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Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010) April 26, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
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Directed by Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

Consider that line between literary and cinematic that Marty takes in Shutter Island. Screw the essence of calm, Leo’s character says, but look behind him and you will see that Marty’s up to a lot of more screwing, especially if you belatedly read the book after feeling clever and realizing that it is one of the rarest instances of adaptation when you wonder—and ponder—how the book is written. It doesn’t seem necessary—reading the book after watching the film—for how do you twist the untwisted back to its twist again when its innocence already died?

But Marty has been there, done that, won this, lost that. That recognition for The Departed, if anything, smacks of incongruity but rarely does that thought matters. Marty deserves it, regardless. But having made Shutter Island—an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel—after The Departed—a remake of a Hong Kong thriller—seems to pronounce that path even more, that thought of Marty believing in a material whose life depends entirely on who presents it—regardless of the material—and that he, of all American filmmakers working at present, is the last who needs any affirmation. And true enough, Shutter Island is the type of film made without any awards in mind, which makes the viewing experience bring out the anal, an exercise which strains the mental and defies the functions of the aesthetic.

Worthy to look at is how Marty builds the suspense and the psychology of his main character, only to be marred by the requirement of delivering the twist. Not a remarkable fault it turns out—to be honest, the twist is earned enough to keep the narrative unharmed, upending the film a little less than the accent of Mark Ruffalo or the disturbing mood of Michelle Williams’ appearance and her colorful dress. It’s a valid nitpick, however, to dislike it on account of that—but isn’t Marty just following Lehane’s mold? Dismissing such impressive and dragging moments is being blinded by the conceit that one is smarter than the film, which, speaking of Shutter Island, is easy to surmise but a little too hard to believe.

The war bits come in early, clouding the plot instead of focusing on it, but as previous war films are proof, there is nothing clear in war that can easily be visualized. If the filmmaker were to talk about war he might as well just talk about it; to present it with sight and sound is a completely different matter, if not by all means complicated. The surgery on how trauma works and how trauma feels goes back to that experience, that though the film seems to point at it as the cause, it also does not reject the possibility of another. The tracking shot of the Nazis being pulverized, for instance, is even better than the entirety of say, Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, because it’s plain and simple violence; that scene alone is war itself—awfully aware that war is more than that but also aware that war is both something that happened in the mind and in actuality—which is far from a twenty-first century exercise on literacy and a groundbreaking performance. Marty casts Max von Sydow as the psychiatrist knowing that the Swedish actor’s face can conjure nuances and physical representations of many aspects of the past, not only of war, but also of individuality and modern man’s coming to terms with existence. The lonely knight playing chess with Death is just one of those towering thoughts.

The convenient thing is to end it vaguely, to ask some mind-boggling question as Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man? which puts the audience at stake, not the film. Must say that’s truly clever—saying that thing and revealing a shot of the lighthouse, implying and fully suggesting a contradiction—but what’s not clever before that? Some sort of Moebius strip where “Teddy is sane” turns into “Teddy is crazy” and the last minute turns into “Teddy is Andrew” which finally becomes “Andrew is acting Teddy”. Screw the logic and conspiracy, and all that’s left is a madman who is sane and who, quite recently, made a shining docu on The Rolling Stones.

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