Shutter Island – Marty’s Mind Games

Just back from catching an early showing of Martin Scorcese’s new thriller – Shutter Island. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to watch a brand new film for just $5 per ticket.

It’s also a beautiful thing to watch a Scorcese film. I often wonder about this director. We know he is a man, but sometimes it seems that he’s a human film projector. At the core of his being, instead of a heart he’s got a film projector, instead of joints he has a series of cogs, and sprockets, and instead of blood – what flows through him is pure celluloid. His brain is an encyclopedic vault of film history, styles, and experiences.

In Shutter Island, the first thing we see is a ferry coming out of the mist heading for the island which is off-shore from Boston. S.I. soon looms before us – ominous, foreboding, and eerily reminiscent of approaching King Kong’s Island, or, the Jurassic Park island. The ferry carries two US Marshals – Teddy Daniels played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Chuck Aule, played by Mark Ruffalo. They’ve been called in to investigate a missing patient.

You see, Shutter Island is a federal institution for the criminally insane, and if one of those inmates, sorry – patients, escapes, society would be immediately be placed in harm’s way. These are deemed the worst of the worst, and their care and safekeeping must make society absolutely safe from these creatures. So there’s only one way off the island, and that would be the ferry that brings you to the island; not unlike Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Harbor, or the infamous Devils Island.

So the Marshals are met at the ferry dock by the Deputy Warden McPherson who has a whole platoon of heavily armed correction officers on hand to meet the boat. This role was played by John Carroll Lynch, and his uniformed presence will remind you of Clancy Brown as Captain Hadley in The Shawshank Redemption. In fact as they are driven up to the main building you’ll again think of Shawshank – only this time we remain at groundlevel rather than gliding above the prison walls in a chopper.

As they approach the main building DiCaprio makes eye contact with a number of the patients who are out on the grounds. To be most kind, these people are immediately recognizable as severly disturbed. Anyway we go in and meet Dr. Cawley played by Ben Kingsley. He’s the head guy and at times he’s professorial and whimsical and in a blink of an eye, you see him as evil incarnate.

The two cops banter along with the Doc, and at times we think the doctor is being cooperative and then again, in a blink of an eye – we all immediately recognize that something is going on.

There’s another Doctor that we must meet as well. This is Dr. Naehring played magnificently by Max Von Sydow. Daniels immediately pegs him as a Nazi ( the film is set in 1954 and WWII was still being played out in people’s minds). Naehring sounds Teutonic, and looks, well, like Dr. Praetorius from The Bride of Frankenstein.

While Dr Cawley runs the entire institution, Naehring handled the more physical side of the treatments like electro-shock therapy, or trans-orbital lobotomies. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest anyone?

So that’s the intro – our two Marshals are going to try and find out what happened to the missing prisoner. Of course a storm is approaching so they won’t be able to leave until the next day.

Of course Teddy Daniels has flashbacks to his days as a US Infantryman in WWII who helped liberate a Nazi death camp, Dachau.

C’mon Teddy – get a grip!

Of course, in the course of their interviews with staff and patients, more and more clues are dropped that this place is dangerous, that things aren’t what they seem, and that they should wrap up their investigation and depart on the next ferry back to Boston.

My thought is that Scorcese wanted to blur the lines between reality and dreams, and sanity and insanity. His methodology was to make we viewers unsure of what we think is real and what isn’t. He employs a number of red herrings, mcguffins, and misdirection to both amp up the tension, and to confuse us. The music score is at time jarring and disturbing. Scorcese will also employ the bogeyman jumping out of the closet more than a few times, and other Hitchcockian gambits like a cliff-hanger scene.

When I left the theater I was kind of withdrawn and quiet. This movie does impact you and it isn’t all fun. Despite the fact that you know this is a movie and has been presented for entertainment, you come away with questions.

But in the end it was just Scorcese having fun with us sort of like  Michael Douglas in The Game which comes to mind. But this time, when the film ends, people aren’t slapping each other’s back and saying, “Wasn’t that fun?” It was more like…”Geezus, I won’t sleep tonight”.