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Shutter Island: I’ll Twist Your Ending (I kid…)

March 3, 2010

So, Shutter Island is being marketed as a film with a Twist Ending.  For the past two weeks  I have kept my head buried thoroughly in the sands of ignorance – successfully avoiding reviews and podcasts which discuss the film – and yet just glancing at the trailer (and of course being tipped off  by the words, “twist ending”) was enough to correctly lead me to  the nature of The Twist, as it were.  I don’t think this is because I am especially observant or astute or even clever - but rather  because the film deliberately and intentionally leaves clues for the viewer along the way – and it does it well.  It is possible that information revealed in the original source material (the Dennis Lehane novel by the same name and which I have not read) provided a real GOTCHA moment, but I like that Martin  Scorsese didn’t play it that way.

shutter islandGorgeously shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson ( Inglourious Basterds), Shutter Island contains stunning set pieces and visual suggestions that indicate things may be a touch amiss.  We are first introduced to Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a ferry destined for Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island, upon which he is suffering from some kind of physical and mental distress. As he converses with his new partner, the two men appear to be lit from the back -  and there is an oddness to the water, which seems to be moving much faster than it should.  There are other exterior shots in the film like this – a driving scene in a convertible, a shot of Teddy Daniels traversing a rocky cliff ledge - where the light source on the characters doesn’t quite match up with the scenery around them – these shots are beautifully put together and call to mind some of Hitchcock’s films – specifically North by Northwest. This particular technique – evocative of the period during which the film was set –  adds a slightly dreamlike quality to the film – it’s subtle, but just enough so that things seems askew.  I feel like these scenes created a dark tone that – combined with performances from many of the minor supporting actors playing patients and hospital guards – elevated the feeling that what you were seeing wasn’t necessarily what was happening.

I really like seeing a well-crafted horror film that is beholden to the same standards of other (and though I disagree with this practice – more respected) film genres.  Shutter Island boasts a compelling, well-paced story and good performances from it’s actors – particularly from Patricia Clarkson, who is AWESOME and whose brief dialogue scene with DiCaprio/Daniels is incredibly effective, not to mention crucial to the film’s tension and success.  I must confess though, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get past the casting choice of DiCaprio – it’s not his fault, but I can’t look at him and not see the boyish face from his Titanic-driven,  heart-throb phase.  He played his part well enough, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the film might have been better off with another actor in his place.  For me, the least interesting part of the film were the actual circumstances that lead Teddy Daniels to Ashecliffe Hospital.  The events that transpire prior to his time on Shutter Island and which bring him there are certainly unimaginable and horrific, but for some reason their reveal to me didn’t quite resonate with the impact that I think it was meant to.   I am much more invested in the idea that a person would create a false reality out of necessity for survival and completely emerge themselves within it, and Shutter Island succeeds in creating a visually engaging, alternate existence .

You can read Shannon’s take on Shutter Island here.


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