Shutter Island has been given some lousy reviews by people who are clearly idiots. It’s a superb movie and only a misguided sense of self-importance will interfere with your enjoyment.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island’s premise sees US Marshall Leonardo DiCaprio investigating the mysterious disappearance of a dangerous patient from the eponymous prison for psychos. We soon discover DiCaprio is a man struggling with his own demons and that there’s far more to the island than the question of a missing woman…
Most people agree the film seeps style like sweat from my over-toasty testicles. Some of the shots are absurdly stunning and a damning reminder that your own hideously composed and unspectacularly lit life is attractive to nobody. The cast are excellent, albeit in that “acting like I’m acting in a movie” way. This is carried off well, however, and I thought it provided a sense of timelessness. I think the popularity of this film will only increase over the years.
The main beef people seem to have with the movie is the so-called “twist” ending. This is bullshit. It’s all M. Night Shyamalanayan’s fucking fault. He popularised the idea that a “twist” means plopping in some nonsense ending which has barely any impact on the rest of the movie (Sixth Sense being the one exception, but for other reasons I’ll explain in a bit). Let’s have a look…
Unbreakable. Samuel L. Jackson is the bad guy and has the exact opposite powers of Bruce Willis. That’s stupid. Since when do super-villains mirror the abilities of their heroic counterparts? How unthreatening is a baddie that is chronically weak? Jackson’s frailty is a result of a medical condition. Unbreakable Man is given no such explanation for his abilities. The two could be completely unrelated. Twist? Fuck off.
The Village. Stuff happens. It turns out they’re in the present day. The film ends. Did the fact that they were living in the now affect anything that happened before we found out? I can’t remember, so I’d guess probably not. Still, you didn’t see it coming, did you? Does that make it good? No.
The thing with the end of the world, or something. Bees? I dunno, haven’t seen it. I’ve only heard it’s shit.
Signs. Fuck me. Worst film ever. The aliens couldn’t hack water? What a twist! Literally had no idea you’d pull that out your ass, Mr. Shyamalanananynan.
Lady in the Water. Can’t even remember what happened. The twist was that everyone in the apartment block could be crowbarred into being characters in a story, right? Ah, who cares.
These are “twists”. They are also all cheats. The idea is that if you sit through an hour or so of unbearably lame film-making you’ll be rewarded with something that makes you go, “oh”. It’s cheating because the “twist” could be anything. There were no clues; the reveal doesn’t force you to reassess what you’ve already seen; it doesn’t challenge any preconceptions you may have had.
Take Sixth Sense. An excellent example of a game-changing reveal. OMG, Bruce Willis is a ghost! Brilliant. Didn’t see that coming. Though, on a second viewing, you realise that it’s obvious, particularly astute people could have figured it out and, in fact, what you’re watching only really makes sense knowing this. You never see Bruce interact with anybody other than the kid! That’s genius. You would’ve thought you’d notice that and, watch it again, it’s almost painfully obvious. That’s why it’s such a kicker.
It doesn’t so much as “twist” the plot as to explain it.
Yeah, I guess that’s the distinction. A twist screws with your mind, while an effective reveal unscrews it.
This is why Shutter Island should not be dismissed for having a “twist” that didn’t make you shit your pants. Most people I know who’ve watched it say they were disappointed because the reveal was obvious. I suspect they did not guess quite as much as they think, but I’m sure they had an inkling. I also say I kind of had it guessed (though, as I’m sure most people do, I use the scattergun approach to solving the riddles in this type of film – when watching whodunnits I annoy the hell out of my girlfriend by claiming most characters as the murderer and then saying “told you so” at the end). This isn’t a bad thing though. You can figure it out because the makers of the film are not trying to trick you or cheat you.
Here’s why Shutter Island had a more satisfying reveal than Sixth Sense: logical consistency. Because Shutter Island isn’t deliberately setting out to confuse you, the clues to what’s going on are barely clues at all. All the lines of dialogue, the way every character behaves, everything you see is in keeping with the rigid structure of the premise. Admittedly, it’s an elaborate premise, which makes the consistency of the logic and the characters all the more important. Shutter Island pulls this off brilliantly, never once lying to you in an attempt to make a punchier ending.
Sixth Sense on the other hand, and despite my previous praise, is a wee bit tricksy in this respect. It’s all forgivable of course, but marks Shutter Island as a more intelligent piece of work. The most notable example of Sixth Sense’s failing is Bruce Willis’ relationship with his wife. We see him go home, try to get into his study, turn up late to a meal… but we never see what he does when he’s not on camera. Does he not exist when he isn’t on camera? If so, why does he exist during these scenes if not solely for the benefit of the audience and the big reveal at the end? If he does carry on his life as normal when the camera’s not following him, then he surely would’ve tried talking to somebody while walking the streets and been confused while they ignored him. Does he drive from A to B? Is he in a ghost car that people don’t try and drive through? And why is he even helping the kid? Was he sent by God? If so, why didn’t God tell him he was a ghost and explain to him exactly how to help the kid before he sent him?
Lots of questions. Shutter Island is not as crass as that. It doesn’t chuck you any red herrings or cheeky “look how clever we are” scenes. If you think through everything that happens in Shutter Island logically, the only plausible conclusion is the one we’re given. I don’t really see how people could be disappointed by this. Unless they’re stupid.
My biggest gripe with Shutter Island would probably be the way it was marketed. I don’t think I’m the only one who started watching it after being led to believe it was a horror. I’m sure that’s how it was advertised on TV. It’s not a horror. Not even close. It’s an intelligent pulp thriller with a nostalgic vibe and, at times, a chilling atmosphere. It’s a gripping whodunnit (or whodunwhat) packed full of emotion and character.
I’m too fussy to give anything a proper rating, but on my CrunkScale I give it a 1st: “there’s nothing I would want to change about this movie”.