Shutter Island

Movie Information

The Story: A U.S. Marshall and his new partner are sent to a very mysterious maximum-security insane asylum after a patient inexplicably disappears from her room. The Lowdown: Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller is more than a stylish thriller, though it's certainly stylish and atmospheric. However, it's a film that may irritate some viewers by refusing to stick to the thriller playbook.
Score:

Genre: Psychological Neo-Noir Horror
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer
Rated: R

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is the first great film of 2010. (Yes, I know it’s really a 2009 film that was held back till now.) I say that in full knowledge of the fact that a lot of people will hate the film. I’ve already heard a good many complaints about it—most of them grounded in the fact that the viewer was able to guess the “twist” ending long before the end of the movie. Hell, I went into the movie almost certain that I knew what the twist was—and I was right. So what? If all the movie had going for it was a twist ending, it wouldn’t be much of a movie. We are after all talking about Martin Scorsese here, not M. Night Shyamalan. Put it this way, if you dislike Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) because it reveals much of its mystery long before the ending, you’re probably not going to like this movie either.

The film is set in 1954 and starts with U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) aboard a ferry headed for the titular island that houses a maximum-security institution for the criminally insane. The reason for their journey is that one of the patients—a delusional child murderess—has inexplicably disappeared in classic mystery locked-room-puzzle style, and they have been brought in to find her. But nothing seems quite right about any of this.

The head of the facility, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley as the embodiment of every overly-cultured film-noir authority figure), is more a hindrance than a help at nearly every turn. His right-hand man, the constantly probing Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow), is sinister and German. The latter—combined with Naehring’s choice of music on the record player at their first meeting—makes Teddy suspicious of a possible Nazi past. And yet we’re given hint after hint that things aren’t what they seem and don’t add up as they should. Teddy has memories of being one of the liberators of Dachau and recognizes the music as Gustav Mahler’s String Quartet—an odd choice for the commandant of a concentration camp, given the Jewish composer, and an obscure choice for anyone, since it’s a rarely played unfinished work (only one movement was completed).

Things become more off-center as Teddy has nightmares that mix up the liberation of Dachau with his wife’s death in an apartment fire set by a pyromaniac, Laeddis (Elias Koteas), who, according to Teddy, was sent to Shutter Island and then simply vanished. Or did he? Could Laeddis be the 67th patient Dr. Cawley insists doesn’t exist? And why is Teddy’s wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) dripping wet in his dreams if she died in a fire? Everything—even the unreal, 1950s process-work look of the ferry ride to the island—is geared to make Teddy and the viewer increasingly confused about what is and what isn’t real. However, both we as viewers and Teddy are given the very hints we need to unravel things—the question really is why and to what point? Where is the increasingly nightmarish vision taking us?

If Inglourious Basterds was what you get when a pop-culture moviemaker like Quentin Tarantino gets his movie geek on, Shutter Island might be said to be what you get when a master filmmaker gets his movie geek on. The references are different and they run deeper—and they’re more infused into the film. There are echoes of a number of noir films—especially the post-war ones with their added aura of disillusionment—and there’s a lot of Hitchcock on display, from Spellbound (1945) to Vertigo. Part of the central premise—with behavior that only makes sense at the end—may even owe a debt to Roland West’s The Bat Whispers (1930). I felt intimations of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner TV series, too, and I’d not be in the least surprised if Scorsese has seen Ken Russell’s TV film The Mystery of Dr. Martinu (1991).

Shutter Island is a film to be seen more than once—I’ve seen it twice already—and a film to be savored. It reveals new depths and undercurrents at every turn. On my first viewing, I thought the long flashback at the end was too long. On my second, it seemed fine. And as far as the twist is concerned, don’t get so wrapped up in it that you miss the double-whammy real twist at the very end—and the moral ambiguity inherent in it. Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

52 thoughts on “Shutter Island

  1. Dan Entmacher

    I couldn’t agree more Ken. Due to the dense layering of this highly nuanced psychological Neo-Noir thriller I’m quite sure it does lend itself well to repeat viewings. As if taken over by the power of this film, I couldn’t stop talking/thinking about it afterward for the entire night (to the detriment of some much needed sleep). Which is surprisingly more than I can say with Scorsese’s several previous works of high acclaim. With Shutter Island one can clearly see a master filmmaker at work, or even at play. Thanks for the well deserved five stars.

  2. davidf

    Great review and a great film.
    I also went in to the film already having guessed to twist correctly, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment in the slightest. Even though my initial guess from seeing the previews proved correct, Scorsese kept me guessing the whole time, and I was never certain until the end. Even when I was certain, the puzzle wasn’t as simple as a single twist. My mind is still entertaining itself trying to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
    The beauty of this movie is definitely in the details. There are “twist” films that, once you watch them, you never need to see them again because knowing the twist makes the experience pointless. This is of the rare masterful variety of “twist” films which demands repeated viewings so that the viewer can reanalyze all of the details. I hope Shyamalan is taking notes.
    I think, like THE SHINING, this film’s reputation will only improve over time, as viewers further explore the film’s thematic subtexts regarding violence, madness, and guilt.

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    First off, I want to second that this was a great review.

    Warning: I cannot discus the things I want to discus about this movie, without potentially giving away some spoilers.

    There are a lot of little things to admire about this movie. The references and comparisons to other films is fun. The atmosphere is cool – in a menacing kind of way. But what helped the proceedings to really work for me, was the way it has stuck with me. The way Shutter Island unfolded made it all kind of creep up on me. At first I thought I was watching a movie that was mainly about one character, and then I questioned if it’s all really about more than one character. After the movie ended, it occurred to me that this was one big social commentary (maybe even a bit political?), disguised under a veil of noir thriller. I’m not saying that this is unusual for a movie of this type; it’s just that so many people seem too eager to dismiss it all as a ‘popcorn’ thriller flick. Maybe that’s what they wanted when they went into the theater, and in the end it just felt too heavy-handed to them, for a fun little popcorn flick.

    We, the viewer, are left with so many questions to ponder. How does one properly diagnose the mentally insane, when we aren’t in that persons shoes? Is there a point, where having an extensive understanding of psychology, just isn’t enough? When is it best to just leave things alone?

    Essentially, Dr. Cawley and Co. were so focused on successfully creating a cure – and creating a highly prestigious level of recognition by society and the government – that they ignored whether or not they actually should have been meddling in the first place. Because of the pressure that they felt by the outside world, they were blinded from the big issues of what was ultimately best for the patient.

    The inherent gray areas of morality, and the unanswered questions that we inevitably form in our mind(s), is the real kicker for me. Ones enjoyment of being made to think about such things, might actually reflect ones ultimate enjoyment of the movie.

  4. Ken Hanke

    As if taken over by the power of this film, I couldn’t stop talking/thinking about it afterward for the entire night (to the detriment of some much needed sleep). Which is surprisingly more than I can say with Scorsese’s several previous works of high acclaim.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it after first seeing it, but then most people know I generally like talking about a movie very much right after it’s over. (In this case, I put off writing about it for as long as I possibly could.) Funny thing is, as much as I do like and admire Gangs of New York and The Departed (I’m more ambivalent about The Aviator), I do think this will prove to have more staying power. It haunts in ways those don’t.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Even though my initial guess from seeing the previews proved correct, Scorsese kept me guessing the whole time, and I was never certain until the end. Even when I was certain, the puzzle wasn’t as simple as a single twist.

    My fear — and my suspicion — is that a lot of people will stop really thinking about what they’re watching once they’re certain of the film’s most obvious twist.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Warning: I cannot discus the things I want to discus about this movie, without potentially giving away some spoilers

    In part, this is why I dragged out writing the review as long as possible. It’s a very difficult film to really discuss without giving away too much.

    Side note: I also detect (I think) a similarity to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart and upon revisiting Shutter Island the crypt scene reminded me (as much in its lighting — dramatically viable and wholly unrealistic at once — as anything else) of the crypt scene in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man.

  7. Dread P. Roberts

    Side note: I also detect (I think) a similarity to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart and upon revisiting Shutter Island the crypt scene reminded me (as much in its lighting—dramatically viable and wholly unrealistic at once—as anything else) of the crypt scene in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man.

    I think there’s also hints of Out of the Past (1947), Shock Corridor (1963), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921), and King Kong (1933) – among others.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I think there’s also hints of Out of the Past (1947), Shock Corridor (1963), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921), and King Kong (1933) – among others

    I’d have to see Out of the Past again, though I read that Scorsese screened it for the cast, so it’s probably a good call. The others are most definitely present.

  9. I walked away from this film at first with indifference, but it has been gnawing at me for days. Now I think it might be his best film since GOODFELLAS, which is my favorite movie of all time.

    Scorsese is such a student of film that I was expecting (or hoping for) more visual flourishes ala Mario Bava. However, like his idol Val Lewton’s films, Shutter Island’s horror lurks in the shadows, sometimes never to be seen.

    Great review.

  10. Chad Nesbitt

    WARNING
    Don’t drink a large cherry coke durring this movie. If you are like me, you will have to go take a wizz every 20 minutes and come back wondering what the hell happened in this twisted movie.

    Shutter Island kind of reminded me of Jacobs Ladder with Tim Robbins – Confusing but intresting.

    You are right, it certainly had a Hitchcock feel to it with the musical score and some of the outside scences. (the boat scene at the begining and the cliff scenes.)

    The directing was brilliant not because of the usual things but because Scorsese had to constantly keep the twists, soldier sequences, and ghosts sequences in is head and put them in their prespective places. In other words – It was a hell of a lot to keep up with.

    Would I go see it again? No.
    But I will watch it at home on On Demand.
    This way I can pause it to take a wizz, come back and know what the hell is going on.

  11. Ken Hanke

    You are right, it certainly had a Hitchcock feel to it with the musical score and some of the outside scences. (the boat scene at the begining and the cliff scenes.)

    I am still trying to figure out if the boat scenes involve process work (I think they do, mostly due to the way the ferry captain’s coat looks against the background) or if Scorsese simply lit them to give the impression that the backgrounds don’t seem to be real.

    But I will watch it at home on On Demand

    It won’t have anywhere near the same feel, especially if it’s not letterboxed. Very often Scorsese is using the entire width of the cinemascope (or Panavision) screen.

  12. kjh.childers

    Just a quick comment, Ken:
    Honestly I didn’t like this film.
    Many a moment did I think that Leo overacted.
    Some of the scenes in which he wandered hesitantly down sinister corridors in the ‘forbidden quarters’ just seemed like B-rated horror films, in which viewers expect some crazed psychopath to be lurking in the dark. However, without giving away the ending, I must admit that the moment Leo’s recognition … the yelling of “no” struck a cord in my heart, and made me cry for him. Without the unfolding of his past presented to us viewers, honestly, this is one of Scorsese’s weakest, in comparison to the Last Temptation of Christ or Taxi Driver. I just walked out of the theatre wishing I’d not seen it.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Honestly I didn’t like this film

    You’re hardly alone, and no one can be wrong for not liking something (personally, I admire the idea of Last Temptation, but think it an awful movie). In any case, I can’t argue your objections — especially, since I don’t disagree with the B horror remark, I only respond to it 180 degrees opposite of you. We simply arrive at different locations. I will say that I think the “overacting” is deliberate and that it makes sense in the overall context of the film (this is a lot of what made me think of The Bat Whispers).

  14. kjh.childers

    …the “overacting” is deliberate…

    Good point, Ken. And, as a novice historian, I appreciate the sense in which you express your “location” in comparison to mine or another reviewer’s. And that is pivotal in building an argument or critique. And, as far as movie critics go, I certainly choose you among the top ranks whom I’d request to sit at my roundtable to discuss any film. I am reminded now of Dr. Strangelove and the “war room” scene. Point is, when I saw that you gave the film in question the grand five stars, as you did with, for example, Dr. Parnassus, a truly remarkable accomplishment, and indeed, an entirely different visionary director, I am still quite skeptical. I am a Scorsese fan, no doubt. Perhaps, I should have mentioned Raging Bull or Age of Innocence. I liked Last Temptation for its soundtrack most of all.

  15. Ken Hanke

    And, as far as movie critics go, I certainly choose you among the top ranks whom I’d request to sit at my roundtable to discuss any film.

    Thank you.

    Point is, when I saw that you gave the film in question the grand five stars, as you did with, for example, Dr. Parnassus, a truly remarkable accomplishment, and indeed, an entirely different visionary director, I am still quite skeptical

    I think the key phrase is “entirely different visionary director.” There’s little, if any comparison, between the two filmmakers. And you could say that there’s not much relation between the two sets of five stars, if it comes to that. It’s hard to convince someone who didn’t respond positively to a movie that the movie is great. It’s virtually impossible, however, to make the person actually like the film. For instance, you will have no trouble getting me to admit to the greatness of Raging Bull, but I don’t think you could ever get me to like it.

  16. Steven

    [b]For instance, you will have no trouble getting me to admit to the greatness of Raging Bull, but I don’t think you could ever get me to like it.[/b]

    Does this also apply with [i]Goodfellas[/i] and [i]Taxi Driver[/i]?

  17. Tonberry

    It’s always a good feeling watching a movie that meets the expectations you had for it. However, maybe thats my little nitpick with “Shutter Island.” I can’t say this movie jumped out and surprised me. No, I’m not referring to the obvious twist, or plot, but the movie as a whole. “Shutter Island” was a near perfect fit for my expectations, it just didn’t surpass them. I guess my not being ‘blown away’ may have to do with the fact that I read the book before seeing the movie, and the movie follows the book pretty close to the chest. As with most book adaptations, there are somethings that are dropped, but I completely understand why. Extra flashbacks, extra clues–fine for the book, would have been a bit overkill for the movie. This is a great adaptation, very vibrant, and I thought the casting was perfect.

    (I wish I could think of other cool movie references that “Shutter Island” provides, but I believe that is pretty much covered in the above comments. Though Leo’s last line eerily reminded me of a line from “The Dark Knight.”)

    I don’t think I will ever read the book again, but I know this movie has got some serious replay value for the years to come. I also have to mention another thing about Leo’s last line. It is a nice little touch that I don’t remember being in the source material and that may make “Shutter Island” one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Does this also apply with Goodfellas and Taxi Driver?

    More or less. In all cases, it’s the subject matter that doesn’t appeal to me. As filmmaking, pure and simple, though Raging Bull impresses me more than the other two.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Extra flashbacks, extra clues—fine for the book, would have been a bit overkill for the movie.

    Ken Russell once pointed out that things he omitted from Women in Love in its transfer from novel to film were essetially redundant. They may have been helpful, even necessary, in a medium like a novel that’s most likely read over a period of days and even weeks, but they felt like belaboring the point in something consumed in one two hour sitting.

    I also have to mention another thing about Leo’s last line. It is a nice little touch that I don’t remember being in the source material and that may make “Shutter Island” one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book.

    Interesting if your memory is correct, because it’s that line and Ruffalo’s reaction to it that really seals the deal for me.

  20. davidf

    This film clearly contains many allusions to other films, but the oddest film connection that came to my mind several times was LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. At first some thematic content (patients with delusions, etc.) and the presence of Emily Mortimer brought the film to mind, but when Patricia Clarkson showed up as a doctor, I started to think something was up. Further along in the film, I discovered even closer thematic connections. Did this come to anyone else’s mind? Is it too far-fetched to think that a connection with LARS AND THE REAL GIRL could have been a conscious consideration when Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson were cast?

  21. Ken Hanke

    Further along in the film, I discovered even closer thematic connections. Did this come to anyone else’s mind?

    Well, it didn’t come to my mind, but then it mightn’t simply because I don’t know the film that well (read: I saw Lars when it came out and that was that). I think the modernity of Lars weighs against it in my mind — or would keep me from thinking of it. Most of the film’s allusions are to much older films or films set nearer the time of this story.

    Is it too far-fetched to think that a connection with LARS AND THE REAL GIRL could have been a conscious consideration when Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson were cast?

    No, not necessarily.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I just finished the novel and it doesn’t have that last line

    Interesting. (Score one for Mr. Tonberry’s Scots’ memory.) Is there anything to convey the same idea? It’s pretty obvious that I’m going to need to read the book — as soon as I finish Dombey and Son, which I started in 1912.

  23. Ben

    I saw this movie last night and am still reflecting on it. Overall, I thought it was a very effective piece, with its mood and suspense. Spoiler alert – I do find movies that deal with children in this many especially disturbing, probably since I am now a parent. The last 15 minutes of the film were almost unbearable to watch, with the scene at the lakehouse. That is what haunts me most…probably because I have a personal connection with a similar event that happened to a friend’s child. Had I known that would be such a central part of the movie, not to mention the scene where DiCaprio discovers what has happened, I would not have seen this movie. It is hard to sometimes separate what is fiction from personal experience and tragedy.

  24. Dread P. Roberts

    Interesting if your memory is correct, because it’s that line and Ruffalo’s reaction to it that really seals the deal for me.

    I concur. Looking back, I imagine the movie would feel somewhat incomplete without that scene to tie everything together. It gives the proceedings another layer of depth, that left me thinking about more than just the movies story. And it happens so quick and sharp, that it hits you (well, me anyway) after the credits roll. I loved that “wait a minute…oooh” feeling. I’m curious how many people miss the significance of the very last scene. It’s the crucial ‘five star’ selling point.

  25. Ken Hanke

    I’m curious how many people miss the significance of the very last scene. It’s the crucial ‘five star’ selling point

    I agree and I’m curious as well. Problem is how to have anyone answer that question without saying too much.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Had I known that would be such a central part of the movie, not to mention the scene where DiCaprio discovers what has happened, I would not have seen this movie. It is hard to sometimes separate what is fiction from personal experience and tragedy

    Undoubtedly, but we all bring our own baggage to everything we see, read, listen to, or experience, and it’s almost impossible not to bump into things we’re not comfortable with as a result.

    Side note which has nothing to do with this, but I saw the ending of the film again tonight and stayed through the credits, and I was wrong, there are indeed two pieces of Penderecki credited on the film. I think one was from his 3rd Symphony. I like this film well enough that I’ll probably pick up the soundtrack and try to place the music with the scenes.

  27. anonymous

    Scorsese was utterly destroyed as an artist and a filmmaker after “Last Temptation of Christ”. In order to survive, he was completely assimilated into the corporate machinery of Hollywood and rewarded with his only Oscar for his consent.

    The long shadow of his 1988 masterpiece, one of the greatest films ever made in world cinema, is at the heart of the “horror” of “Shutter Island”…. the asylum a metaphor for Hollywood, Dicaprio’s madness the symbol of his struggle to deal with his guilt in order to remain employed and powerful.

    The problem is that he’s forced to use the mediocre talents of his star to convey the politically relevant ramifications of that message.

  28. jodi

    When I first saw it, I was pretty confused, because someone told me the entire story, including the ending, over the course of lunch. He thought was it was stupid and didn’t make sense.

    I’ve never liked Martin Scorsese films, but this was perfect for what it was. And yes–the ending, that throwaway line was absolutely brilliant. It made the whole movie click.

    Thing is, everyone else I’ve talked to, including the person who told me about it, didn’t even notice the ending. They just said, “yeah, they took him away because he was still crazy.” I think you’re right. People bring a little piece of themselves to it, and if you think on the surface, you’re going to see this as a “surface” feeling and miss all the layers.

    btw, Leo Dicaprio was great.

  29. Ken Hanke

    Thing is, everyone else I’ve talked to, including the person who told me about it, didn’t even notice the ending. They just said, “yeah, they took him away because he was still crazy.”

    I’m sorry to hear that, but I can’t say I’m all that surprised.

  30. olivia

    what was the soundtrack that played at the end of the movie as the credits were rolling. how do I find out?

  31. Ken Hanke

    what was the soundtrack that played at the end of the movie as the credits were rolling. how do I find out?

    I’m not 100% sure what you’re asking. The credits start with the excerpt from the Penderecki 3rd Symphony — that’s the ominous music that appears in the film like a motif several times. But I suspect you mean Dinah Washington singing “This Bitter Earth.” In any case, all the music is on the two disc soundtrack CD.

  32. Everytime I walk out of a Martin Scorsese picture, I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done. This time, I may be right.

    Wow.

    What a film.

    The most flawless horror picture I’ve seen in a cinema – not that it’s had much in the way of quality competition – and a completely engaging and thrilling piece of work.

    Though Leo’s last line eerily reminded me of a line from “The Dark Knight.”
    That’s interesting, because more than anything, this film convinced me that Scorsese would be the perfect filmmaker to helm a definitive Batman film. Put SHUTTER ISLAND in a blender with GOODFELLAS, THE AVIATOR and THE DEPARTED and you’ve got the perfect Batman movie.

  33. By the way, I can settle the matter of the boat sequence. I heard an interview with the screenwriter yesterday and the whole boat sequence was shot on an actual moving boat, but it was meant to look like Hitchcockian rear projection.

  34. Ken Hanke

    The most flawless horror picture I’ve seen in a cinema – not that it’s had much in the way of quality competition – and a completely engaging and thrilling piece of work

    I’m not sure it’s the best horror picture I’ve seen in a cinema, but I suspect I’ve seen more of them that way than you have. (It kinda stands to reason just by me being so old.) It is, however, a beautiful and powerful work — and easily the best film of 2010 so far (which I realize isn’t saying much at this point).

    That’s interesting, because more than anything, this film convinced me that Scorsese would be the perfect filmmaker to helm a definitive Batman film

    Do we really need another Batman film?

  35. I suspect I’ve seen more of them that way than you have.
    I would imagine so. In fact, I’m struggling to recall more than a handful.

    Do we really need another Batman film?
    You probably don’t, but I do. And frankly, the sooner Nolan’s trilogy is done with and someone else can take on the reigns, the better, as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, WB is apparently putting him and David Goyer in charge of the Superman movies, an idea that strikes me as more than a little misguided. Didn’t they learn anything from the Burton/Cage debacle?

  36. Ken Hanke

    And frankly, the sooner Nolan’s trilogy is done with and someone else can take on the reigns, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

    That part I won’t disagree with, but, in all honesty I’d feel the same way about Scorsese doing a Batman movie that I feel about Del Toro making The Hobbit.

    Unfortunately, WB is apparently putting him and David Goyer in charge of the Superman movies, an idea that strikes me as more than a little misguided. Didn’t they learn anything from the Burton/Cage debacle?

    This is the same studio that handed John Boorman a million dollar paycheck and gave him total artistic control on Exorcist II: The Hereticafter he told them what he planned to do. And still they were horrified when they found he delivered them the $14.5 million “art film” he’d promised. Then, years later, they turned around and did the same thing with Paul Schrader with Exorcist IV. Does it look like they’re capable of learning from past experiences?

  37. lynn

    I also thought the film was great but I am having a strong deja vu experience from the last 30 minutes of the film. Is there another film that ends in a similar way?? I feel like I have seen this story before and I havent read Lehane’s book.

  38. Ken Hanke

    I also thought the film was great but I am having a strong deja vu experience from the last 30 minutes of the film. Is there another film that ends in a similar way??

    The basic set-up and main revelation is very like that of Angel Heart, but the details are very different.

  39. maxamatic

    Hi Ken, I am a UK resident who found your site by accident but now you are online reviewer of choice! I saw this film last night and I am still thinking about it. From the moment the boat looms out of the mist this film just grabs you. Not since The Shining has a film created such an effective feeling of impending dread. I loved the cinematography, the washed out colours just added to the dream-like quality of the movie. Guessing the twist does not affect the movie as when the revelation does come, it is a still a jaw dropper thanks to the boat house flashback. Has a more achingly sad scene been made in recent memory? I agree that the final twist is the icing on the cake. Little things in the movie now make sense, like the crazy woman putting her fingers to her lips near the beginning, her clue to Daniels that there is a big secret? Or when Chuck struggles like a novice to take off his firearm! I just don’t understand the negative reaction to the film from a lot of UK critics. For my money it is close to being a great movie that will reward further viewing. I also agree with the earlier comment thatlike the Shining, in time it will receive the acclaim it deserves.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Hi Ken, I am a UK resident who found your site by accident but now you are online reviewer of choice!

    Thank you. That’s certainly gratifying to hear. You do have at least two compatriots on here — Ken Russell and his wife, Lisi. We also have at least one Australian reader/commentor. So we’re mildly international at least.

    Has a more achingly sad scene been made in recent memory?

    Not sure I’d really considered it in those exact terms, but if there is another one in recent memory I can’t think of it.

    I just don’t understand the negative reaction to the film from a lot of UK critics

    There’s a good bit from US critics, too, and I’m a bit perplexed by it. I’m not unfamiliar with being keen on movies that are villified by a lot of people, but I can generally understand why. Here I’m hard-pressed to do so — even after reading the reasons and sometimes even with critics I know personally.

    For my money it is close to being a great movie that will reward further viewing. I also agree with the earlier comment thatlike the Shining, in time it will receive the acclaim it deserves

    I’m pretty much sure that it is a great movie, based on three viewings and having watched the last 30 minutes another probably 10 times. And, yes, I think time will vindicate it.

  41. maxamatic

    Well I always check out your views on a film first now. In fact the only film I really disagree with you on is another Scorcese picture Gangs of New York (I hated it!). Keep up the good work!

    Thematically it does remind me of Angel Heart (one of my favourite films as a teenager) and also the original Wicker Man.

    I keep thinking abut another scene (POSSIBLE SPOILER), when Daniels is interviewing patients, the woman who killed her husband asks for a glass of water. Chuck fetches it and she writes “run” on the pad. When Chuck returns with the water, we see a close up shot of her clearly miming drinking (no glass in her hand), but the wide shot then shows her putting a glass on the table. Is this meant to mean that she was in on the subterfuge and Daniels was imagining Chuck being with him at certain points?
    I am sure I am missing something on the boat as well. Just have to watch it again I suppose!

  42. Ken Hanke

    Keep up the good work

    I’ll try at least.

    Thematically it does remind me of Angel Heart (one of my favourite films as a teenager) and also the original Wicker Man

    Ah, now there we are — the original Wicker Man is a movie I hate. (The remake is too silly and funny to hate.)

    Is this meant to mean that she was in on the subterfuge and Daniels was imagining Chuck being with him at certain points?

    This strikes me as deliberately ambiguous and not something that can be definitively answered.

    Just have to watch it again I suppose!

    Some sacrifices have to be made…

  43. Tony

    Considering the awful things OSS and later CIA were doing over this 30 year period ( documented archived and held to the tip of the iceberg account in senate hearings e.g. MKULTRA, Dr Cameron Allan Memorial Institute amongst too many others) The entire book having hinted along these lines turns too quickly away to concentrate on yet another ‘all in your/their head’ twist. So for me both the book and film misses the point.

  44. Ken Hanke

    So for me both the book and film misses the point.

    But then aren’t you criticizing them not for what they are, but rather for not be what you want them to be?

  45. sheila king

    I agree that this is pretty much a great movie that will get more love with the passage of time. I didn’t necessarily feel this way until I saw it a third time. Usually if I see a film more than once, I tend to find each viewing a little less satisfying. Oddly, each viewing of this only made me appreciate it more and especially the performances which are well nigh perfect. There’s a helluva lot going on in this film. Maybe because I grew up in the paranoid post WWII ’50s, I could accept some of the more out there stuff in the film. It also helps if you know that people were fed LSD in prisons and hospitals as part of government experimentation during that time. So red herrings or not, there’s an underlying subtext about violence, denial, and man’s constant desire to somehow innoble himself even in the direst circumstances. Also, DiCaprio turned in his best performance ever, imo. The final moment when Ted gets up and walks away from Chuck is great physical acting — it’s a deliberate and decisive thing of beauty.

  46. killarue

    Okay, I will definitely be in the minority here and as not much of a movie manic don’t expect my opinion to carry much weight, but I honestly didn’t get the feel that others did. First, I don’t consider LD to be much of an actor and he didn’t do anything to dissaude this position in this film. Second, the movie was not suspenseful to me at all and I have a very low threshold for suspense. Finally, I tend to view directors as I do writers(fiction) in the category of one great accomplishment with the rest being an accumulation of the rest, although read more than I watch. I have enjoyed other films by this director though, so do consider him to be very good. From what I have read in these posts, it seems to be more the director’s ability to reference other movies than anything else, not that is a small accomplishment. I think that Ruffalo should have been cast in the lead, as he seems a more genuine talent. So, many months behind but just viewed.

  47. Debrup

    Hello Ken…I am from Kolkata,India,and i have become a fan of yours since finding in you a voice that I have lacked in a lot of recent debates over this film.I loved the film,and I loved your almost passionate way of defending something which will surely be hailed as a landmark in years to come.Addicted to your site,keep it up Sir.

  48. Robin Raianiemi

    It’s funny . . . when I saw this movie theatrically, I saw it as a love letter to Val Lewton. The whole notion of separating what’s happening in DiCaprio’s head and what’s real reminded me very much of CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, all the interiors reminded me of THE SEVENTH VICTIM, the island local reminded me of both ISLE OF THE DEAD and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. And the deeper, psychological texture of the film was very much CAT PEOPLE to me.

    I watched the film again on the blooray deeveedee this past weekend, and was once again struck by how much Lewton I see in the picture.

    Am I nuts? I don’t think so. I found out that Scorcese is a particular fan of Lewton’s major director, Jacques Tournier. I just can’t get the Lewton connection out of my mind when I see SHUTTER ISLAND.

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