I had an advantage that many critics did not have in regard to Martin Scorsese’s new film “Shutter Island.” I was privileged to screen a cut of the film this past summer before editing was completed. So it was with a great deal of interest that I approached the Ziegfeld Theatre to see the finished movie. What I found, on the one hand, looked like the same movie I had seen six months earlier, but on the other hand was somehow different. I am hard pressed to explain what had changed, only that the story was tighter and clearer. Maybe the movie was exactly as I saw it on that summer’s afternoon. Maybe the fact that opening day represented my second viewing made the film work better for me. Another possibility is that maybe much like the experience of Leonardo DeCaprio’s detective, Teddy Daniels, things are not what they had first appeared to be on Shutter Island.
I knew from my initial viewing that “Shutter Island” is a film to be seen twice. Armed with “second viewing” insight, knowing things not yet revealed to a “first time” audience, enabled me to see a different movie. A similar experience is seeing “The Sixth Sense,” “Fight Club” or “The Usual Suspects” for a second time.
“Shutter Island” is a genre film and genre films have recognized elements. We know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, generally. When a character enters a new place and ominous music rumbles on the sound track it is a sure bet that something scary, suspenseful, and possibly horrific will transpire. Should the movie be from the film noir genre then no doubt the hero will be flawed. So it is that the1950s noirish overcoat and hat-wearing detective Teddy Daniels takes a ferry to the titular foreboding looking island along with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). Shutter Island, we are told, is being used as a psychiatric institute for only the most disturbed patients, so we know our heroes will be in for quite a ride. The island is run by Dr. Cawley, who may or may not be what he seems and is played with ominous glee by a perfectly cast Ben Kingsley. Cawley is backed up by an equally creepy associate, Dr. Naehring, played by Max von Sydow.
The detectives are there to investigate the disapearance of a patient who vanished from a room that was locked and guarded. In the course of the investigation Teddy comes to grips with his past and present as the film pulls us into the vortex of Teddy’s point of view. Of course the game changes for the second act but then twists for a kicker of a third act. I wont give away anything except to say that the story goes in unexpected directions some of which may or may not be actually happening. Are there some loose ends? Perhaps, but the film explains enough so that certain assumptions can be made once all is said and done.
“Shutter Island” is Scorsese’s return to genre filmmaking since 1991’s “Cape Fear” and a welcome return it is. “Shutter Island” is frightening, suspenseful, disturbing and has neat twists. It has borrowed from the film noir, horror and suspense genres and knows their rules well.
Shutter Island, director Martin Scorsese, 2010, Paramount Pictures, 138 minutes, rated R