“Memories and possibilities are even more hideous than realities.” – H. P. Lovecraft
These are just a few of the things that philosophers, bards and other shiftless layabouts will drop gloves over for as long as there are philosophers, bards and shiftless layabouts. And not to throw myself into that endless fray, I would still like to offer this: who we are isn’t so much the sum of our experiences but rather how we perceive them.
In “Shutter Island,” we are introduced to Teddy Daniels (played by an almost unrecognizable Leonardo Dicaprio), a U.S. marshall, and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), as they venture to the titular island, which is a mental hospital for the criminally insane to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. On the choppy approach to the island, we see that the island is really a pretty good place to hole up the dangerous loons they have there. The sheer cliff faces that frame the facility would give the Cliff of Insanity an inferiority complex. Once on the island, the deputy warden and a squad of officers escort them to the facility. He tells them there are three wards on the island: ward A for men, ward B for the womenfolk and ward C (in an old Army fort) holds the dangerous ones (dun-dun-DUUUUNNNNN!!!!), and by the way, marshalls, you have to give up your weapons – even though there are crazed killers in here – or you can’t come in. So, after surrendering their weapons and going through a bunch of very secure-looking gates, they are lead to the hospital’s administrator, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). He tells them that a patient, one Rachel Solando – who drowned her three children – has escaped, simply vanished from her room.
And thus begins the chase.
“Shutter Island” is the latest bit of work from directing great Martin Scorsese. This time around, he goes back to some great horror-ish, suspense chops that we haven’t seen since 1991’s “Cape Fear”. He sets a very dark, very tense, and sometimes, hallucinogenic atmosphere throughout the film. He never elevates the facility to the level of a character in the movie, but you never forget you are there – whether it is the bland hospital interiors, the twisted forbidding woods or the high cliffs that simply beg some gothic heroine to throw herself off.
In addition to a brilliant director, the casting proves itself to be an embarrassment of riches. Dicaprio, while always a brilliant actor, has always had one glaring flaw to me: he has never been able to transcend past himself to become a role. He was always “Leo first, character second.” That is not the case here. From the opening shot, Dicaprio is U.S Marshall Teddy Daniels, a man who would be in good company with Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade. The cast around him is wonderful as well. Mark Ruffalo is pitch-perfect as the sympathetic and concerned new partner. Likewise for Ben Kingsley as Dr Cawley and the wonderful Max von Sydow as another of the hospital’s doctors.
I won’t go any further in to the movie’s details – this is one of those films that you need to go in and let unfold around you. Sure, you may decide to suss it all out from the beginning, but the thrill isn’t in the destination, but in the journey. And while the trailers may make this out to be some spooky horror movie, it isn’t. I know horror fans will be disappointed (though Scorsese does dip in hand into the horror bag and pulls out a few nice touches), but again the true gem of this movie is the story and the actors and the director who pull all of it off.