I tend to look for movies that draw me in and that provoke an emotional response. Martin Scorcese's "Shutter Island" did indeed draw me in, even though I found the film disturbing. Scorcese explores difficult questions of guilt, personal identity, and mind control.
The movie takes place in 1954 on a craggy, remote and forbidding island off the coast of Boston. (I have some familiarity with a United States possession called Navassa, an uninhabited, little-known island in the Carribean surrounded by steep, inaccessible cliffs and was reminded of Navassa by the movie.) Shutter Island serves as a hospital and prison for the criminally insane operated by the United States government. A United States Marshall, Teddy Daniels, and his ostensible partner, Chuck Aule, who calls Daniels "boss", are ferried to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate who has apparently escaped. The inmate is said to have drowned her three children before her incarceration. Daniels himself carries with him many emotional issues. He witnessed the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and has had problems with alcohol. His wife died in a fire set by an arsonist. Daniels sought an assignment to Shutter Island because the arsonist and another individual from Daniels' past are incarcerated there, and Daniels wanted to see for himself what was going on.
At the hospital, Daniels meets the head psychiatrist, a bearded, crafty and intelligent individual named Cawley, and his sinister German assistant, Nehring. He meets with staff, with prisoners, both male and female, and with inmates of the "C" ward, used to house the most dangerous prisoners. As the movie progresses, Daniels suffers increasingly from tremors and from hallucinations, most of which are in the form of his dead wife warning him about the island. Daniels also receives warnings and augurs from the patients. He senses that something is not right about the investigation but cannot let it go.
The movie has the makings of a gothic horror film, but it gets beyond that genre by its seriousness and development. The movie builds slowly and inexorably to itconclusion and most parts of the story contribute to the effectiveness of the whole. The feeling of isolation and doom is inescapable, with a mental hospital on a remote island, a hurricane which cuts the Shutter Island off even further from the mainland, and the chilling, hidden natures of staff and inmates on the island.
The movie includes scenes of cliffs and danger on the island, pounding waves, wild rats, a mysterious lighthouse, and lost souls. A difficult and troubled individual, Daniels comes to challenge his understanding of himself in a radical way. I found the confusion in sense of selfhood, in circumstances of isolation and helplessness, chilling.
The movie is based upon a 2003 novel by Dennis Lahane called "Shutter Island" which I have not read. The acting is convincing throughout and the musical background is erie. The movie has received mixed reviews. Scorsese's movies such as "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull" and "Gangs of New York" with their portrayal of violence, illusion, and rawness have always fascinated me. "Shutter Island" did so as well. The movie has attained a large success at the box office, and perhaps can be viewed and responded to on many levels. I don't think it is for the faint at heart.