Shutter Island (2010), based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson.
Caution, this review/analysis contains spoilers.
I love “what is reality” novels, movies and video games. And at heart, a mystery is a “what is reality?” story. Everyone the detective talks to, every bit of evidence, spins a tale, and they won’t match, not quite. Which parts are real? Which are lies?
Ghost stories are mysteries. The hero must figure out what the haunting is about, and undo the cause, if possible, or simply escape if not. The majority of the tale is the figuring out, though, sometimes through researching the history of a house or a death, sometimes simply by watching your friends die one by one.
Shutter Island is a mystery and a ghost story, at heart. Teddy Daniels tries to find out what is real. The very question of what he is looking to find out becomes suspect, and he must delve deeper and deeper into his own assumptions about what is real, what’s really going on.
It starts as a missing person’s case. But that’s not all it is, not even close. The more he unravels, the more he discovers the ground he is standing on has a false bottom.
And as is true in the very best mysteries, he discovers himself a part of the tale as well.
Oddly, I read the book, then found a copy of the movie, and started to watch it. I gave up on it in disgust (I don’t recall why) and never returned to it.
And yet in this watching, so many of the scenes felt familiar, I am now unsure whether I have watched the movie before or not. Either way, I really enjoyed it this time through.
There are clues throughout: Chuck fumbling his gun, the record player, hastily-scribbled notes. The camera seizes on these with Teddy’s paranoid intensity. When the Big Reveal comes, whatever it turns out to actually mean, I didn’t feel cheated, even though there weren’t enough clues for me to guess the truth; but that’s only fair, because the truth is still up for grabs at the end.
My favorite clue was linguistic:
“It’s about you and Laeddis. It’s always been about you”, implying that “it” was about Daniels vs. Laeddis.
As opposed to:
“It’s about you. And, Laeddis, it’s always been about you”, implying that Daniels IS Laeddis and everything was focused around HIM.
And as for that ending: no matter how it’s interpreted, it’s really, really sad; sad because what if that’s us? What if that’s me? That’s always a possibility, the mind is a vast and mysterious organ. What if we choose the fantasy because we cannot bear some other reality? And what if fear of pain dooms us after all?
So, possible interpretations:
1. The cure didn’t take, and he was stuck in his fantasy.
2. The doctors were fucking with him all along.
3. The cure took, but he pretended it didn’t, choosing the lobotomy over memory.
4. The part about the doctors was part of the fantasy as well, another layer to the paranoid break with reality, and none of it was real.
There are probably others.
“Which would be worse? To live as a monster or to die as a good man?”
This is Scix in the Back Row, doing both.