When I was finished with “Shutter Island,” I understood what director Martin Scorsese was pushing for in the area of a dark and complex journey of a man in to the bowels of a mysterious island. I understood that deep down Scorsese had an ambitious and admirable hunger to bring to us a modern “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” but ultimately, his efforts fail to bring a work of art that’s grandiose but low key in its effort to make a commentary about the human soul and the psyche. While the character of Teddy Daniels ends up becoming a truly tragic and complex individual, the caveat with “Shutter Island” is that everything surrounding the character of Daniels ends up becoming rather lackluster and limp. Especially when the surprise twist is given away so easily in the original trailers.
Besides, perceptive audiences will see where the narrative is headed by the second half. Most likely before that. The problem is there isn’t much motivation to sit and watch the build-up, nor is there much of a motivation to suck audiences in and keep them wondering where these clues add up and if anything we’re seeing is of considerable relevance to the actual final scenes. Match that with the fact that the film is needlessly long, and there’s not much for Scorsese to offer viewers even when we’re given the full explanation of the events that unfold and what screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis has to say about our own personal demons and how they can ultimately take on lives of their own and in a way submit the victims to the mercy of their own delusions and hysteria.
I love films about madness and the descent in to darkness that its protagonists take and I truly loved every single performance (including Leonardo DiCaprio’s), but the problem with “Shutter Island” is that the mystery being used as a veil of the final punch to the gut isn’t very interesting, nor is it too engrossing to endure. “Shutter Island” has a truly polished atmosphere where Scorsese is constantly challenging the audience to decode not only the environment around them, but the subtle quirks and facial gestures of each and every character. Every bit of body language and dialogue delivery is essentially a clue, especially during the big interrogation sequence in the institute, but once Daniels begins to dig deeper and his investigation becomes ever the more harrowing, there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut focus on where the screenplay is aiming.
During the second half screenwriter Kalogridis seems to want to create a blur of paranoia and conspiracy, but then immediately dives in to a pat surprise twist where even when we’re aware of the facts, there’s never a definitive answer to anything we’ve seen. “Shutter Island” is primarily centered on the big twist in the finale, and once it’s all been decoded, it doesn’t present much re-watch value. When all is said and done I wanted to love “Shutter Island,” but the entire narrative is unfortunately so reliant on the big reveal to the central mystery that it doesn’t do much to keep audiences entertained or compelled leading in to the surprise. While the performances are absolutely top notch, and the themes of grief and mental anguish absolutely superb, “Shutter Island” is not the masterpiece I was hoping for.