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Shutter Island

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It seems that far too many people are eager to dismiss SHUTTER ISLAND, and do so on the grounds that it is merely reveling in the conventions of the genre. Fun but empty. Not everyone appreciated the many allusions, and fewer still how the form actually makes sense given the revelation at the end. I think there is a lot more going on in this film than just

Lots of SPOILERS ahead:

Has anyone considered how the film could be read as more than just Andrew Laeddis' traumatic act of repression, but also about the loss of metanarrative in the wake of Modern atrocities such as the Holocaust? There seems to be an underlying pattern in the references to the H-bomb, HUAC, etc. (Teddy's conspiracy), that in the desire to rid ourselves of collective guilt over crimes we committed (admittedly in response to other perhaps more horrible crimes) we create narratives to deal with the loss of meaning in the face of events like the Holocaust. Teddy/Andrew's memories of Dachau are his attempts to rehabilitate what he did to his wife. He cannot forgive his crime, unless he places it in the context of something appropriately awful. Do we create meaning around certain events in order to give them a kind of existential meaning in the face of horror? I'm thinking also Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) asking Teddy, "Do you believe in God?" Does this fit into the analysis of Teddy's neurosis? Hmm, I'm still puzzling over how I'd want to interpret it in the light of Scorsese's other films, but guilt, identity, and belief are major themes of his. I don't think this is merely a throw-away, fun film, but fits nicely into the Scorsese filmography.

There's a tension in the film between the desire to hold onto comforting beliefs and confrontation of our darkest sides. Thus, which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?

I think you have some interesting points, Anders.

And while I think SHUTTER ISLAND is going to be forgotten for a liittle while, I'm not sure it's always going to be. I imagine that, like some Hitchcock films, it will have been given a quick glance on initial release, only to be rediscovered later down the road and given a fairer shake. It's a fine film, and as you suggest, might not be just a "fun but empty" footnote in Scorsese's career.

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Just watched this. Spoilers following.

Lots of mentions of Hitch and Powell/Pressburger. Here's one more for the mix - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Aside from the coincidence that Nicholson worked with Di Caprio/Scorsese on their last outing, it's the other film that ends with the main character getting a lobotomy. Plus the question is there throughout 1FOtCN as to whether McMurphy really is mad.

That's all for now.

Matt

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Just caught this. Like Jeffrey and others mention, I was not so concerned with the revelation, because it was either obvious or had been spoiled (cannot remember, but I recall as I watched it that I knew Daniels/Laeddis would get a lobotomy). So, the film was all about the presentation of psychosis that is built around Teddy's investigation. What a creepy score, BTW.

Anyway, I don't have much more to add to the discussion above, but wanted to touch on the proximate cause for Andrew's madness. I'm not cool with Lehane or whoever using child murder as a plot device to gain our sympathy for a character. It's cheap, and I don't think the film earns it. What do I mean when I say that? Perhaps, had the entirety of the children's killings been handled offscreen, the thriller/drama could have worked with the event as an effective plot device. But with an often repeated motif of drowned kids, concluding with a non-crazy flashback of their murders' aftermath, I think Scorsese missed bigtime--taking me completely out of the thriller and into a weird, horrible fiction that screams I AM MANIPULATING YOU so that you'll feel bad for Teddy when he decides to get lobotomized.

You know what, Martin? I'm not entertained. I don't want to be entertained by mom's killing their kids and me watching Leonardo Di Caprio scream in anguish as he drags their bloated bodies out of the lake. You want me to learn something about the human condition? Don't make it a clever twist on why the character decides he can't live with it and we learn as an audience he's really sane now but makes the fateful choice to act crazy.

Compare this to something like Fritz Lang's M. Both about the killing of children--one designed to shock and spook, a cinematic roller coaster, the other designed to enable you to empathize with the most evil among us, and see it in our own selves, and confront it.

There. I feel better.

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I know this film is all about unreliable narrators, but the editing snafu where Jackie Earl Haley's right hand is in two different places during their conversation takes me right out of this movie every time, and I can never get back in.

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Must watch this again. Still contend that this is Scorsese's Vertigo. Narratively, thematically, visually, and also in its critical reception. In twenty or thirty years time it will be hailed as a masterpiece.

Let's see if a second viewing makes me change my mind on this.

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Let's see if a second viewing makes me change my mind on this.

A second viewing sure made me change my mind about its merits. And then a third attempted viewing only confirmed my feelings. Man, SHUTTER ISLAND is dull on repeat viewings.

There are many classics which mit with mixed reactions initially, but I have a hard time seeing SHUTTER ISLAND overcoming that to become something beloved and treasured. It has some nice visuals, sure, albeit nothing breathtaking. The story is all so very so-so, and the characters aren't very memorable or interesting. I'm betting it spends the rest of its days shelved alongside Scorsese's CAPE FEAR.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Let's see if a second viewing makes me change my mind on this.

A second viewing sure made me change my mind about its merits. And then a third attempted viewing only confirmed my feelings. Man, SHUTTER ISLAND is dull on repeat viewings.

There are many classics which mit with mixed reactions initially, but I have a hard time seeing SHUTTER ISLAND overcoming that to become something beloved and treasured. It has some nice visuals, sure, albeit nothing breathtaking. The story is all so very so-so, and the characters aren't very memorable or interesting. I'm betting it spends the rest of its days shelved alongside Scorsese's CAPE FEAR.

But probably stationed a full shelf closer to eye-level than last year's winner, THE HURT LOCKER.

To be honest, Ryan, I'm surprised you went back for a second helping, much less a third. Dullness doesn't usually get better with repeat viewings. Was it some kind of hope/trust you have in Scorsese that sent you back for more?

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Well, I did like SHUTTER ISLAND the first time around. It was my memory of that first theatrical viewing that had me attempting a third viewing, despite my boredom during the second time around.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: Well, I did like SHUTTER ISLAND the first time around. It was my memory of that first theatrical viewing that had me attempting a third viewing, despite my boredom during the second time around.

Heh. Reminds me of how I found Eyes Wide Shut kind of spellbinding the first time around, then kind of dull the second time around, so I watched it on DVD a little while later to see which way the third viewing would go ... and on THAT occasion, the friend who watched it with me couldn't stop laughing, so it was sort of "neither of the above".

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Nothing mind-blowing, but a solid piece of work compared to the rest of the trash released last year.

It was nice seeing Scorsese making an honest effort.

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Nothing mind-blowing, but a solid piece of work compared to the rest of the trash released last year.

It was nice seeing Scorsese making an honest effort.

IS it "honest," though? "Cheating" is the word used by someone I know, referring to the movie's seemingly arbitrary use of creepy imagery and undisciplined blurring of reality and illusion. It's easy to make the viewer's skin crawl by throwing creepy imagery at the screen, but it's cheap to sprinkle a movie with hallucinations and then provide a profoundly unconvincing explanation in the end. It's worse than an "it was all a dream" ending: It's "it was all a dream" sprinkled liberally throughout the story.

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Nothing mind-blowing, but a solid piece of work compared to the rest of the trash released last year.

It was nice seeing Scorsese making an honest effort.

IS it "honest," though? "Cheating" is the word used by someone I know, referring to the movie's seemingly arbitrary use of creepy imagery and undisciplined blurring of reality and illusion. It's easy to make the viewer's skin crawl by throwing creepy imagery at the screen, but it's cheap to sprinkle a movie with hallucinations and then provide a profoundly unconvincing explanation in the end. It's worse than an "it was all a dream" ending: It's "it was all a dream" sprinkled liberally throughout the story.

Interesting critique. I shall have to think on this one.

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On the one hand, I almost couldn't handle some of the flashbacks. They were partly excessive in number, but also in gore. My "recoil" reaction is surely in part due to the fact that all of the most horrid flashbacks were filmed within 20 miles of where I live. :( Something about seeing your neighborhood up on the screen as a nightmare makes you want to run the other direction.

On the other hand, I'm fascinated by Dicaprio's line at the end of the film and by what the movie reveals about man's utter inability to wall himself off from sin or to keep it from infecting his own soul. Without God's grace, our minds would all be as far gone as those of the inmates in this film.

Edited by Brian D

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Beautiful thread. Every post.

Strange thing about this film. I thought I was doing a 180, because I went back to the film and rather enjoyed the ride. Turns out, according to what I posted earlier, I'm pretty much at the same place. But maybe a little more in the film's camp on a second viewing.

I kinda think there's a lot of brilliance happening here.

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I need to rewatch. I've only seen it once, and I remember liking it more than most critics.

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It was my number two film of 2010. I wrote this essay about a year ago to explain some of the reasons I love it so much.

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It was my number two film of 2010. I wrote this essay about a year ago to explain some of the reasons I love it so much.

You might be interested in some of the comments Scorsese makes about the film in CONVERSATIONS WITH SCORSESE. He makes a few interesting comments about how the story came out of Lehane's anger at the Iraq war, and how Scorsese sees that playing out in the finished film. Scorsese's comments somewhat validate what you saw at work in the film.

FWIW, I haven't revisited SHUTTER ISLAND since that third viewing spoken of above, and I don't think I'd revise my opinion if I did go back to see it. That said, I must concede that SHUTTER ISLAND has some genuinely arresting moments and images. You could make a pretty terrific clip reel out of SHUTTER ISLAND.

Edited by Ryan H.

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[i must concede that SHUTTER ISLAND has many arresting moments that live on in my memory.

The ride with the officer lives on for me. That was just a cool scene, and the officer was just so fascinatingly creepy. Of course that's also one of the scenes that also really works well when I think about it through the "new perspective" gained after knowing the end of film.

Edited by Attica

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