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Shutter Island

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on March 24, 2010


Sorry for the delay– I was using another person’s laptop while mine was being repaired, and it was just too large and cumbersome for me to write with a certain amount of ease and comfort :P. The past month has been full of all sorts of ick and dismay. Apologies!

It’s so hard to talk about movies and not give away spoilers, especially when they are psychological thrillers–but I’m doing it anyway! I’ll start with my hedging comment of “It was interesting.” Because, in a number of ways, it was. Did that make it good? Well, that’s another question. I guess it depends on what you want from the movie. I went into it hoping that I wouldn’t get one of two “crazy person” plot twists; unfortunately I was met with one of them. I was convincing myself until the very end that it simply couldn’t be so, but the ending let me know that I was the delusional one and the plot twist absolutely was real. This was problematic for me.

The trailers made me curious about what the “freaky” scenes were all about– are there ghosts in the asylum? Is he seeing things? Is he being drugged? The explanations for some of the more “bizarre” images turned out to be far more simple than I expected. I have to say that I absolutely loved the staging and directing during Leonardo DiCaprio’s scene with Michelle Williams inside the apartment (if you’ve seen the trailer, it’s the part where he’s hugging her and she disintegrates right in his arms). That scene just struck me as grotesquely beautiful. I also thought that Marty (as in, Martin Scorsese) was pretty successful at creating a dark, unsettling atmosphere and creating scenes that really do play with your mind. The film has a claustrophobic feel to it, which is fitting for a film not only about a mental institution but one that effectively keeps people marooned on an island. However, I was not on board with some of Marty’s choices. I figured out pretty quickly that the flashes we were getting from Leo’s POV were flashbacks to World War II, and while that might have been part of the book, I kinda had to groan. I wasn’t too thrilled with the way those flashbacks  interjected, either. I understand that they were meant to be jarring and hitting us the same way they were hitting Teddy (Leo’s character), but the flashbacks were also used to provide us with some character development that comes later. Without that context, the flashbacks prove more confusing than meaningful. That and some of the “HERE COMES THE DRAMA” extreme close-ups bugged me. Overall, though, I give Marty good marks, even if the film was a bit long.

The music, however, could have used some heavy editing. And by “heavy editing”, I mean a different music supervisor. Robbie Robertson (I wish I made that name up) was SO heavy-handed with his choices. The opening sequence almost made me laugh out loud. Seriously, you’ll never forget that you’re watching a psychological thriller because from the moment the film starts, the music is constantly and resoundingly reminding you.

Now let’s get to the gist of the film itself. It’s 1954. Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his brand new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are U.S. Marshals. They are sent to Shutter Island because a woman has been reported missing and they can’t figure out how she left her room. Oh, that’s a problem because Shutter Island is Cape Cod for the criminally insane. Not that she’d be able to get to the mainland, however– the only way off the island is via a single port and one very well-monitored ferry. Teddy is especially interested in this place because he has a history with someone who was sent there, but apparently no longer exists on record. We also learn pretty immediately that Teddy a) gets seasick and b) is a widower. He tells Chuck that his wife (Michelle Williams) was killed by a fire in their apartment caused by a “fire bug” who lived in one of the neighbouring units. We now have tragic Teddy background nugget #1. It’s pretty much the driving force of his weaknesses and it leads to a whole lot of him second-guessing himself and what he knows. His memories of her cloud his judgment at times, and he pictures her helping him along the way (but not in a way that would make you think he was crazy– he knows she’s not real, but she’s almost like his conscience). Teddy is smart–very smart, even, but also tragic. Did I mention the tragedy aspect? Yeah, that’s kind of a big deal. When Teddy and Chuck get to the island, they meet with the man in charge, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). He definitely seems dodgy, but he’s almost convincing about how he wants to treat the insane patients for their illnesses rather than lock them in cages or subject them all to lobotomies. How quaint. We then get caught up in a whirlwind of questions, conspiracy theories, evil deeds, dark secrets, double-crosses, and plain old crazysauce.

Getting into the whole “what happens” aspect and the twist: You may THINK you have a fix on what’s really going on, but you really don’t know for sure. Even if 98% of you is screaming “I CAN SEE THE TWIST COMING” and you end up being right, that other 2% was holding onto the opposite spin of the story. And I think that puts us pretty firmly in Teddy’s shoes. At a certain point, all you can trust is what you know to be true and what you see in front of you. That’s where Marty places us, right alongside Teddy. We basically see all that he sees, and we trust all that he says because we’re only privy to what he knows (that’s part of what makes it a thriller, essentially). And when the end does come, I think the lack of satisfaction is probably fitting.

My issues with the twist mostly revolve around technicalities and the general idea behind the situation. I’ll be happy to address them in the comments if anyone wants to talk about them, but I don’t want to give too much away in case someone reads this who has yet to the see the film :P.

Performance-wise, I thought everyone was pretty great. Leonardo DiCaprio may not be my favourite actor, but he deserves the credit of being considered a legitimately good actor. He portrayed the smart-cop-with-a-dark-past character well and didn’t go overboard into triteville. Mark Ruffalo portrayed his eager “I’m the only one you can trust” new buddy-partner well, and had just enough ‘offness’ to make us question him, too. Ben Kingsley–SIR Ben Kingsley… man, I love him. I don’t get to see him play such a sinister kind of character very often, and he’s just great to watch. Michelle Williams: eerie, unsettling, creepy portrayal of a man’s projected image of his dead wife unsettling? Check. But I have to say the performance that really got me was Ted Levine. I adore him, and most people have no idea who he is. I’ll tell you: he’s Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. And now to blow your mind, he’s also the Chief of Police from the TV show Monk. How awesome is that?! When I realized that the Chief, a good guy on Monk, was played by the same guy who played one of the creepiest people I’ve ever seen on film, I had a joygasm. Ted is the Warden in this film, and is so appropriately dark and disconcerting, but with an awesome comedic edge. I loved him in this film. I need to also give recognition to Jackie Earle Hayley of Watchmen fame (and soon to be A Nightmare on Elm Street fame), who portrays one of the inmates, and Elias Koteas. Elias was Casey from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action movies, so I also adore him. I thought he had a larger role in this film, and I was really disappointed by how underused he was. However, he’s gotten really good at playing creepyweirdcrazyguy, so I enjoyed him every time he appeared onscreen. Oh, and he gets bonus points for being in David Cronenberg’s totally fucked-up movie Crash (NOT the Oscar-winning one) about people with severe car crash and paraplegic sex fetishes.

Do I recommend this movie? I don’t really know… which I guess is a no, in some ways. I didn’t love the film, and I’m still not sure if I really liked it. I’m actually pretty pissed at it, to be quite honest. I don’t think it’s a film that you need to rush out and see, so if you’re not really into this genre or Scorsese, I’d tell you to either wait until you can rent it/watch it on TV or skip it altogether. But I do think there are reasonably enjoyable aspects to the film. I guess it all depends on how much you like being toyed with.


18 Responses to “Shutter Island”

  1. Nivek said

    According to my mum, we know someone, or the family of someone, who worked on this film.


    • Cantankerous Panda said

      No way! That’s awesome and I am insanely jealous!!! You’ll have to get more information for me!

  2. Fyorl said

    I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know what else to comment on other than that I liked the review.

  3. Adam said

    Hmm, ’tis a shame, i had very high expectations for this one. my money seems like it will be better spent watching Green zone

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I…. don’t know about that one :P. It seems to me that Green Zone is simply The Bourne Identity with a mask– I don’t know if that’s more worthy of your money. I think this film is still an interesting watch, but it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. But I’m glad you found the review helpful :).

  4. Leaf said

    So basically, I was trying to think of something awesome to say but I guess I’ll just…ye.

    I liked the review, and it makes me more inclined to see the movie; I didnt really want to see it as some website already spoiled the ending for me.

    Also, Leonardo DiCaprio is winrar. That is all.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      That’s a shame that a site ruined the ending. But maybe you’ll get a different kind of enjoyment if you see it with that knowledge. I might see it again (when it’s released on DVD) and see how I like it post-twist.

      Thanks for the response!

  5. Lizzzzz said

    love the meta argument about doubting the twist- so true!

    i had very similar feelings about this movie and am a huge Marty fan! I left the theater disappointed and angry. after talking about it with my boyfriend for the entire next day i realized that a movie that makes me talk about it this much cannot be all bad

    i too am conflicted, great review!

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Yeah, I am starting to think that perhaps it is just a film I need to re-watch after knowing the twist. It is entirely possible that I will like it a lot more. Thanks for the input!

  6. Tsai said

    Ohkay. Hum. Well. The twist had me baffled at first, but I really like how it all played out. Really not much I could say; I think I need to watch this one or two times; maybe on a media platform so I could rewind and whatnot. I agree with you that the sound director did an annoying job emphasizing on the constant need to seemingly etch in your ears the whole ‘thriller’ theme. Also, the ending left me fairly, disappointed. Great review though, as always. 🙂

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Oh shit, I forgot to change “sound supervisor” to “music supervisor”! That was a slip-up of mine (don’t know how that happened!) but they are different and their jobs are different :P. My bad! Thanks for reminding me!

      Yeah I’m feeling more and more like I need to re-watch it. Perhaps it isn’t as bad as I think it is! Not that I thought it was terrible; it just wasn’t satisfying for me. There are some movies where that whole “shocking” twist thing works for me, like The Usual Suspects or The Game, but this was one that bothered me (not as much as The Village bothered me, but still).

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you enjoyed :).

  7. Alex said

    As someone watching it who knew the gist of the ending already, the film still managed to make me double guess myself. And i did like the ending.

    My main problem was just how silly the main idea was. But once you get over that, it was enjoyable.

    Also, Sir Ben Kingsley :P. Niice.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Har. I am glad you were able to enjoy it. Perhaps knowing the twist helps! I am glad you were still shocked at some times, though– that’s awesome.

      And Sir Ben Kingsley rocks!

      Thanks for the feedback :P.

  8. Tentacles said

    I don’t watch many things like this, so I didn’t really see the twist coming, and I found the movie fun, and thought the ending was kind of sad (at the very end, I mean).
    Nice review by the way 🙂

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      It was sad, yes, but it just irked me because it made so much of what happened totally ridiculous in terms of the logistics. It’s such a huge liability risk! And that’s just a lot of work to put in for one person. I don’t know, that still doesn’t quite sit well with me… but, like I said, I need to re-watch it probably :P.

      I am glad that you enjoyed it, though. I imagine it’s more fun for those who aren’t as used to such movies.

      Thanks for the comment!

  9. […] you really need another reason to see it? The only additional reason, for me, is that Elias Koteas (Shutter Island) is in it, and I have a special love for him because he played Casey in the Teenage Mutant Ninja […]

  10. […] has a deeper emotional meaning. It was just fairly overdone and, in a lot of ways, very similar to Shutter Island, which I found amusing. In any case, the only person who knows what’s happening with Mal is […]

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