Ashecliff is a mental institution for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island. The island itself is virtually inescapable. The asylum is adorned with several barriers to block the patients from the outside world: the dwellings are heavily guarded; barbed electrical wire surrounds the perimeter; walls built around the buildings. And, oh yeah, water isolates the island miles from the nearest trace of land. An escape attempt would ultimately lead to either capture or death.
It is highly understandable why eyebrows would be raised after the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer). Solando was committed to Ashecliff because she had drowned all three of her children, killing them. As one of their patients, she still thinks that her children are alive and that she is living in a normal world. She believes that the doctors and patients are all just milkmen, delivery men, etc., all part of her fictional reality she has concocted in her head. Her strange desertion instills disbelief among the island’s workers. Head psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) describes that it is as if Solando had just “evaporated through the walls.”
In the beginning of “Shutter Island” by the great Martin Scorcese, Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is traveling at sea with his newly acquired partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo). The two are heading to Shutter Island to investigate for themselves the clues behind the disappearance. What starts off as an investigation eventually becomes more and more about the main character Teddy and what goes on in his mind.
Teddy’s troubled past occurrences include serving time in World War II and his wife dying in a fire. Many twisted flashbacks are shown depicting these events, which are told in a way that reminded me of “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” in a way. Both movies involve past memories, and both movies display them in a surrealistic manner. The memories seem to be jumbled together making an alternate scenario entirely, encompassing aspects of all the separate incidents.
The man who caused the fire whom his wife died in is believed to be at the institution. Occasionally when interviewing patients about Solando, Teddy will additionally ask them about the man and if they have heard of him. However, Teddy’s main intention is neither to investigate the escape of Solando nor to exact revenge on his wife’s killer. It is instead to expose Ashecliff of performing sadistic experimentations on patients, a bit of information given to him by former prisoner George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley).
The film knows how to construct a tense, chilling atmosphere in many scenes. It doesn’t create tension in a showy, throw-stuff-in-your-face way. Deep silence and dim lighting are the only things really utilized to formulate an intimidating aura. In one particular scene, Teddy is searching inside a lighthouse, which is used to contain the most dangerous of the criminally insane patients. As he walks around, the air around him is dead silent, the lights are continually flickering, and an occasional distant and echoed scream is the icing on the cake. The pressure is on.
Two main problems I had with the film pertain to the flashback sequences and the story’s several changes of direction. While some of the flashback sequences worked effectively, there were just as many that felt inconsistent from the mood that the film was trying to set up, one example being the flashback of Teddy’s wife dying in his arms. The story will most likely throw a considerable amount of viewers off. Its direction is ever changing. Just as you think it cannot get anymore complicated, a massive crowbar gets tossed into the mix. Some might consider that the beauty of the film, but I can see many people getting P.O’d over this fact.
A few problems aside, my overall opinion of “Shutter Island” is indeed favorable. As I think more and more about it, the better it becomes in my own opinion. Possibly upon later re-watching, I might think more of it. My reaction might diminish. I can’t really tell at a glance. But my first viewing was for sure an entertaining one, filled with numerous twists and momentary thrills.