(Previous to migrating from my old Blogger page, I had an image of Sir Ben Kingsley here as the header)
I show you not Leonardo DiCaprio, star of the aforementioned title, but Sir Ben Kingsley, in the moment I started to feel as though I was understanding the subtext of the plot. I pointed out, in a blurt of inconsideration to the others watching, “… And that right there is the most important line in this movie.”
For “Shutter Island” to be the length it was, every scene must have a purpose, either to give us subtle clues, or to seemingly to misdirect us from the truth. This moment, frozen here for posterity, is the connecting puzzle piece, a phrase uttered in passing that comes back to be the underlying plot device of the whole movie.
And I could not love it more.
If you’re not already aware, this movie is a thriller. Suspenseful, ever-changing, and based in a mental institution. It’s got all the elements of creepy just waiting to happen. However, there is no jumping gag, no camera angles to get things to pop out at you. No, there is a plot line, running its course, and generally unpredictable for the most part. There are the clues, and as with every psychological thriller, nothing is as it seems. I was expecting that. Anyone paying for a ticket for this movie should.
A woman has gone missing off an island mental institution. The island in and of itself is a fortress. No one can get in or out except at the ferry. Somehow, this woman slipped the walls, shoeless, and vanished into thin air. So the Federal Marshals were called. This is where Marshals Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) come in.
The performances were fantastic. I cannot imagine another person playing Dr. Cawley (Kingsley), as he delivers the grace and understanding of a psychiatrist way ahead of his time. His philosophies on mental health are controversial to the time, when pharmacology is just developing and psycho-surgery has been in full swing for some many, many years. His unorthodox approach to psychiatry makes him highly regarded, and highly suspicious. Without giving too much away, he is a genius beyond regard in his field. In a time when a violent offender would be lobotomized and handed a mop and a drool bucket, he takes an alternate tack.
Ruffalo is excellent as Teddy’s sidekick. His role is complicated by the events that play out, and he takes a pretty steady course to his part. He’s the perfect foil; cliché in all the best ways for the role he needed to have. His part in all of it is relatively innocent, yet the most necessary. His unassuming nature and genuine loyalty to his boss, Teddy, makes for his character arc’s full transition and complete understanding.
A favorite scene for its own merit pits Teddy and the Warden against each other in conversation. The warden leans over and asks him what he would would do if the warden tried to bite his face off? This, in and of its self, is strangely hilarious and gives an otherwise out-of-place chuckle.
DiCaprio just delivers. It is almost underwhelming to watch him act. There’s a mystique to his characters; you know the man, the actor, will not take simple roles. So automatically, and maybe unfairly, the bar is automatically set higher. DiCaprio long since disappears into the wet, determined and “violent” man Teddy Daniels is expected to be. Teddy Daniels gets the job done; he gets his man, and he’ll cut through the red tape to get there. He and the job are one, and he’s not one to not finish the job.
But there’s more. There’s a reason Teddy came out to this island. There’s a reason Teddy’s here, now, at this moment. His assignment is not by pure circumstance. You’ll just have to wait and see.
Prediction: Kingsley gets a nod or at least honorable mention for his role in the awards nominations.
A+. Psychologically deft and suspenseful. A mind-bender, turning into a completely different movie the second time through. What do you choose to believe? You would do good to keep Kleenex close for the third act.