Reappreciation Society: Shutter island

shutter island 4

This piece contains spoilers

I believe director Martin Scorsese is sufficiently aware of his film’s supposed twist effect on audiences to pose a more intriguing question from its doomed protagonist – “Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or die as a good man?”

US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is really mental patient Andrew Laeddis, brought to the brink of breakthrough many times before. The hospital Board’s role play exercise is make or break time – if he doesn’t accept that he murdered his wife Delores for killing their kids, he’ll be lobotomised. “Missing” Doctor Sheehan (Mark Ruffalo) plays Teddy’s (as we’ll continue to call him) new partner Chuck Aule (chuckle, a more obvious sign it’s all a big scam). He is constantly asking “Are you OK, boss?” because he is monitoring Teddy’s withdrawal from his medication.

After being led “like a rat in a maze” as nutty inmate Jackie Earl Haley tells him, Teddy comes to the realisation that all is as he has been told by his doctors. However, he can’t live with what he’s done, and chooses to pretend that he still thinks he is a Marshal, and the nurses close in to take him for his lobotomy.

The film is an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, set during the early days of the Cold War, and apes the paranoia of the day. Part of Teddy’s delusion is the suspicion that the hospital is running mind control experiments. Stylistically, the film is brilliant at conveying his paranoia. Fire is a symbol of his delusion: every time he lights a match, when he’s drying off by the cave or when he blows up Doctor Cawley’s car, he experiences a hallucination.

shutter island 1

In his constructed fantasy, his wife died in an arson attack, while water conveys the path to reality. The choppy ferry ride, the storm, the glass of water, all make him uneasy, because they symbolise how Delores drowned their kids. Hence, Doctor Cawley’s strange greeting (repeating Teddy’s own words to his wife) “Baby, why are you all wet?”

As for the charge that it is ridiculous that the whole facility would construct an elaborate charade for one patient, I draw your attention to 60’s TV show, The Prisoner. Every week, former spy No.6 was led a merry dance, believing he was about to escape, while No.2 and his staff sought to uncover why he resigned. Both period pieces, dealing with “truth”, identity, memory, surveillance, and many more issues. One was a product of the past, the other a homage to films of the past.

Scorsese drapes his film in wonderful references to classic films like Shock Corridor, Vertigo; even his own Cape Fear remake. The booming, discordant Frankenstein’s monster of a score (Robbie Robertson hand picked modern classical pieces) further unsettles. Teddy’s hallucination with Delores echoes DiCaprio’s scenes with his character Cobb’s wife in Inception; both films relationships mirrored thematically.

On its release, Roger Ebert wrote, “the movie is about: atmosphere, ominous portents, the erosion of Teddy’s confidence and even his identity. It’s all done with flawless directorial command. Scorsese has fear to evoke, and he does it with many notes.”

With Shutter Island, Scorsese has crafted a film that rewards as a homage, as a treatise on memory and loss, and as a redemptive journey by the flawed hero.

Originally posted 2013-11-01 17:34:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Read and post comments on this article