Pros: A masterpiece of psychological horror, or the psychology of horror, I'm not sure which.
Cons: The end will disquiet you. It is intended to.
Shutter Island (2010) Directed by Martin Scorsese, from the Novel by David Lehane
"You are smarter than you appear, Marshall....That is not necessarily a good thing." Dr. Rachael Saldano.
Scorsese's Shutter Island is a locked room mystery set in an Asylum for the criminally insane. Federal Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are on their way to discover what has happened to an inmate, Rachael Saldano (Patricia Clarkson) who disappeared from her locked room the night before.
Teddy, a WWII vet who had liberated Dachau, has his own agenda in coming to the Island, something to do with the person responsible for his wife's (Michelle Williams) death. As he makes his way to the island a storm is brewing.
This is true in a metaphorical sense as well. Scorsese has constructed a thriller, and like all brilliant thrillers, it builds suspense, partly by not diluting it with action. The weather, the setting, a steep isolated island ringed by cliffs in the Boston Bay, and the buildings, a former civil war fortress, all build a gothic feel. Combine that with the normal constraints of any correctional facility, high fences, electrified barb wire, the ever present bars and barrier doors, and the atmosphere is positively claustrophobic.
Now add people. The sixty six most violent dangerous inmates in the nation. And the people who are there to care for them.
Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) is the man in charge of security. His calm and pleasant manner is a mere mask; underneath he is stone. Not cruel, just inflexible. He is going to take the Marshals guns, because that is his job, and nothing is going to dissuade him. He is armed with regulation, manners, and iron will.
Dr.Cawley (Ben Kingsley) exudes polite menace. The secret to this is that his face is a tool, his manner an implement. We smile to show that we mean each other no harm. That is not what Dr. Cawley's smile is. It conceals his thoughts, and is therefore threatening. What is he really planning? Who can know? His colleague Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow) has the added menace of being German in 1954, and that disconcerting way of many therapists of never leaving the analysis in the office.
As Ted works his way deeper into the maze of half truths and evasions we see more and more into his own baggage. Ted dreams. He remembers events, like the liberation of the Concentration Camps at Dachau, but he also receives advice from his dearly departed wife, Delores. These messages from his subconscious, always accompanied by snow, whether the snow of Dachau, the falling papers of the Commandant's office, or the raining ashes of his wife's death by fire, help point him along the way, shining a light on the holes in the Shutter Island Narrative.
Like the storm that is building around the island, all storms have to break, and they usually do with blinding force and thunderous devastation. As the hurricane pounds the walls of the institution, so do the secrets locked within Shutter Island, straining to burst free. The truth, like water, seeks the path of least resistance, but like water, it can wear away at any opposition. The question now, is will the truth set Teddy Daniels free?
Scorsese plays mood like a violin with this movie. It harks to both gothic horror, and film noir, marrying them to psychological thrillers, and coming up with a chimera that is quite of a piece, seamless, puzzling, horrifying, and unsettling. Of course, a man is only as good as the materials he works with, but every member of the cast is not only a seasoned veteran of Hollywood, they each excel at subtle nuance. Dicaprio and Kingsley in particular stand out, but the Warden (Ted Levine) gets my vote for the scariest monster on the island. Ruffalo and Williams were particularly adept at foreshadowing without giving anything away.
Dark, violent, this modern film noir explores the beast that slumbers within each of us, and the lengths it will go to in order to protect itself. We live skating along the surface of civilization, but below us are unimaginable deeps, and in them live monsters. This movie explores the deeps, and brings the monsters up into the light of day. It is brilliant, it is disturbing, and it is not to be missed.
This is entered into Captain D's Good Movie Write Off.