DiCaprio in Shutter Island
Anyone who has ever seen a Martin Scorsese film knows that he is a director of the highest degree. He has one of the most accomplished bodies of work of any modern filmmaker. Over the years, Scorsese has made several films that have had the highest ambitions. In my mind those films include The Last Temptation of Christ and Gangs of New York. I do not mean that those are Scorsese’s best films, just that their level of ambition is clear. The two film I mentioned were passion projects for Scorsese, and while some critics have viewed Shutter Island as an impersonal genre picture, I believe it contains the same level of ambition as both of his “personal projects.”
Martin Scorsese on the set of Shutter Island
In 2007, Scorsese made a short commercial entitled The Key to Reserva in which he jokingly made a film in the style of Hitchcock. In some ways Shutter Island feels as if Scorsese is doing Kubrick. Scorsese’s psychological thriller contained a similar tone to Kubrick’s seminal horror classic, The Shining. Both films track a man’s decent into possible madness. Shutter Island has been polarizing audiences. I have heard complaints from some people that the ending to the film is too predictable, but whether or not you see the direction in which the story is going to move is insignificant.
The basic outline of Shutter Island feels somewhat derivative, but what makes the film special is the way in which Scorsese navigates familiar territory. Every edit is done with precision. There is one scene in the mental ward that especially demonstrates Scorsese’s power as a filmmaker. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Teddy Daniels, speaks with George Noyce. It that scene the rate in which Daniels lights matches seems to reflect his manic nature. Daniels is convinced that there is more to Shutter Island than what appears on the surface. Through a series of disjointed segments, he searches to piece together the truth.
The film was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. Shutter Island is the third of Lehane’s novels that Hollywood has adapted into a feature. His other two works are Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. For my money, Shutter Island is the best thing he has done thus far; however, it is very different than his other material. Shutter Island harkens back to psychological thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s. There are, of course, modern sensibilities attached to the film. Daniels is a former World War II soldier, who experiences guilt over the way he treated German soldiers. Another film might have glossed over the protagonist’s war crimes, but Scorsese revels in the violence. He uses the violence in a series of flashbacks that culminate in a single moment. It is this moment that each member of the audience will make their decision about the events they have seen. A schism remains between fact and fiction that leaves enough questions unanswered that a debate can occur after the lights are turned back on in the theater. There is also a hint given by Scorsese in the list of credits that actually gives some insight into the characters and the preceding events in the film. Even though Shutter Island is a genre picture, it is still fascinating. Whether you love it or hate it, I think it is worth the price of admission.
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