“You’re a rat in a maze” Shutter Island (2010)
*CAUTION! This definitely contains some Spoileristic Shit*
I hate it when I see a trailer for a film and unconsciously make a guess as to where it’ll end up by the end. I try not to do it, but every so often it hits before I’ve even had time to register the name of the fucking thing. Guess what happened with Shutter Island then? Couple that with me being the idiot who missed the line “This review contains spoilers” in Sight and Sound, and I kind of ruined the whole experience from the word go. Or did I?
Ah hell. I knew, in great deconstructed detail, the entire bloody plot. It’s like that time I picked up the Sixth Sense soundtrack in HMV and saw the last track listed as “Malcolm is Dead.” No shock twist for me then, eh? Nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the ride. All is not lost if you know the ending though, to be honest it can often leave you free to concentrate on elements other than plot. In truth, where Shutter Island was concerned, the plot became the least of my interests.
Having seen many people throw scorn in the film’s face, I expected to hate it, which wasn’t the case. Okay, I didn’t love it, but it was well worth seeing. A throwback to paranoid thrillers of the fifties, I did enjoy the various twists and turns Martin Scorsese led me on. Never knowing what was real and what was the intricately constructed fiction of a damaged mind made for some good viewing.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of the island was conveyed well, mainly through a suffocating colour palette that sat in stark contrast to the brighter dream sequences. The whole film was a visual joy, bringing forth beauty from the darkest of places. Maybe it’s that Bava/Argento aesthetic that draws me to saturated colour and dreamlike imagery, or because I like things that silently scream “what is wrong with this picture?” that I became hooked on the overall look of the thing. Where others have been quick to judge Shutter Island as long and drawn out, I was more than happy to just sit and stare at it. Every shot seemed so well constructed, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sky signal so much impending doom as the one above the head of Teddy Daniels.
Scorsese may face criticism for his artistic depiction of the holocaust, but I find it a brave step to take. With Shutter Island, Scorsese isn’t dealing in realism, he’s dealing in embellished and perfected memories. It’s a necessary insight into the mind of a man who has seen the worst aspects of human nature – Teddy is a damaged man, and we need to see how this damage came to be. Perhaps it’s just that Teddy’s recollections need to be of the more picturesque kind. Perhaps stark reality would break him.
He constructs an elaborate fiction to protect himself, while the staff and capable patients take part in yet another fiction in an effort to cure him. It’s a convoluted and unbelievable story, yes, but who the hell cares? It looks great, and in a cast of familiar names and faces, Leonardo DiCaprio gives a solid performance as a man trapped by what he sees as the madness surrounding him. I’m hoping his eyes have recovered from the overworking they underwent during shooting. They almost take on a life of their own as Teddy falls deeper into his paranoia and obsession – all manic hyperactivity and twitchy confusion. I love a good bit of eye-acting. Maybe it’ll finally make me warm to the guy. It’s definitely DiCaprio’s movie, with everyone else merely bit-part players, which is a shame when you have talents like Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and bloody Max von Sydow on hand.
There seems to be some conflicting viewpoints out there as to what the ending of the film really means, but from my reading of it, there can be only one clear answer. There is no conspiracy, there are no experiments. Teddy is ready to believe in delusional conversations with figments of his imagination rather than face reality.
In the stand-out moment of the entire film, after being confronted with the truth, Teddy realises he can’t live knowing it. Starting with the cigarette pass and a nod from Ben Kingsley, the final minutes are proof that when Scorsese does a scene well, he can pull an absolute blinder.
So forget about the plot – what made Shutter Island for me was Scorsese capturing the right atmosphere, delivering some stunning cinematography, and finishing off on the right note.
“Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?”