In defense of “Shutter Island”

I’ve seen an awful lot of critics and movie-goers hammering away at “Shutter Island”, and it bugs me. Some of what I’m about to say was covered in great detail by Peter Hall at Horror’s Not Dead:

http://horrorsnotdead.com/wpress/2010/shutter-island-review-warning-spoilery-talk-follows-the-first-paragraph/

(excellent site, by the way- a must-visit for horror fans). Here’s why “Shutter Island” is horribly underrated (here thar be spoilers):

1. Just because you can see a twist coming does NOT make it a bad movie

As Hall points out, the public has become cynical about their movies with twists. We’ve seen them all a hundred times so now the average movie-watcher is on constant lookout for a twist. So, of course, if they can see the twist, the film gets hammered. That’s a pretty crappy way of watching a movie. While the predictability factor can detract from a film, there’s so much else that goes into the quality of a film that it’s insulting to dismiss a film out of hand purely on the basis of a predictable twist.

2. There are a billion references to film classics

I don’t understand how critics can fawn praise all over Quentin Tarantino for his nerdgasm of film references in movies like “Inglorious Basterds” but then completely ignore the same type of references in “Shutter Island”. To wit:

  • Kurosawa’s use of nature to signify plot shifts
  • Hitchcock reference upon Hitchcock reference upon Hitchcock reference (think of the cliff scenes in “Shutter Island”; then think of the Mt. Rushmore scene in “North by Northwest”, for instance)
  • “The Manchurian Candidate”
  • My favorite, and the reference I found most strong- Ingmar Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf” (more on this in a minute)

That’s a hell of a group of filmmakers to pay homage to, and that type of  homage should not be ignored. And just to clarify, I like it when critics fawn praise on Tarantino for those things. But I find it hypocritical to ignore it when it’s coming from Scorsese.

3. So about that “Hour of the Wolf” thing…

Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf” is a psychological thriller about the protagonist’s slow descent into madness, driven by his splintered personality. It takes place on a secluded island and is punctuated by slate gray skies. The director uses the protagonist to tell us something about himself. Max von Sydow is in it. In Bergman’s film, Max von Sydow is the artist and the various people on the island who drive him insane each represent one of Bergman’s personal demons.

Does any of that sound familiar? Does this image included look familiar?

4. Scorsese uses Teddy Daniels/Andrew Laeddis to make the film personal

In the film, Andrew Laeddis is “a violent man”- this is a phrase repeated many times throughout the film- who generates a fantasy world in which he is the hero, Teddy Daniels. The biggest knock on Scorsese has always been that his films indulge in male violence fantasies. Through the use of this character, Scorsese’s letting us all know, “Hey, I’m not a violent guy. It’s a fantasy world. Just like Teddy Daniels/Andrew Laeddis, I can create a fantasy world, but it doesn’t change who I am at the core”.

In summation, it’s a far better movie than what the average fan and/or critic would have you believe. I don’t mean to imply that it’s Scorsese’s best, or one of his best, or even that it isn’t flawed. It’s a damned good movie with some warts and I wish people would stop looking at those warts and calling it ugly.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies

One response to “In defense of “Shutter Island”

  1. Dude

    Yeah, you’re right but… The reason I didn’t like the movie had nothing to do with a twist, it just wasn’t what I expected. That doesn’t make it bad, just a disappointment to me. My expectations (and those of whom I saw the movie with) were that it was going to be a butt tightening suspenseful thriller. Instead it was a solid semi-mystery, thinky movie. Which was cool, but not what I expected.

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