Shutter Island

Last Updated: April 6, 2012By Tags: , ,

As he ages, Martin Scorsese appears to be making a clear turn to pulp.

I would say that some of the hesitations often expressed about The Departed stem from this change. The Academy Award winner doesn’t’ have the sense of burned-in reality of his early New York films. You also hear, incorrectly that it is shallow, a misimpression that lingers. Rather, it’s a quiet study of the relationships among violence, loyalty, and rival forms of authority.

Shutter Island takes a similar approach and will probably suffer the same accusations of shallowness. You will hear that it is just Scorsese making a piece of intriguing entertainment. While I don’t think it is Scorsese’s deepest film, I would say this description sells the film short.

Like a previous adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel, Mystic River, Shutter Island is interested in violence and the way that the arrival and absence of knowledge shifts the morality of it, as well as the way that violence burdens the futures of its subjects. What is interesting about Shutter Island is the way that our investment in violence changes as our perception of the film’s “reality” changes.

Whatever its underlying meanings, Shutter Island is primarily an expert piece of popcorn, a bump-in-the-night psychological thriller enlivened by Scorsese’s child-like sense of cinematic exaggeration. It’s like Avatar for someone who grew watching 50s tough-guy B-movies.

Haunted by memories of liberating a concentration camp and his wife’s death, US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes a ride across the waves to Shutter Island, a foreboding piece of mid-Atlantic real estate that houses an asylum for the Criminally Insane. A female inmate has mysteriously disappeared without a trace.

The island institution is run by an effete doctor, played by Ben Kingsley, who believes he can reform and save his criminal patients. But he seems to have something to hide. It’s 1954, just after the War, and the presence of doctors with German accents aren’t helping his case.

Despite my recommendation, the use of the Nazi theme disturbed me. Generally speaking, I think the more we use the Holocaust as a storytelling device, the less impact the real thing has on us. Its use should be carefully chosen, but here the Holocaust is reduced to a storytelling device and ultimately a Maguffin. It could be anything, so perhaps it shouldn’t be that.

The film also too much time down t he stretch to reach what has become its obvious conclusion. Nonetheless, it held my suspense and interest, because I wasn’t quite sure how all the details would work out. That’s true of most of this often brilliantly suspenseful film. It captures your attention, holds it, and has a little something to say. Throw in Michelle Williams, who I’m quickly becoming convinced is the best actress out there, and that’s not bad for a night out.