DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams
Warner Bros Home Video
Release date: June 8, 2010
Martin Scorsese’s foray into violent territories has been characterized by blood, weapons, extreme wealth and more blood. Working with these characteristics he managed to use them to help mold his image of Man, using them as instruments to inflict pain upon Man in the process. Scorsese has become synonymous, as we have all come to know, with violence and gangster qualities, leading him to produce unequivocal masterpieces. But, surprisingly, he works at equal competence when he displays Man as a helpless entity, one who suppresses his true feelings and, as in Shutter Island, one succumbing to psychological occurrences that are far beyond his collective knowledge.
These themes undoubtedly occur throughout most of Scorsese’s pictures but the way he delves into the psychological depths of an individual’s mind, which has nothing but contempt and regret regarding his past, in his new film, brings out a baroque like menace which we haven’t seen in Scorsese before. Shutter Island is an immersive movie nightmare that rises above the thriller genre, emancipating itself from the mundane conventions of such films so it can blossom into a piece of art that is dreadful, ghastly and surreal.
Thematic material that highlights seclusion and the inevitability of preventing insanity ensures Scorsese, like “The Shining” did for Stanley Kubrick, not only as a great director but as a masterful perceiver of the larger scope of humanity. Making man at war with himself, partially due to the surroundings he finds himself in, is tough to pull off. Both Scorsese and Kubrick, in this manner, are inextricably bound to one another. Their meditations on what makes man tick, what his memories are and what he believes in are the stuff all their films in one way or another represent but are taken to new extremes in Kubrick’s The Shining and Scorsese’s Shutter Island. These two films happen to disrupt the creative flow the director has been conducting. Scorsese finds warmth and interest within these topics and excursions beyond the primitive level of them to behold and shed light on a more complex level of humanity in which he failed to do with his 1991 horror remake Cape Fear.
The island, just off Boston Harbor, houses a facility, Ashecliffe Hospital, for the criminally insane. It is 1954, the time when a lot of mental hospitals were performing crude experiments on their own patients and a sense of oddness and confusion instilled itself in the air, only making the atmosphere more mysterious. When word gets out that one of the patients who killed her three children escaped out of her own cell two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), arrive on the island via ferry. A vicious storm is brewing when they set foot on the island and as their time on it expands so does the storms strength, representing the state of mind, most notably, of Teddy. Patients are split up into different wards, A, B, and C, the latter being the location for the most dangerous. Surrounded by water on all sides, the island is a metaphoric prison and can be looked at as a character itself. Or it can be seen as a puppet being controlled by the sneaky Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his other henchmen (one being Max von Sydow) who seem to have plans that are diabolical more so than convalescing.
Portraying the island’s atmosphere with a relentless vision representing that of a nightmare, both haunting and dislocated from reality, is a necessity because it deploys a particular feel that not only represents the films atmosphere but extends its brooding tentacles out to supplant a state of weird urgency within the mind of Teddy. DiCaprio’s Teddy is a noir hero reincarnated brought to life by DiCaprio’s faithful rendering of such a person. Time hasn’t wounded any of his wounds. Instead they have slaughtered them even more. DiCaprio has never been more emotionally drained and dedicated to such a role. He invokes Teddy’s terror and passion, making his character a full embodiment of human emotion.
Teddy’s obsession with solving the mystery of the missing women, smoking cigarettes, hard-edged dialogue and a strict adherence to the past are all components of the classic noir figure. At times these men, especially Teddy, lose control due to their minds working overtime that happen to misconstrue their perception of reality and facts. We see Teddy’s obsessions and past memories (scenes of him in Germany during his service in WWII and those in which he is with his wife, played by Michelle Williams) ceaselessly begin to envelop his mind, causing him to drift into a maddening oblivion. We see through Teddy’s eyes and share in his life altering experiences. This is the voyeuristic quality that Scorsese is so infatuated with.
Scorsese’s skill as a filmmaker is rendered beautifully by his disinclination to mundane trivialities. The man is intelligent enough to neglect the contrivances that show up in lesser films of the thriller genre. He relies on his age old intuition to prepare him for a journey in which he insults all other films in the genre while showing no indication of tiredness on his way to pouring out yet again another film of epic size and raging quality. Vindictiveness isn’t a trait that he is ashamed of showcasing. He looks violently and contemptuously, passionately and lovingly, upon his subject matter. Shutter Island is well thought out (adapted from a Denis Lehane novel) in a deliberate manner because of the way Scorsese builds it, very slowly, mounting and mounting until it reaches a shattering and revelatory climax that couldn’t be possible without the superior acting from the entire cast.
Overcome by such classics that are abundantly ornamented with quality, style and substance (Jacque Tournier’s Out of the Past and Cat People, and Hitchcock’s Vertigo), Scorsese has an established knowledge already at hand, ready to be set free within the confines of his own film. Obsession and misconstruing reality and time are themes that run throughout Shutter Island, as they did with films by Tournier and Hitchcock. Scorsese triumphantly pieces together his film, bit by bit, by borrowing and elaborating on classical themes. Other directors that do this churn out films that react mechanically and feel detached from its director’s vision. Not Scorsese, he seizes such themes and then mixes, twists and contorts them so they come to represent themes that he has been dealing with since his first feature in 1967, Who’s that Knocking at My Door?
High-Def Picture: Scorsese has been involved in film preservation almost as long as he has been a director. The English films of Powell and Pressburger, dating back to the 1940s, have been able to shine immaculately today because of Scorsese’s studious involvement in rejuvenating those films so they can gather new admiration from a younger generation. His accomplishments as preserver and film historian are impeccable. The associations in which he finds habitual pleasure in are those that include artistic clarities, passionate ideas and the refusal of the unacceptable. Insatiable of craft and attention to detail, Scorsese’s vision of a man’s hell is utterly breathtaking. The visuals in which he creates are meant to set the foundation for the film’s overall feeling. Atmosphere is everything. Especially when viewing a film by one cinema’s greatest directors. Leaping fitfully from the screen is the intensity of the storm on the island and the storm that is mounting within DiCaprio’s mind and soul. Scorsese breeds the two together, creating an unforgettable adventure which is then brought even more forcefully alive by the high-def transfer, making every detail and emotion elaborately richer. From the island’s natural structure (the seaside’s jagged stones, creepy lighthouse and the Victorian style buildings) to the insides of the wards (damp cellars, dark mazelike staircases and fully decorated living rooms), the entire makeup is dimensionally intact. It is highly ironic that Shutter Island’s transfer is beyond clarity because the film is everything but that; it is full of twists and turns, haunting and dark, making even more evident the pervading darkness. The dark colors are so consistent throughout the picture that they are always suggesting harsh and depressing tones that put the audience in a state of uneasiness.
Behind the Shutters: HD; 17mins- The film’s principle actors sit down with novelist Dennis Lehane, who wrote the novel Shutter Island, and director Martin Scorsese. There is a spoiler warning that appears before the feature even begins. It is always a treat to hear Scorsese discuss his film. He discusses the philosophical perspective to musical inspiration. This makes up for the lack of a commentary track on his part.
In the Lighthouse: HD; 21mins- Discusses the actors’ process in which they had to go through in order for them to fully comprehend all the psychological concepts that the script demanded of them. There is also a segment devoted to the testing of lobotomy on mental patients who warrant such testing. Scorsese, along with other members of the film, discuss their feelings toward lobotomizing.
Theatrical Trailer: HD- No Shutter Island trailer for some reason. We are presented rather with trailers for “Iron Man 2,” “The Last Airbender” and “Up in the Air.”
Movie: **** out of ****
High-Def Picture: **** out of ****
Features: *** out of ****