Shutter Island (2010, R) is a twisting, exhausting psychological thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley and directed by Martin Scorsese.
The movie is set in 1954, and United States Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is sent with his partner, Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), to the Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in the Boston Harbor in order to investigate the mysterious disappearance of patient/prisoner, Rachel Solando, incarcerated for murdering her three children.
Daniels' back story is quite interesting and helps drive the plot. Daniels is traumatized by the memories of his involvement in the liberation reprisals (the killing of German camp guards and POWs in the Dachau concentration camp in April, 1945. He is haunted even more by the death of his wife, who was killed in a fire lit by arsonist Andrew Laeddis. A gale-like hurricane disables any transportation to and communication with the mainland, and as Daniels works the investigation of the missing patient, the jagged pieces of a gruesome puzzle begin to fit together. As the movie draws to a conclusion, an unexpected and clever plot twist emerges around the person of Daniels. I won't give it away, but let's just say that it is in the same vein as the plot twists in Fight Club, The Usual Suspects and A Beautiful Mind.
I have always enjoyed the psychological twists and turns of thrillers such as these. I find the fragility of the mind and spirit of humanity to be a fascinating thing - the mind is a beautiful thing with remarkable abilities - and at times even more remarkable when there are troubles or inconsistencies within it, as there certainly are in DiCaprio's tortured protagonist in Shutter Island. The things that our mind can make someone with deep psychological wounds believe can make or break that person's entire existence. In Shutter Island, Daniels' world was built around the fact that his wife had been killed in a malicious fire, and his mission was to find the murderer. The film abounds with delightful conspiracy theories, including the idea that the government-controlled hospital staff is performing lobotomies on patients and creating ghosts. I say "delightful" because the theories come across and both chilling and possible, considering the somewhat hostile and shady attitudes of the staff, but the ending mystery leaves the decision to the viewer.
Shutter Island is a brilliantly constructed mystery.The film's great question was asked by DiCaprio's character in the second-to-last line of the film... "Which could be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?" Without giving too much of the plot away, it can safely be said that it calls to mind the classic Christian struggle to not only live, but to live a life oriented towards the good. In the ideal Christian walk, life and goodness are meant to be contemporaneous. But if living life and living it oriented towards the good at the same time are not possible, is it better to live in wickedness or to throw one's life away but to do so in a way that ensures that one dies good? In short, is it true that we must lose our lives in order to find them?
While Christians of course affirm this as a fundamental spiritual truth, Shutter Island uses a plot centered on dramatic psychological turmoil to ask us the same question, though ultimately it leaves it unresolved, which is one of the film's weaknesses. Had it managed to go a little further and positively affirm this truth, it would have given us a much more powerful moral message. As it is, it is a film that just "makes you think" and leaves you a little troubled and mentally exhausted by the end.
Not to say there aren't any redeeming messages. At the end of the film, I felt as if I had taken part in a tragedy, and that Daniels is a sort of Everyman. He has no one to trust, yet he stands up for what he believes is the truth. He battles to save those he believes innocent victims of injustice while warding off his own haunting memories. He is heroic, even in his troubled mind.
Cinematically, the film was very well done, and the actors cast were wonderful. I cannot say the scenery was beautiful, considering the glowering darkness of the film's general mood, but it was eerily alluring nonetheless. DiCaprio and his partner take shelter in a mausoleum when a rainstorm surprises them, and the long, foreboding, dimly lit, and leaky corridors of the facility were almost enthralling in a weird sort of way. The "countryside" of the island struck me as a place one would like to explore, though not alone in the dark. DiCaprio and Ruffalo were very solid in their leading roles.
The music was excellent, and that coupled with the natural suspense of the movie, I found my heart pounding at times, drawing me deeper into the experience. Unfortunately, the experience is marred by a constant barrage of bad language throughout, and an unnecessary depiction of a nude woman. There is some shadowy male full frontal nudity, and crude conversations touching on the subjects of adultery, oral sex and anatomical size. There are scenes of graphic violence that make this very unsuitable for children and questionable even for adults. There are over 25 F-bombs and multiple blasphemies of the names of God and Jesus.
I commend Shutter Island for its cinematography, excellent cast and surprisingly intricate plotline, but the sheer amount of blasphemies, curses, profanity and crude language set it back. For that reason, I give it one point five tiaras.