Shutter Island

Shutter Island

Film review by: Witney Seibold

A friend of mind compared Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” to the psychological thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, and he has a good point; the film is rarely about its secrets or payoff, but about a slow build of energy to the eventual climax, and the uncomfortable realization that there will be no release. Some effective older thrillers tend to climax at the beginning of the third act, and not at the end, leaving the third act for a redistribution of priorities as the character adjust to the new information.

This is a roundabout way of saying that, yes, “Shutter Island” has a twist ending, and, yes, you’ll probably be able – with your post-modern mind – to predict what will happen. Indeed, many people could even predict the twist ending thanks to a poorly cut trailer that had been circulating through theaters for months and months (the film was notoriously pushed back from November).

It’s also a way of saything, though, that “Shutter Island” is so effectively made, so flawlessly directed, and so impeccably acted, so strongly possessed of a refreshingly classical feeling, that you’ll likely be terrified and moved by how the story and told and less about what happens in the story. This is a very good thriller.

Massachusetts, 1953. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, now having played the lead role in four Scorsese movies), is a cop called to an isolated island to investigate the disappearance of a patient there. Shutter Island is, you see, the location of a mental institution for the criminally insane. Involve crazy people, and you’ll soon be seeing conventional reality disappear under your feet. Daniels meets his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) on the boat.

Something is rotten on Shutter Island. The orderlies all hiss and gaze at the visiting cops with suspicion. The patients give cryptic warnings ion secret notes. The head doctors (Ben Kingsley and a creepy Max Von Sydow) seem to have strange views of treating their patients, checkered pasts, and seem to be keeping secrets. There is suspicion that one of the doctors may be missing in addition to the missing patient, and, of course, there’s a large darkened wing of the hospital which contains the most dangerous of lunatics, and is off limits to just about everyone.

What’s more, Daniels is having recurring nightmares of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) who, like the island’s patients, gives him mysterious clues to some grander mystery at work.

“Shutter Island” is a masterpiece of mood, and slowly encroaching fear. It’s not about the chases and the action, but about the general mood of confusion and frustration and madness that hangs in the air. The story is indeed complicated, and predictably predicable, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less terrifying. There is a scene late in the film where Daniels has a conversation with the head warden played by Ted Levine. They exchange a few not-so-veiled threats. The warden eventually calmly offers to do a horrific act of violence to Daniels, and I nearly fell out of my seat. It was really scary.

I don’t want to say what the ending is, but then you probably already know what it is. Even if you’re turned of by that, I still encourage you to see “Shutter Island.”

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great review!


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