2010, Directed by Martin Scorcese
Shutter Island is a film that means a lot to me. Not just because of how good I happen to think it is, but also because I first saw it very soon after a friend of mine passed away. While by rights I shouldn't judge a film based around situational circumstances, I found that the film's tone and execution of its quite complicated themes allowed me to take my mind off of the tragedy, while still allowing myself to go through the stages of grief. I thus thought it fitting to include this film in this series of reviews.
The film relies on a rather large and expansive twist, which is one of the best kind - one whose execution shifts the context of the film in dozens of different ways upon repeated viewing, but whose full implications are left up to the viewer. As such, I'll just give a brief synopsis, and then you should really skip to the end if you haven't seen the film. Seriously, go see it, it's awesome. I'll give you a spoiler warning, don't worry. This is a film where the twist isn't just added onto the end, but instead it forms a main segment of the premise and is woven throughout the narrative and direction.
It's 1954. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a US Marshall with a dark past, leaving him on the hunt for his wife's murderer, Andrew Laeddis. Along with new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), he heads to Ashecliffe, commonly called Shutter Island due to the Medical Institution that holds some of America's most dangerous mentally ill people. The centre is run by Dr. Crawly (Ben Kingsley), whose ideas about helping the mentally ill are years ahead of his time. As the two agents look for the missing Rachel Solando, Teddy becomes suspicious that the Island may have more secrets than he was led to believe. (Spoilers below).
The main secret being, of course, that the entire film has been an elaborate role-play on the part of Crawley and his team at the hospital, who have been allowing the Teddy Daniels persona to play out until its logical conclusion. Teddy discovers that he is in reality Andrew Laeddis himself, who killed his insane wife after she drowned their three children, and then went mad due to his inability to accept a reality in which these things had happened.
Essentially, DiCaprio and Ruffalo are both playing two characters each, and their performances are wonderfully subtle enough that from both contexts you can see each characterisation. The way that the institution takes Laeddis' fictioned imaginings of Rachel Solando and uses her as an analogue for his own experiences allows explanation for many of his dreams and hallucinations, themselves caused by withdrawl from psychiatric medication.
I'll stop there, but I could go on. Shutter Island is a film student's dream - it's filled with so much imagery that can be taken in so many different contexts, and one of the film's most incredible feats is that ability for the plot to relate so closely to the viewer's perception. The view up there is the one we're meant to believe, but you could formulate dozens of other theories as well - maybe we're being double bluffed, maybe it's not from Teddy's viewpoint at all - etc. etc.
Mention must be made, of course, of the film's score. Just like Hanna, the film's score ties it together perfectly, with most of the themes and variations coming from one of my favourite depressing strings pieces, On The Nature Of Daylight, which is a 2004 composition by modern classic composer Max Richter. It has this haunting, echoing string arrangement which makes it possibly one of the most poignant pieces of music I've ever heard, and it fits perfectly with the film and its appearances in the narrative.
Shutter Island is a tremendously well made film. One may argue that a lot of the symbolism isn't for everybody, but as an experience it's unparalleled in the detailed nature of the worldbuilding and the level of emotional punch that is maintained despite that. Whether you're watching the story of Teddy Daniels or Andrew Laeddis, Shutter Island is a brilliantly made film that stands out as one of the best thrillers of 2010.
NEXT WEEK: We take a trip down to Pleasantville.