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Shutter Island is the fourth film in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese collaborate and is a psychological thriller based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Originally slated for release in October 2009, Paramount pushed the release date back to early 2010 and blamed the “economic downturn” as the reason for its delay.
In 1954 US Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive by boat to Shutter Island, home to the Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane to search for Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), a patient who mysteriously vanished from her locked room. The head psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) explains that Rachel had drowned her three children but she believes to be at home and her children alive.
We follow the investigation as to how Rachel vanished and Teddy uncovers information that the doctors are performing operations on patients using psychotropic medication in an attempt to create sleeper agents with no emotion or memories for use in the Cold War. Intersect this with scenes from Teddy’s past as a soldier killing Nazis at a POW camp and memories of his wife Delores who was murdered and we have a confusing narrative which draws us in and questioning every scene.
Stylistically this film is beautiful, opening shots of the island and the waves crashing against the buffs really set the feeling of isolation and panic and Scorsese follows this throughout. One thing that stood out for me was the music, it’s loud and climatic, perhaps in scenes where it doesn’t need to be, but it adds to the tension as Teddy wanders the dark and terrifying Ward C that houses the sites most dangerous patients.
The only thing this film suffers from is the ending, it’s not climatic and merely acts as a walkthrough of what is really going on in this world we’ve been drawn into. Dr. Cawley almost holds our hands and explains to us simply what the film has been trying to convey when really it didn’t need that. The film was good enough without the explanation, Memento didn’t need to explain things, nor did Mulholland Drive (although honestly, that film could have used some explanation).
For me, excitement comes in not knowing for certain, for building your own explanation which I heard a few people doing around me as I watched in the cinema – myself included. I found myself analysing every detail as to what it could mean, such as when Teddy is interviewing one patient who asks for a glass of water. When she is given this drink in one shot the glass is full, then it’s empty but full again in another shot. Is this scene trickery or merely a continuity error?
It’s scenes like these that really work in Shutter Island, blurring the lines between a visitor to an institution for the criminally insane and a patient. The flashbacks get more confusing as the film continues and starts to mix the two together but again as the film ends we are treated to an explanation flashback as to what really happened, another unnecessary scene as we can assume what really went on.
Shutter Island is an enjoyable film that does have you tense and thinking throughout, coupled with its loud orchestral score it is stylistically beautiful and very much a Scorsese picture. His best according to the $40.2 million opening weekend take in the US. Slightly flawed as it concludes but everything up to that is an intense emotional thrill.