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“Shutter Island" - {Blu-ray}- (Chris)
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Paramount
Release Date:
Special Features:

Two featurettes, Behind the Shutters (17:10,) and Into the Lighthouse (21:11,)


Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" is not an easy film to define. It's simplest to say that it's an experience - suspenseful, taut, brooding, mysterious, and engrossing from the moment the first shot appears, in which a ferry emerges from a veil of dense fog. A story that begins with something emerging from nothing is a very telling sign of what lies ahead, because in that moment, you're forced to ask yourself what lies beyond the veil in both directions. We're told that that ferry set sail from the mainland, specifically Boston, although we never actually see it. For all we know, the boat might have been spawned from the sea. Within the veil lies the titular island, on which sits a former Civil War fort that has been converted into a mental institution for the criminally insane.***

The fort looms off in the distance like a harbinger of doom, surrounded by nothing but open water and gray skies becoming heavy with rain. Approaching it by boat are two U.S. federal marshals: Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). Their story takes place in the year 1954, when they're assigned to a case involving the disappearance of a Shutter Island inmate. Once they arrive, they meet the institution's chief physician, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), a calm and collected man who has an air of knowing more than he lets on. Everyone on the island comes off the same way - the doctors, the orderlies, the nurses, the security staff, even the patients all seem to be hiding something.***

The missing inmate is Rachel Solando, who drowned her own children and, according to Dr. Cawley, has deluded herself into believing that she's still in her home and that all the patients and staff members are her neighbors. Her disappearance, Teddy and Chuck quickly realize, makes absolutely no sense. Her cell was locked. Her window was bared. She would have had to pass a number of people to exit the compound. The island's botanical and geographic configurations wouldn't allow her to travel by foot, especially since she's presumed to have no shoes. She couldn't have fallen off a cliff and drowned, for her body would have already washed up on shore. The weather alone, indicative of an approaching hurricane, would have stopped her. Everything about this woman's situation is impossible.***

As the mystery of Rachel Solando deepens, so too does the mystery of Teddy Daniels, who seems lost within his own painful past. In due time, bizarre visions and frightening dreams seem to merge with his desperate need to find the truth. Sometimes, this involves his dead wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), while at other times it involves memories of liberating a Nazi concentration camp during his last days in World War II. For both himself and the audience, reality becomes less and less definable, pretty much to the point where you no longer believe your own eyes. Clues lead to outlandish discoveries, which in turn lead to more questions. Everything is open to interpretation.***

What, for example, is Teddy to make of a note found under a floorboard in Rachel's cell? What about an encounter he has in Ward C, a place reserved for only the most dangerous of inmates? It's here he's forced to roam gloomy stone corridors with nothing but matches to light his way, which is to say he's seeing things only in fragments. What is he to make of Dr. Cawley's colleague, Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), a German immigrant who asks the most sinister of questions? What goes on inside a lighthouse seen off in the distance? And what of Rachel herself? Has she truly escaped, or is she still somewhere on Shutter Island?***

What makes this movie brilliant is that it isn't really about the plot, nor is it about the ending, which on all rational levels is utterly preposterous. The film's purpose, as I understand it, is to take the audience on a purely emotional journey, to consistently evoke feelings of uncertainty and terror as the dark recesses of the mind are explored. Relying heavily on the conventions of film noir, where heroes are troubled souls and shadows conceal all kinds of secrets, Scorsese doesn't tell a story so much as establish mood for just over two hours. When it comes to the mind, whatever form that may take, story is inconsequential; we can go in just about any direction and wind up just about anywhere.***

Special Features:

Two Featurettes,

" Behind the Shutters" - Follows the film from its inception as an acclaimed novel through the production process and to the big screen. Includes interviews with cast and crew.

"Into the Lighthouse" - Discusses the historical landscape of psychiatric therapies during the 1950s through interviews with cast and crew.

Final Words:

Which brings me back to the ending. It may seem like a typical Hollywood plot twist, but it offers no real payoff, and that's because the reality of everything leading up to it is in doubt. If we can't trust the beginning and middle sections, how on earth can we trust the end? I don't think we should even try. "Shutter Island" is not about a logical sequence of events or a mechanical resolution. It's about keeping audiences in a perpetual state of confusion and apprehension (as Teddy Daniels seems to be) through the talents of the cast and filmmakers. When it was over, I thought not about the technical details or the narrative trickery, but about the overall effect it had on me. It played its game, and I wanted to play right along with it. What a captivating movie.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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