays with our imagination. Try to imagine how intoxicating such a sound must be for a pyromaniac, the pyromaniac that Tedd mentions before. The effect is brilliant.

Another powerful scene is the ‘violence’ conversation, the one between Tedd and military-looking Warden (Ted Levine). It is the most truthful scene. Once we find out that Tedd’s story is fake, an elaborate role-playing game, we realize how insincere all characters have been. Only then can we appreciate the talk with Warden – he seems to be the only truthful character on the island; he doesn’t fake, or play. A nice performance by Levine!

As for the idea of treating a patient by playing along with his delusions, it somehow sounds weak and improbable. All staff went through a lot of bother for one patient only and without success. It’s not convincing enough that such a thing may actually have happened. What’s also improbable is the scene with George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley). Noyce, as a dangerous lunatic, strikes me as implausible – he sits in a dark corner of his cell, and talks and behaves as a stereotypical lunatic in movies. Haley would be better off if he played Renfield in a “Dracula” adaptation.

The ending of the movie is again not strong enough to leave me shaken and in doubt. It doesn’t shock, or surprise. Although it’s possible that Tedd is a real Marshal, the movie gives an impression that he’s after all a guy that cracked after the tragic end of his kids and the killing of his wife. The power of the ending should come from the doubt that we should feel at the end. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It reminds me of an upside-down pyramid – in the beginning, we feel that there is an outside world, but throughout the movie this world starts shrinking, and in the end the island becomes the whole world.

I expected more from this production than just a fairly good thriller. I expected more because this is Scorsese, after all. It’s nowhere as good as “The Departed,” not to mention his older classics. Let’s just hope his next movie will be better.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

3 thoughts on “…violence

  1. Well, this time I beg to differ. I honestly think this movie is not merely a good thriller. It left me uncertain and wondering what was the real story, as if there was actually “the” real story behind the movie. So this time I guess I am with the masses: I liked it a lot. But! In case of “The Departed”, although it’s obviously a completely different genre, I agree with you, it’s imcomparably better.

    • Queen of the Grubs says:

      I’m gonna stick to my first impression. Yet, what matters is that there is room for discussion. A mmovie that provokes no discussion, no emotional response is a bad one.

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