Thursday, 18 March 2010

We're All Criminally Insane Here

Sometimes I get slightly worried at the things which fascinate me. I get totally obsessed with things which I find interesting, although perhaps they're not the most....orthodox? When I got a loan of X-Files series one, I HAD to watch series two right away. And then I HAD to get the entire box set. I've always been a bit of a conspiracy nut, and this show brings out the worst in me. I can't watch enough programmes about crop circles, alien abductions, government cover-ups and endless searches for The Truth... I'll watch or read absolutely anything about serial killers or unsolved murders- I actually think I'd be really disappointed if I ever found out the identity of Jack the Ripper or the Zodiac killer. Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, Henry Lee Lucas and Charles Manson.... I find them all morbidly fascinating. I can't explain why- maybe it's something about a damaged human psyche. I dunno. I was never interested enough in psychology as a subject; I guess I was more afraid of what it'd say about me. My parents are both psychiatric nurses, so I s'pose alot of it comes from them.
Whereas nowadays we have a deeper understanding of the human mind and mental healthcare, back in the Victorian era right up until the 1950s, it was quite different. Back then, the best way to deal with patients was to lock them in fortress-like asylums, as if they never existed. They were submerged in icy baths for hours or even days, until they froze or drowned. They had holes driven into their skulls, and ice-picks through their eyes, all in the name of freeing them from 'inner demons'. (I found a good wee site listing the 10 'best'....

Of course, while practices like these went on behind closed doors in institutions everywhere, no one reeeaaallly liked to talk about them. Which is why poor old Leo DiCaprio's having such a hard time uncovering the truth in Shutter Island, the lastest venture between Martin Scorcese and his new muse (Bobby DeNiro presumably is too old to scale down the side of a cliff, or in fact make a decent movie anymore). Tucked away from civilization miles from the shore, the Island is home to the most dangerous and criminally insane patients in America (as one guard proudly boasts). They take on the patients nowhere else can handle. Under the guidance of Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the staff at Shutter Island have a new approach to psychiatric care, that involves treating patients as people, and not prison inmates. Unfortunately, one of their patients seems to have vanished into the walls- enter US Marshals Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, possibly my Favourite Actor in Most Supporting Roles), to solve the mystery of her disappearance. As indicated by the enshrouding fog, remote location and creepy men in white coats, all is not as it seems on this island, and before long Teddy and Chuck are caught up in something far more sinister than they could ever have imagined...

Shutter Island is a really frustrating film to try and write about, or explain, because it's so twisty-turny that anything you say could be considered a "giveaway". Unfortunately with so much emphasis placed on the big 'reveal', it inevitably ends up being a bit of a letdown. Shame though, because throughout its running time it is a genuinely creepy, thought-provoking and intense psychological chiller, with nods to Hitchcock aplenty and some damn fine performances. Visually, the film really invokes the mood of the period, and every location looks potentially dangerous, and genuinely.....scary. The buildings of the 'hospital' are hugely expansive and cavernous, but sinister, isolated and claustrophobic at the same time. Prisoners are allowed outside, but they are shackled and watched over at all times.

The film is stuffed full of ambiguity right up until the very end, another reason why the Turning Point onwards seems such a disappointment. Perhaps I've just seen too many films which end up this way... or perhaps the build up was so hugely enthralling and thought-provoking that I'd overthought what the outcome would be. As Teddy's backstory unfolded and new characters were introduced, I thought there'd be a more intrinsic connection between the two. It seemed there were alot of missed opportunities and build-up to things that just didn't happen. In saying that, the film is based on the novel of the same name, so old Marty can't be faulted for that. I can't shake off the nagging feeling, though, that it'd have been a much more intriguing project in the hands of, say, David Fincher.....?

If we're changing director here, I'd suggest a change of leading man too. Leo has come a long way career-wise since his days of chasing Clare Danes around in a pair of angel wings, but he still only looks about 2 weeks older than he did in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. He does a good Baaawwwston accent, and admirably steps up to the 'tough guy' act with relative ease, but overall he's pretty unremarkable. I hate to be predictable, but I reckon Edward Norton would have done a great job in the role- although similarities to another memorable film of his would have been a bit too much, considering.... Mark Ruffalo, in the role of 'sidekick', does a far better job; after his overhwelming turn in Zodiac, I really hope this film sees him elevated to the kind of roles he's capable of. And not fluffy Jennifer Garner body-swap nonsense. The rest of the supporting cast play their parts well to; Max Von Sydow is appropriately German and a bit of a bastard, Ben Kingsley is the infuriatingly cryptic, yet seemingly progressive, doctor, and Jackie Earle Haley gives an unrecognisable cameo which is easily one of the more disturbing scenes in the film. He plays mentally unstable roles with such integrity and aplomb, I'm actually looking forward to his take on Freddy Krueger- especially since the Robert Englund incarnation is more of a friendly Boogeyman nowadays than terrifying dream-stalker.

If you strip away all the intensity and hype surrounding this film, and think about it for long afterwards, it starts to crumble a little within its own story. There are some huge neon arrows pointing to its conclusion, and it stumbles a bit under the weight of its own infrastructure. Still, it's a sumptuously gothic piece of work with a neat line in Hitchcockian suspense, and if you're looking for something a bit more cerebral (sorry...!), then this is a good 'un. I was glued to the screen for the whole of its 2-ish hour running time, and it's not very often I can say that anymore.


  1. I appreciate the honesty in your reviews.
    I checked out the link you posted too, all of it horrific but equally fascinating - it was the section on CHEMICALLY INDUCED SEIZURES that really freaked me out.

  2. Great blog, I really want to see this film again. I think it would be completely different the second time round.