Friday, February 26, 2010

Island With A Movie Camera: Shutter Island

On the set of Message in a Bottle 2

Martin Scorsese makes movies about America- America as the land of opportunity and freedom; namely, the opportunity for madness, the freedom for violence. Early on, US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) comments that it appears as though the island’s inhabitants fear that insanity is spreading. By film’s end, Scorsese seems to imply insanity’s the only thing we’ve ever shared.

Daniels is on the titular island with his cipher of a new partner (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance of a patient from the island’s mental asylum. Of course things seem fishy from the start- higher-ups (including psychologists Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow) are uncooperative and have ties to shady government operations, orderlies seem nervous, and Teddy’s suffering from headaches and delusions of increasing severity. It’s not the most novel setup, then- it’s clear there will be a shocking reveal by film’s end, and savvy viewers might even be able to figure out which, of several possibilities, the film will go.

If the story’s something of a boilerplate, what’s revelatory is how Scorsese handles the plot as just that- he fills the story to the brim with a mad, idiosyncratic stylization, paying self-aware tribute to noir archetypes and thriller pretense. It's all trench coats, Lucky Strikes and "beats me, Boss," and the film is aware of the space these artifacts exist in. Shutter Island becomes its own camera, filming the visions, delusions, fictions of its inhabitants- in the process capturing, and casting piercing doubt upon, our recent American history. It doesn’t seem like coincidence that, after Inglourious Basterds, it’s the second film in the past year to display the open massacre of unarmed Germans by our erstwhile WW2-era American Heroes. It’s one of Teddy’s memories, as fragile and questionable as any presented in Shutter Island- as fragile, really, as any memory, any recollection. Scorsese identifies our history as one written by animals wounded by unspeakable events, set in motion solely by violence and made bearable, beautiful by the Hollywood Hallucination. It’s such a beautiful hallucination- with one or two scenes as heartrending and perfect as I can think of- that Scorsese, ever the historian, ever the informed auteur, offers with Shutter Island.

Shutter Island (2010, d. Martin Scorsese): 4/4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always love your reviews, Alex, even if I disagree with them (which is rare). I thought that Shutter Island was weak and scatter shot. The stylized cinematography and music was distracting and annoying, and the dream sequences were atrocious. Great performances and a damn good ending that was much better than it had any right to be, but overall nowhere near as good as I had hoped. I haven't been a big fan of Scorsese this past decade, and it was much better than GoNY and The Departed, but not nearly as good as Scorsese used to be.