'Pull yourself together, Teddy! Pull yourself together.'

Shutter Island is a film directed by Martin Scorsese from the novel by Dennis Lehane and released in 2010. In 1954, a pair of Federal Marshals investigate the disappearance of a patient from a facility for the clinicly insane which happens to inhabit an imposing island. Trapped overnight by a strong storm, suspicions arise that there may be stronger and more sinister reasons for their visit.

A dramatic score and noir setting immediately sets this film up as a Hitchcock tribute, with some hard-boiled dialogue, hard-nosed investigators in a setting that is dripping with psychological metaphors for abnormal human behaviour.

(spoilers will be needed for any further reading)

The first clue that something may not be right as first presented is right with the opening line, quoted above, following the main protagonist puking in a ferry sink, and then blaming it on the sea outside. 'It's a lot of water!' The ferry itself is first seen emerging from a deep fog as it approaches the island. Soon after, continuity errors within scenes begin, and continue through until the last 20 minutes. A woman holds a glass, the next shot drinking from an empty hand, following by the empty glass set down, but then half-full when she leaves the scene. Dialog overlaps, as speakers seem to jump position mid-sentence. We are watching a story told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator with some reason to fear water, and expressed through film techniques already familiar to those who've seen Adrian Lyne's 1990 film Jacob's Ladder, or Alan Parker's 1987 film Angel Heart. I shudder to think how much Scorsese's long-time film editor Thelma Schoonmaker had to resist correcting purposeful editing errors.

By the time of the big reveal, there are a few plotholes not quite sucessfully filled, but dark themes and some strong performances from many of the players over-ride this problem. Teddy's memories of Dachau, and of the fate of his family are particularly well-done by lead Leonardo DiCaprio; notice should also be given to Mark Ruffalo's protective partner, Patricia Clarkson as one of the Rachels and Jackie Earle Haley in a very disturbing prison scene.

This is a fine dramatic thriller, with some familiar film genres twisted in clever and reflective ways. It is worth watching just to admire the setting, score and performances, but also as a filmmaking lesson in knowing the rules in order to break them.


Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Leonardo DiCaprio as Edward "Teddy" Daniels
Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule
Ben Kingsley as Dr. John Cawley
Max von Sydow as Dr. Jeremiah Naehring
Michelle Williams as Dolores Chanal


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