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Shutter Island

A 2010 thriller directed by Martin Scorsese.

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My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me

  • Feb 19, 2010
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Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" is not an easy film to define. It's simplest to say that it's an experience - suspenseful, taut, brooding, mysterious, and engrossing from the moment the first shot appears, in which a ferry emerges from a veil of dense fog. A story that begins with something emerging from nothing is a very telling sign of what lies ahead, because in that moment, you're forced to ask yourself what lies beyond the veil in both directions. We're told that that ferry set sail from the mainland, specifically Boston, although we never actually see it. For all we know, the boat might have been spawned from the sea. Within the veil lies the titular island, on which sits a former Civil War fort that has been converted into a mental institution for the criminally insane.

The fort looms off in the distance like a harbinger of doom, surrounded by nothing but open water and gray skies becoming heavy with rain. Approaching it by boat are two U.S. federal marshals: Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). Their story takes place in the year 1954, when they're assigned to a case involving the disappearance of a Shutter Island inmate. Once they arrive, they meet the institution's chief physician, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), a calm and collected man who has an air of knowing more than he lets on. Everyone on the island comes off the same way - the doctors, the orderlies, the nurses, the security staff, even the patients all seem to be hiding something.

The missing inmate is Rachel Solando, who drowned her own children and, according to Dr. Cawley, has deluded herself into believing that she's still in her home and that all the patients and staff members are her neighbors. Her disappearance, Teddy and Chuck quickly realize, makes absolutely no sense. Her cell was locked. Her window was bared. She would have had to pass a number of people to exit the compound. The island's botanical and geographic configurations wouldn't allow her to travel by foot, especially since she's presumed to have no shoes. She couldn't have fallen off a cliff and drowned, for her body would have already washed up on shore. The weather alone, indicative of an approaching hurricane, would have stopped her. Everything about this woman's situation is impossible.

As the mystery of Rachel Solando deepens, so too does the mystery of Teddy Daniels, who seems lost within his own painful past. In due time, bizarre visions and frightening dreams seem to merge with his desperate need to find the truth. Sometimes, this involves his dead wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), while at other times it involves memories of liberating a Nazi concentration camp during his last days in World War II. For both himself and the audience, reality becomes less and less definable, pretty much to the point where you no longer believe your own eyes. Clues lead to outlandish discoveries, which in turn lead to more questions. Everything is open to interpretation.

What, for example, is Teddy to make of a note found under a floorboard in Rachel's cell? What about an encounter he has in Ward C, a place reserved for only the most dangerous of inmates? It's here he's forced to roam gloomy stone corridors with nothing but matches to light his way, which is to say he's seeing things only in fragments. What is he to make of Dr. Cawley's colleague, Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), a German immigrant who asks the most sinister of questions? What goes on inside a lighthouse seen off in the distance? And what of Rachel herself? Has she truly escaped, or is she still somewhere on Shutter Island?

What makes this movie brilliant is that it isn't really about the plot, nor is it about the ending, which on all rational levels is utterly preposterous. The film's purpose, as I understand it, is to take the audience on a purely emotional journey, to consistently evoke feelings of uncertainty and terror as the dark recesses of the mind are explored. Relying heavily on the conventions of film noir, where heroes are troubled souls and shadows conceal all kinds of secrets, Scorsese doesn't tell a story so much as establish mood for just over two hours. When it comes to the mind, whatever form that may take, story is inconsequential; we can go in just about any direction and wind up just about anywhere.

Which brings me back to the ending. It may seem like a typical Hollywood plot twist, but it offers no real payoff, and that's because the reality of everything leading up to it is in doubt. If we can't trust the beginning and middle sections, how on earth can we trust the end? I don't think we should even try. "Shutter Island" is not about a logical sequence of events or a mechanical resolution. It's about keeping audiences in a perpetual state of confusion and apprehension (as Teddy Daniels seems to be) through the talents of the cast and filmmakers. When it was over, I thought not about the technical details or the narrative trickery, but about the overall effect it had on me. It played its game, and I wanted to play right along with it. What a captivating movie.

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January 13, 2011
Nice one, Chris! I got your reply by the way and I will respond again shortly. Been quite busy on my side.
January 13, 2011
I do think this movie was sadly overlooked and misunderstood. Perhaps there's a misperception that the only good Scorcese films have to include hard-boiled criminals and brutal violence.
More Shutter Island (movie) reviews
review by . February 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
3 ½ + Stars: INTO THE DEPTHS of a Fractured Mind...Lies Denial and Guilt
   The last time I remember watching a Martin Scorsese directed pure suspense thriller was some years ago with the remake of “Cape Fear”. This time around, the acclaimed director together with screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis adapts the novel “Shutter Island” for the big screen. I haven’t read the book but I can safely say (according to my research) that fans of the book will be glad to know that the book’s basic outline is intact with only one scene added …
review by . March 01, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Shutter Island Movie Delivers Confusion, Suspense, and an Extremely Poignant Ending
   I am not a fan of Martin Scorsese, and I went into the movie not knowing that he was the director. I also saw this film without having first read the book. Despite these circumstances, I did enjoy the movie which offered endless turns, twists, and confusing scenes into the past of the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.      The opening sequence was brief and basic. There was the title Shutter Island in bold gray letters, and then the film started, which …
review by . July 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Rofolo are Federal Marshalls that arrive by ferry at Shutter Island.  This is a correctional facility for the criminally insane.  They were sent to investigate the escape of one of the "patients" in the facility.  On the way there DiCapprio seems to be seasick and at times he seems to be seeing weird things.  He keeps having visions and dreams of his dead wife and things that happened around a Nazi concentration camp.   …
review by . July 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Martin Scorsese's one of the world's greatest directors. Leonardo DiCaprio's one of the world's greatest actors, possibly the best of our generation, in my opinion. Wait. This is all my opinion.      Anyway, when they collaborate, it's never anything less than phenomenal. This is another of those instances. This film is beautiful. Aesthetically pleasing, and emotionally engaging.      I've heard a lot of criticism of the twist ending, …
review by . March 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
How far are you willing to fall down the rabbit hole?  What would you do if you started hearing voices that weren't really there? How would you react if you saw something standing before you that you knew all too well could not and/or does not exist?  Psychological thrills toy with your senses and allow your mind to fall down some of the deepest, darkest holes that exist without any real affect.  Some times they are wildly successful, and other times they become a joke all on …
review by . December 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Ghosts and demons
The setting: 1954. A deliciously forboding rocky island 11 miles from Boston, home to a mental institution for the worst of America's criminally insane. The plot: Two federal marshals arrive as a storm is brewing, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. It soon becomes clear to the cops that it's not just the patients who are spinning tales around here. The ambience: Gloomy, gothic, and menacing. Cast and characters: Leonardo DeCaprio as senior investigator Teddy Daniels, …
review by . January 11, 2011
Shutter Island - 2010
Pros: DiCaprio and Scorsese, a great duo      Cons: none for me      The Bottom Line:    "Lord, this bitter earth   Yes, can be so cold   Today you're young   Too soon, you're ol"   ~Dinah Washington      The Movie:   Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are U. S. Marshalls, traveling to Shutter Island, off the Boston coast, to find an escapee.  Shutter Island houses …
review by . February 24, 2010
Step trhough the gates of Ashcliffe and into a place of pure madness and chaos....
Have you ever had a dream that was impossible to wake up from, you felt like you were falling and falling   but you never seemed to hit the ocean below. Sometimes in our lives, we hit such a point in our lives that everything seems unreal to us that were just living a big dream   day in and day out. Martin Scorsese's psychological horror thriller "Shutter Island" explores those ideas and how sometimes even when everything in our life may seem out of place, may seem …
review by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What Pompted You to write a Review?   A survey     How was the Plot, Acting, Direction?   The plot and acting in this movie was outstanding.  One of Leo's best movies by far.     Were You ENTERTAINED?   I was on the edge of my seat the whole time while watching this movie, and it kept my attention throughout the whole movie.     Did It Fulfill Expectations? Hype Level?   This movie surprised me as well …
review by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   Shutter Island is one of the most well crafted psychological thrillers to come by since Silence Of The Lambs. And it is no coincidence both were brilliantly written novels. Shutter Island is adapted by a book written by Dennis Lehane (wrote gone baby, gone and mystic river). It is a book filled with twists and turns, that will leave the reader dizzy. And, that is what it's film counterpart does to the fullest. Martin Scorsese helms the director chair, in a movie where he is more …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


Shutter Island is a 2010 thriller-period drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Production started in March 2008. Shutter Island was originally slated to be released on October 2, 2009, but Paramount pushed the release date to February 19, 2010.  Paramount head executive Brad Grey blamed the recent economic downturn as the main decision behind the delayed release date.

     Poster art for "Shutter Island."

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Mystery
Release Date: February 19, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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