Shutter Island - An Unappreciated Classic

Nirmal Thrideep
Jun 17, 2019   •  24 views

From the foghorn right before the first shot to the foghorn right after the last shot, Shutter Island never loosens the grip it has on you. Every scene and every line of dialogue is captivating and infused with tension.It is, without doubt, one of the most suspenseful movies that I have ever seen. The striking visuals of an isolated Island and its hostile surroundings, the storm that hangs over most of the film, and most of all the, haunting music complements the brilliant performances to achieve this effect. Director Martin Scorsese seems to have a special skill in lacing scenes with unbelievable amount of tension, scenes that could have fallen flat in any less experienced hands (another great example is the rat scene with Jack Nicholson and DiCaprio, in The Departed).

And though the movie begins to loosen its hold once the screen goes black, it does not leave entirely. It continues to haunt you for days afterward, constantly bringing to mind the specific imagery that Scorsese uses so deliberately - the concentration camp, the dying German commandant, Ward C, the surreal dream sequences, and especially the flashback sequence in the end.

The film begins with two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, who arrives at Ashecliffe penitentiary, an asylum for the criminally insane, situated on Shutter Island. They are there to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando, but from the beginning, it is clear that things are not so straightforward. Everyone from the enigmatic physician Cawley, to the strangely uncooperative prison staff and even the Marshals, all seem to be hiding secrets. The actors are all so perfectly cast in this film. Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels delivers an Oscar worthy performance. His performance is so nuanced that it takes multiple viewings to truly appreciate it. however the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Jackie Earl Harley etc. too manage to easily keep up.

Shutter Island is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. I have seen many adaptations, but this would probably top my list, as it is unbelievably loyal to the source material while also being able to stand on its own feet as a great movie. Some scenes play out exactly as they are in the book, and in many places the story and the atmosphere greatly benefit from the visualisation. The clearest example is the storm, whose presence plays an important role in the story. While the book can only occasionally remind you of it, the visual media allows for it to be a permanent fixture.However there are some changes that the movie does make. In the book, Rachel Solando leaves many more clues, scattered throughout the island, which allow Teddy, and Cawley, to properly arrive at the truth. This includes the explanation for the 'law of 4' that the movie chooses to gloss over. I also missed the third dream sequence that offer some brilliant foreshadowing, but I understand that the cut had to be made for a tighter film. Everything that did make it to the movie is done perfectly. My favourite change, however, is the final line. "You know, this place makes me wonder... which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?" This dialogue is present only in the movie, and its inclusion adds an entire new layer to the movies end. I would certainly prefer the version that includes this heartbreaking twist.

Shutter Island starts off as a mystery movie. But, it's extremely exciting to notice how it evolves into a psychological thriller with prominent horror elements. I would even argue that the movie ends as a tragedy. This transition through genres clearly reveals the skilled hand of Martin Scorsese.

A possibly unpopular opinion that I have about this movie is that its twist tends to overshadow everything else it does. People often remember it only for how much it shocked them. What goes underappreciated is how amazing the writing and the foreshadowing that comes before it is. The cinematography is also stunning, some of the frames are way prettier than paintings. This movie is very aesthetically pleasing, but the specific visuals are anything but joyful - haunting and sad, most of the time.

I would definitely recommend that you watch this movie, and I would recommend more that you rewatch it. There are few movies as rewarding during a rewatch as this. In fact, I would argue that it is essential that you watch it at least twice to get the full experience. The first watch ensures that you are fully immersed in Teddy's point of view - you go through events as he does. But the second watch, where you do know what happens (though it is hardly less suspenseful) helps you look at events through the point of view of the other characters. For all those rewatching, here is a game - pay special attention to every time fire and water are on screen, and see if you can figure out the pattern.