Scorsese Welcomes You to "Shutter Island"
By Yvette Cervera '11, Staff Writer
Using a soundtrack as menacing as the infamous theme of “Jaws” and drawing inspiration from the gloom and doom of film noir, director Martin Scorsese creates an unrelenting atmosphere of suspense in “Shutter Island.” He continuously builds the mystery surrounding the story — based on the novel by Dennis Lehane — until it has no choice but to erupt in a shocking turn of events from which there is no turning back.

At the center of this mystery is U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, masterfully portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. In his fourth collaboration with Scorsese (the last being Oscar winner, “The Departed”), DiCaprio is brilliant as a man haunted by memories of his deceased wife (Michelle Williams) and of his experience serving in the Second World War.

The year is 1954. Teddy and his new partner and relative stranger, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are riding the ferry across Boston Harbor to get to their destination: Shutter Island. The island is home to the criminally insane patients of Ashecliff Asylum, which, with its armed guards and hazardous terrain, appears to be more impenetrable than Alcatraz.

This thought doesn’t inspire much confidence for the task at hand, which is the investigation of the disappearance of a murderous patient (Emily Mortimer). Befitting Scorsese’s stylistic flair, the arrival of the two marshals at the gates of the asylum is heralded by a score of ominous musical notes, which, along with an approaching hurricane, establishes a not-so-subtle foreboding tone.

With the music casting such a dreadful pall over the island comes the inevitable questioning of everyone and everything associated with the asylum. How is it possible for a helpless patient to break out of a seemingly secure facility? Why doesn’t head physician, Dr. Cawley (a wonderfully creepy Ben Kingsley), seem more concerned with the outcome of the investigation? What secret is everyone at the asylum privy to?

It is this mysterious secret that Teddy needs to uncover to solve his case, but before he can do so, he has to deal with the painful reminders of his past that the asylum triggers. Through horribly vivid flashbacks and disorienting dream sequences, we see the distress that Teddy has endured. While highly disturbing, these visuals are incredibly effective, inspiring fear in Teddy and the audience alike.

Such constant disruption gives the rest of the film a surreal quality. It becomes increasingly difficult to separate what is real from what is not as Teddy delves deeper and deeper into his investigation. Interviews with various asylum staff members and patients do nothing to alleviate the divergence from reality.

Helping in Teddy’s quest for the truth is the superb supporting cast Scorsese has assembled. Kingsley, in particular, delights in his role, managing to come off as both charming and forbidding, though not as forbidding as his colleague, Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow). Appearances by two amazing character actors, Patricia Clarkson and Jackie Earle Haley, serve to introduce further speculation into the goings-on at the asylum.

What Scorsese seems intent on doing is messing with the mind. “Shutter Island” is a psychological thriller meant to encourage uncertainty and shroud everyone in suspicion. Each character is a piece of the puzzle needing to be solved. Each scene holds an answer to a different question.

At just over two hours, “Shutter Island” is in a position to reveal the answers to numerous questions and piece together the entirety of the puzzle. There is no lack of explanation in the story; in fact, Scorsese pays almost too much attention to detail. When confronted with the big reveal towards the latter half of the film, however, everything falls into place and each bit of discovered knowledge is much appreciated.

As far as twists go, the surprise ending of “Shutter Island” is mind-boggling. It is apparent from the start that a twist can be expected, but the extent to which the film goes is truly unbelievable. Even after having had time to mull over the outcome of the story, I’m not sure I’ve fully grasped the significance of the long-awaited revelation of the mystery surrounding Shutter Island. This is a film that would undoubtedly benefit from a second viewing.

Issue 16, Submitted 2010-02-24 00:24:59