Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) walks the dark empty hallway of a mental institution. The tiny flame of his match goes off. He lights another one. A couple of minutes later a man behind bars tells him “Don’t you get it? You’re a rat in a maze.” So is the viewer.“Shutter Island” is a psychological thriller unlike any I have ever seen. It is also probably the most atmospheric thriller you will see all year.
The year is 1954. US Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Shutter Island after their ferry breaks through a mysterious mist. The island is an institution for the mentally or criminally insane. One patient has escaped and their task is to investigate the matter. As Teddy digs deeper into his investigation, he loses control of it. Soon he is not sure of what or whom he is investigating, as the investigator becomes the investigated. One thing he does know is this, there is no escaping the island. The patient could not have escaped because he soon discovers he cannot escape as well. There is a secret behind this island; both the viewer and the main character feel that from the start.
I could not help but admire Scorsese’s control over every element in this film. I saw similarities to the brilliant “Eyes Wide Shut”. Yes, both are entirely different films but with both, the viewer takes a journey through the mind of the main character. We see what he sees, we feel what he feels and we eventually reach the truth through his eyes. A psychological thriller if there ever was one, “Shutter Island” will keep you guessing until the very end. At times, the flame will brighten the situation and in a split second, you will be back in the dark, lost, confused and desperate to figure out what it is about this island that feels so wrong.
The film depends on a twist. It is not until after that twist that a masterpiece emerges. “Shutter Island” is a motion picture that demands repeated viewings. Prior to this movie, the only Scorsese film considered a film noir is his 1976 classic, “Taxi Driver”. While “Taxi Driver” is a psychological neo-noir, “Shutter Island” has a more traditional noir feel to it. We have our cigarette-smoking investigator, the complicated mystery, the low-key lighting and the rainy weather.
It is extremely difficult to discuss a film that relies so much on its ending without spoiling the whole film. For this is one of those films that generate conversations after the initial viewing. I know that I will be returning to the doomed island in the near future, and once I do, I will be judging with a more careful eye. I will take note of certain aspects that slipped my mind as a first time viewer. It is the duty of a film critic to let you know what to expect without spoiling the film. Therefore, I will do my best in the coming sentences to let you know what it is that you are in for without revealing any spoilers.
You will start out a tiny fish swimming in a pond. As the plot thickens, you evolve into the angler who keeps an eye on the confused fish. By the end of the film, the viewer becomes the person standing on the rock studying the angler who himself is studying the fish. In other words, you may get lost. You may not be aware of what is happening during the duration of the film but as the film goes on, you get glimpses of the bigger picture and eventually you reach it.
What you make out of the truth of the matter will determine your opinion. I can only speak for myself. I was both dazzled and astonished by how Scorsese managed to keep me blindfolded for so long without having me lose interest. “Shutter Island” is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece, a journey into a character’s mind, a mystery within another mystery, an open door to a mastermind at work.