“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” - Edgar Allan Poe
You sometimes watch a movie and while it keeps you interested and engaged, when it finishes you cannot really say whether you really liked it or not. These types of movies are perhaps the most unsatisfying as they are in a somewhat gray zone, not eliciting intense antipathy or a fervent liking for. We watched such a movie at the weekend, enjoying a great deal it on the one level, but feeling somewhat deflated and unsatisfied at its conclusion…
It was the 2010 Martin Scorsese film “Shutter Island” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams and Emily Mortimer. It is a period drama with a thriller-type premise, touching upon the theme of insanity and what drives criminally insane people to commit acts that are beyond our morality and sense of humanity.
Scorsese is a master film-maker and his direction is faultless, the cinematography of the bleak setting highly evocative, and the acting top class. In this respect, the film satisfies greatly. But somehow one feels cheated at the end – the desire to have a twist in the story line being greater than the desire to tell a good story, pure and simple. Perhaps our own desire for enjoyment as story listeners depends to a certain extent on our ability to predict the twists of the story. Or perhaps in our desire to identify with some of the characters and like them to a certain extent. And there are a lot of unlikeable characters in the film, whom we were supposed to like (or so it turns out in the end).
The plot takes place in 1954, when the World War II atrocities are still fresh in the minds of people, especially so for the US soldiers that took part in the storming of the Nazi concentration camps (and yes, there are some graphic scenes there). A US marshal, Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Daniels has personal reasons for wanting to be assigned on the island, but once there he begins to think that he has been brought to the island as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments are unethical and illegal, or even quite sinister.
Daniels’ investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals escape in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Daniels begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, and his own sanity.
I am beginning to wonder whether a second viewing of the film may work better with me, and certainly this is a film that invites a revisit after some time. There is a lot of violence in the movie and some quite confronting issues and images that convey a sense of horror and highlight the depth of inhumanity that human beings are capable of. One is led to question the concept of “sanity” and how fragile our balanced mental state is. The film is worth watching, but be aware of its graphic and violent content.