Shut Out the Past

Martin Scorsese has provided us with some of the most memorable films, and moments, in the history of cinema, many of which demand multiple viewings.  While his latest film, Shutter Island, is not one of those historical classics, it is by no means a disappointment, thanks in large part to an engrossing story by Dennis Lehane.Shutter Island opens as Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), two federal marshals, travel to an island penitentiary for the criminally insane.  They are there to investigate the sudden disappearance of a female patient (accused of murdering her three children) who seems to have vanished from the heavily guarded and fortified prison block.  Teddy also has a personal interest in the place as he suspects Laeddis, the arsonist who set the fire that killed his wife a couple of years earlier, to be imprisoned on the island as well.  Teddy also carries with him tormenting memories of his experiences in World War II as he was one of many soldiers who helped liberate the concentration camps.  However, as the film progresses, we learn that the truth is much more complex, darker, and heart-breaking than we initially expected.  I’ll say no more about the plot because it would literally ruin the experience.

Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) mourns his lost wife Dolores (Michelle Williams).

Though there is an M. Night Shyamalan twist to the film’s ending, the film demands repeated viewings to appreciate the subtle twists, turns, and clues with which Scorsese seasons the film.  Shutter Island also benefits from strong performances from everyone involved.  One gets the sense that Scorsese watched a lot of David Lynch films or several episodes of Twin Peaks before filming.  Not since The Last Temptation of Christ has Scorsese been so visually bizarre.

Shutter Island reveals the depths to which guilt, despair, and regret will drive the human soul and mind if that person cannot face reality.  It also illustrates (more than subtly) the changing and competing practices that defined psychological care for the criminally insane (and might still do) through two doctors, Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max von Sydow).  How do we treat, not necessarily the least of these (as Jesus commanded), but the most violent of these?  Are we prepared to see the criminally insane as the “least” that Jesus described, or are we too preoccupied with the notion of them being the “most” violent?

I can see how viewers would, in probably equal measure, love and hate Shutter Island.  I left the theater somewhat torn in my initial reaction, but I found myself, when recounting the film to my wife, realizing that I really did enjoy and appreciate the film and how much I’m looking forward to re-watching it on DVD.

Shutter Island (138 mins.) is rated R for disturbing violent content, language and, some nudity and is in theaters everywhere.