Martin Scorsese’s new thriller Shutter Island seems to have been waiting for the same ferry that Leonardo De Caprio’s U.S. Marshal character hopes will take him off this forbidden, forgotten and foreboding island. Originally an October release, it has been pushed back to the wintry wastelands of February. Many speculated that it might have been because of a matter of quality, or lack thereof (well, maybe not many—perhaps just me). Others felt it was more economically viable to wait—and they may have been right, given the killer box office results. How you feel about the film may well be determined by how you feel about a certain revelation occurring two/thirds of the way through. (More about that—but not exactly that—later)
The movie, adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from Dennis Lehane’s book, certainly has atmosphere and anguish to spare. DiCaprio’s haunted, driven Marshal Daniels, accompanied by new partner played by Mark Ruffalo, arrives at the Ashecliff Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island to investigate a dangerous woman prisoner’s disappearance. As one may gather, nothing about the movie feels subtle—heck, my previous sentence is far from subtle (Ashecliffe, Shutter—I’m back in symbolism school!). The marshals are greeted—and thwarted– by a head psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley—channeling Claude Rains by way of George Sanders); a complacent, even jaded staff; and a sinister German doctor (Max Von Sydow). There’s also a storm that is a-brewing, both literal and contained in the migraines that debilitate Daniels; the nightmares and visions involving concentration camps, Daniels’ late wife (ashes, ashes) and dead children. Not to mention the real reason for Daniels’ visit—to find his wife’s murderer—and who may be somewhere on Shutter Island.
Scorsese isn’t coasting here; much of the filmmaking is invigorating and involving, with scenes, images and performances that linger after the film is over. Robbie Robertson’s faux-Bernard Herrmann score (culled from various classical pieces) contributes to the hallucinatory quality. The film resonates with paranoia, guilt, and some quite scary imbalances of nature. Halfway through, the viewer, like Daniels, isn’t sure who’s on his side. Then comes the twist, which like that of Lehane’s book, you either buy or don’t buy. As for me, I wanted to buy it, but the denouement is a little too drawn out—and by the end, I felt I stayed a little too long on the Island.