Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Laeta Kalogridis
Release Date: February 19, 2010
Run Time: 138 Minuets
First off, lets deal with the elephant in the room: a lot of people cannot stand the “asylum horror” genre of movies as they feel the films help in demonizing and stigmatizing the mentally ill. If you are one of those people, this is not going to be the film that changes your mind.
The film is about two U.S. Marshals, Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the disappearance of a prisoner/inmate of Shutter Island, a metal hospital for the criminally insane. As the two begin to explore it becomes clear to Edward that not everything is what it seems, and that the Island might have more in comment with a Nazi Death Camp than a metal hospital. Soon the simple task of finding the missing person is forgotten as Edward tries to unravel the mystery of what’s really going on.
And unless you’ve never seen a movie ever you will know exactly what’s going on. If you can’t figure it out, go watch the movie before reading on. So yeah, turns out Edward isn’t really a US Marshal. He was, but after killing his wife and going crazy due to the loss of his kids, he’s an inmate of Shutter Island himself, and this was all one big, elaborate game set up to break him out of his ruse. Shocker, I know. If you chose to ignore my warning kept reading before watching the movie, just know that this isn’t much of a twist. It’s meant to be, sure, but almost every movie, book or game set in an Asylum has the same basic twist. If the setting is an Asylum, there is almost always going to be a main character who has a secret history there.
Let’s go back to that elephant in the room. The reason most people don’t like this genre is because most of the scares are based on the idea that the mentally ill are inherently frightening, and this movie does fall into that trap. I’ve heard a few psychiatric justifications on the subject and i’m not going to debate the merits of arguments made by people way smarter that I am, but in the end, if you go up to someone and pretty much say “you’re frightening due to something you have no control over” it’s naturally going to anger or offend that person. What makes this movie both interesting and some what hard for me to judge is how it deals with that. Like I said, everything that happens in the film was a game, a role play set up by the head of the hospital to help break Edward out of his ruse. Once you learn this a lot of the “scary crazy people” loss a lot of what made them scary. They were playing a role, or actually giving good advise. But, you only learn this after the fact, meaning that in the moment, the scare is still based on “this person is crazy, be afraid”. While I am personally okay with this twist and how it handles the subject, I can’t say you will be or even that you should be.
The only thing that really holds the movie down is that I feel it runs a bit too long and there are a few odd scenes. For example, Edward was in World War 2, and thus doesn’t like Germans. One of the doctors is German, and Edward calls the guy out for trying to hard to hide his accent (going so far as to say the doctor was doing a good job, but he was hitting the consonants too hard) but…he wasn’t hiding an accent..at all. It was there for every one to see…well, hear. There were only one or two scenes like that, were it felt like one more rewrite would have been appropriate, but nothing that ruins the movie.
As always, I end by asking, how does this stack up for Scorsese? It’s not his best film (that’s is still “The Departed”) and it’s not my favorite film of his (that’s still either “Goodfellas” or “Wolf of Wall Street”), but I do think it’s the best summery of what Scorsese does as a film maker. See, Scorsese and the rest of the “Movie Brats” were the first generation of film makers who grew up with both movies and television being a huge part of their childhoods. Because of this, their field of reference wasn’t just limited too by what they were shown in film school, but also the low budge stuff they loved as kids. Because of this, Most of the best work from Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and their elk was at its best by giving a new coat of paint to the movies they loved as kids and treating these “low brow” films with the same respect film makers gave “high brow” films.
So, what does this have to do with this movie? Well, that’s exactly what Scorsese did with this movie; he ave a new coat of paint to a ‘low brow” genre. But instead of just making a good movie out of it, he took a genre of film that can, and too often is, dehumanizing and allowed to get away with it, and made a great film. Sure, the twist is nothing special, and the main draw of the film is still to see a master film maker doing what he does best, but in the hands of anyone else this could have been just a bad as other films in the genre with out even the benefit of being well made either. You may dislike the movie, and maybe rightfully so, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I’ll See you next November for Scorsese Month 2016!