If Martin Scorsese’s latest film shows us anything, it’s that Scorsese needs to make more films like Shutter Island.
Note: Spoilers! (Don’t worry though, the end is discussed but not revealed)
Shutter Island follows two US Marshals (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio) as they investigate an escaped patient at a mental treatment facility. As to be expected, things aren’t quite what they seem. Insanity spreads across the island, and the presentation of the whole film becomes more dreamlike and weird. Despite its formulaic (and predictable) nature, the story is presented well thanks in part to the excellent environments and technical presentation.
The cinematography in this film is quite impressive. There are really weird angles throughout, however they are never gimmicky; varying from scene to scene, no weird angle is ever repeated. Scorsese manages to make wide open spaces seem claustrophobic, and claustrophobic spaces seem even more so. The general palette is grey and washed out, although interior shots are presented slightly oversaturated. The institution definitely looks and “feels” old, while the island feels unexplored and wild. There are some interesting editing choices that at first seem like mistakes (such as inconsistencies between shots), but as they become more blatant you realize they are intentional. This not only adds to the increasingly frequent experiences of insanity spreading across the island, but makes it as though the film itself is going crazy and becoming unsure of itself.
Regardless of how the trailers have portrayed this movie, this isn’t a paranormal thriller…the story is presented in a classic noir style, while the environment itself comes across as a mix between Rapture, Silent Hill, and the Overlook Hotel. There aren’t any moments in this film that could be considered traditionally scary, but as the curtain is slowly opened and the audience is shown the truth, this becomes one of those “that would be scary to experience, but it’s not scary to watch” kind of movies. You won’t have nightmares from this film, although parents may have some trouble watching a couple of the scenes and descriptions of past events. There is very little in the way of violence and gore, although what is present is on the graphic side. There are also some flashbacks that take place in concentration camps…like anything dealing with the Holocaust, these scenes may be hard to watch for some viewers.
Fair warning: I’m about to discuss the end of this film, however no specifics will be revealed.
Scorsese has managed to mix a noir thriller reminiscent of movies from the 40′s together with modern day mind-benders where you are never sure what is real and what isn’t real. The story unfolds in an extremely predictable way, but considering zero effort was made to hide where the story was headed, I believe this to be intentional. There isn’t a twist so much as there is a shift in the film’s focus…while it would have been good to hide the truth a bit better, Scorsese still manages to keep it interesting. Shutter Island could have easily joined heaps of other films in leaving the end open to interpretation…but luckily, this was not the case. The end is definitive, and although you may take something away from it differently than another viewer, you will both agree on exactly what happened.
Shutter Island isn’t one of Scorsese’s best, but it did make me wish Scorsese would get involved with more cerebral fare instead of the straight-forward drama/thrillers. He has a knack for making the audience feel specific emotions, and Shutter Island will definitely leave you feeling dazed. I believe it is worth seeing in a theater, as the large screen makes the island and the institution feel truly menacing. As long as you don’t go in expecting a scare fest, you should enjoy yourself.