Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island (2010)

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"Maybe I'll... no I think I'll just go to sleep."
“Maybe I’ll… no I think I’ll just go to sleep.”

Twitter Plot Summary: US Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels heads to Shutter Island to investigate a missing patient.

Five Point Summary:

1. Seasick.
2. …a Nazi?
3. Stormy weather.
4. An unnecessarily creepy wing of the facility.
5. All becomes clear.

Once upon a time it was Robert De Niro who was positioned as the film muse for Martin Scorsese, but most recently it has been Leonardo DiCaprio who fulfils that role. Shutter Island marked their fourth collaboration and sees DiCaprio’s federal marshall Teddy Daniels investigating a missing patient on an island dedicated to the care of the criminally insane. Drenched in rain, wind and almost permanently bathed in either rain clouds or the dark of night (until the storm passes, at least), the island is not a hospitable place and from the very beginning there is the constant feeling that all is not what it seems.

Scorsese uses a combination of surreal imagery and deliberate cuts and continuity errors to create a sense of unease, and the more astute amongst the audience may think that they themselves are going a little bit crazy. It’s never afraid to get incredibly dark on occasion, and in many respects is the perfect representation of a fractured mental state in film form. Stark imagery, odd camera angles and that persistent bad weather all help turn the island into a metaphor for the mind.

That’s where DiCaprio’s Teddy comes in. Teddy is haunted by his experiences in the closing moments of World War 2 (the film being set in 1954), where he witnessed first hand the horrors of the Dachau death camp, and just to add insult to injury he’s also coping with the death of his wife in a house fire not long previously. These moments, the death of his wife in particular, bleed through into hallucinations that are beautifully designed and represent a perfect mix of acting with CGI.

Teddy was amazed at the power of fire. And smoke.
Teddy was amazed at the power of fire. And smoke.

The supporting cast features Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow do sterling work, with the likes of Michelle Williams, Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas also bulking things up. Ruffalo’s Chuck is an amiable presence as Teddy’s new partner, often being the voice of reason amidst the sense of unease and paranoia. Sir Ben Kingsley meanwhile, as Dr Cawley, is equally as amiable but with an apparently fixed smile that leaves you not quite trusting him. Does he have a hidden agenda in this investigation?

The twists in the second half may be a little cliche in hindsight, but in context there aren’t very many avenues for the narrative to follow. In one sense though it does make a second viewing almost compulsory, if not to spot all of the deliberate continuity errors and cuts, but to see the story afresh from another angle. Suffice to say, subsequent viewings won’t have quite the same impact the second time round. What is real? What is just a figment of the imagination? Is everyone who they say they are? The questions will keep buzzing around and thankfully, unlike Lost, the answers are provided. For the more astute in the audience, the clues are there from the start, but you’ll likely need that second viewing just to join all the dots. Chalk this one up as another worthy collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorsese.

Score: 4/5

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