Shutter Island


Shutter Island is a different type of story than Scorsese usually tackles, but you know what, that’s not that unusual. I mean, the man can’t make movies about the mafia every day of the week! Anyway, this one is not as adventurous as some of his others, but is just as successful. He teams up with Leonardo DiCaprio, who once again gives a great performance in a Scorsese film. The film works on almost all levels, the only drawback might be that the “twist” (I don’t know if it’s considered as such, but it feels like it’s supposed to be one) is not as twisty as it maybe could have been. On the other hand, the emotions that the film was able to get out of me around that point made up for it in my opinion.

Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a US Marshal on his way to investigate an escaped mental patient on Shutter Island outside of Boston in the year 1954. With him is his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). Daniels was in WWII and has flashback of liberating Dachau and also of his wife (Michelle Williams) dying in a fire. It’s no surprise that when we first see him he’s trying to “pull [him]self together” after vomiting in a toilet. When the pair get to Shutter Island, it goes without saying that nothing is as it seems.

It seems there is no way a patient could have escaped but apparently one named Rachel did. All of the inmates are dangerous, and Rachel is no exception. She is there for drowning all of her children, while seeming to have no knowledge of it after the fact. The main doctor there, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), seems to be genuinely worried about her, but he also seems a bit reluctant to help. Even more alarming to Daniels is the discovery that Dr. Naehring (Max Von Syndow), a German, is working there. Given his experiences during WWII and the fact that many Nazi scientists were actually brought over after the war, his suspicions of Naehring don’t seem so unreasonable. And what did Nazi doctors do in WWII? Experiment on prisoners. Well, Naehring has plenty of opportunity here. Cawley is quite outspoken against lobotomies and other surgery, but as I said before, nothing is as it seems.


What first seems as an escaped prisoner case soon turns into the investigation of a conspiracy. Then it turns into an investigation into Teddy’s character; at first we know about his experiences in the war and then his wife dying, but through dream sequences we begin to see that his backstory is not all that it seems either. Teddy becomes aware of this as the film goes on as well, but projects this uncertainty onto his situation for the most part. It’s interesting to see how it’s developed.

It’s clear from the beginning that Teddy is unbalanced. He has weird visions and dreams, and in these gets Rachel’s story and his own mixed up. As the conspiracy option opens up, it’s unclear whether this is because he is genuinely insane or if it’s because he’s in the middle of uncovering a conspiracy so he’s being drugged. Similar to the film Gaslight, the coffee he drinks and the food he eats are drugged and making him hallucinate and act, well, crazy. He becomes crazy because someone else is pulling the strings. There are two options, and though I wasn’t completely sure which one the film was going to go with, I knew it was going to be one of those two. And it is. That’s not as much of a let down as it would have been if I had been able to pick one and then that’s the one it ended up being, but nevertheless the plot twist didn’t hit me out of nowhere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was sort of expecting a twist going into this film based on the vague things I had heard about it, and while there was one in a manner of speaking, it’s not the twistiest twist ever.

The film doesn’t really need a twist to work though, especially because it continues on with Teddy’s character development even after the supposed twist occurs. His backstory is cleared up once and for all, and it doesn’t feel like a let down because his backstory is so tragic and even if I was sort of able to guess what was going on, it’s clear that Teddy wasn’t able to. And still isn’t by the end, which is a scary thing when you think about it. Teddy has a lot of pain to carry around even if he’s not crazy.


I really like the relationship between Teddy and Chuck in this film. They started out trusting each other pretty quick, and then there was some doubt as to whether Chuck existed at all. Their relationship was able to emerge at the end in a different way but still as a beneficial one, and it gave the film another subtle emotional layer that worked really well. I also thought DiCaprio and Ruffalo had a pretty good chemistry between them, especially during the scene where they are hiding in the church, and also at the very end. That shot of Ruffalo looking from DiCaprio to Kingsley in dismay was really tragic.

Scorsese’s creation of the dream sequences was very good, I thought. The main thing that stood out to me during these is that something is usually falling. Sometimes it’s ashes, others paper, and other times snow. The snow makes sense, but the other two, especially the papers, don’t. I don’t know why this was so effective, but it definitely was. There were also some really great tracking shots when they were approaching the institution in the beginning. I also really like how the camera would circle around Teddy during times of particular confusion.

Though Shutter Island admittedly does not rank too rank high in comparison to Scorsese’s other films, it’s still really good and I highly recommend it. You might see the end coming, but in my opinion that won’t kill the film for you. DiCaprio and the rest of the cast turn in solid performances, the atmosphere is appropriately creepy, there’re some interesting ideas about the treatment of the criminally insane even if they are hammered home a bit too much, and Scorsese shows us some interesting direction as well. It’s a good film from him, and it’s not one of his best only because he’s Scorsese.


“Why are you all wet, baby?”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars


18 responses to “Shutter Island

  1. Good review Hunter. It’s a bit of a crazy movie, but it really threw me for a loop most of the time and whenever a flick can do that, I have to give it some amount of credit. Especially one with a great Leo performance.

    • Thanks! I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, but clearly I wasn’t very sure. I was completely absorbed the whole time waiting to find it out though! And yeah, Leo knocks it out of the park once again.

  2. Nice review. I love this movie, and you’re right that the movie doesn’t even have to have the twist, but I thought it was pretty well-executed. This was one of my favorite films of that year.

    • Thanks! It is a good film; I liked it a lot. The “twist” was kind of handled strangely in my opinion, but at least I only kind of saw it coming. I had a feeling that I was supposed to be more surprised that I was. But I was not any less interested in Teddy just because I thought I knew what was going on.

  3. from what ive seen of this i feel like it was supposed to be as much of a psychological thriller as black swan…comparisons?

    • Well they came out in the same year… ha ha. Sort of spoilers coming up…
      I think Black Swan is a superior film, because it unsettled me a lot more. This not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I was very interested in what was going to happen, but it doesn’t take you inside the madness to the extent that Black Swan does. Black Swan almost embraces it, this film not so much. It is a institution so they are trying to cure him at the end of the day. Let me rephrase what I said about Black Swan being better: I think the way they handle the mental illness is more engrossing because they are focusing on Nina and the causes and the consequences more. You sort of get a feel for them gradually as the film goes on. In Shutter Island you have this “is he actually crazy?” thing that Black Swan doesn’t have as much of, because you are focusing on her drive towards perfection and her issues with her mom etc… So Nina’s character gets developed across the whole film, and while Teddy’s does as well you also have that conspiracy thing to keep track of, so he only gets developed through flashbacks really. And you have a level of feminism in Black Swan that isn’t present in Shutter Island, which I appreciate though some might not care for. It might be unfair to call one of them “better” than the other, but if I had to I would pick Black Swan all the way.
      This film is really good, and I’d definitely see it again sometime, but I wouldn’t put it on a list of all time greats like I would Black Swan.

  4. Great review! Off topic to a point but I’d love to see a movie with DiCaprio, Ruffalo, and Winslet! Based off this movie with Ruffalo, and past movies with Winslet. DiCaprio has great chemistry with them. *_*

    • I’m pretty sure what I wrote was clear but just to make sure the “off topic to a point” was directed towards what I said after πŸ™‚

    • Thanks! That’s a cool idea. What kind of movie would you put them it?
      And yeah, your comment made sense. No worries πŸ™‚

      • so maybe I would put them in a movie where there plane crashes onto an island and they have to survive with uhhhh conflicts from uhhh no no no how about they are on a speed boat and are captured by pirates on the coast of Madagascar and they take Winslet and so DiCaprio and Ruffalo have to team up to rescue them becasue the local authorities are being paid by the pirates aha idk

        • Yeah… I haven’t seen Revolutionary Road yet… it’s good then, I take it?
          Ha ha pirates. I approve. And Winslet would be trying to escape the pirates, and DiCaprio and Ruffalo would be trying to rescue her, and eventually they would both succeed. So then Ruffalo and DiCaprio would be captured by pirates and Winslet would be trying to save them. It could be a comedy with rescuing and pirates.
          Someone should make this movie lol πŸ™‚

  5. I really liked it! I was actually surprised by it, I had never heard of it but I had to watch it for my existentialist essay. That may just be my favorite performance from Leo. I can’t believe the man doesn’t have an Oscar! I was going to mention it to you that you should watch it because I’ve noticed in your reviews you talk about character developments & emotions. That is something that thrives in R.R. I was going to eventually to mention it to you because I know you’re busy and have other stuff to watch but that movie and 500 Days are two films I think you’d really like πŸ™‚

    YUUSSS! That would be grand… I think I know two people in mind who could bring that to reality ;D

    • Wow that’s really impressive. Must check it out then. My personal favorite of Leo’s (that I’ve seen) is Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Though I think he’s always good πŸ™‚ He does need an Oscar, that is true. I’m hoping for him to get one for The Wolf of Wall Street myself. I’m very excited for that movie!!!
      But yes character development and emotions are both good. I wish I had more time to watch all of these!

  6. I actually haven’t seen The Aviator yet! I do need to though! and yes! ahaha that movie looks like it’s going to be great, since I’ve seen revolutionary road all I want for every movie he’s in his for him to get pissed off and yell aha Django was satisfying for me πŸ™‚ Shoot if only video stores were still around we could pull a Tarantino and watch allllll the movies

    • I know that would literally be my dream job. That would be so much fun. And every time some one checks out a video I could talk to them about it!! Fun times. If only video stores still existed, ha ha.
      But The Aviator is really good. That was actually the first Scorsese film I ever saw. Leo doesn’t really yell THAT much (I’m sure he yells) but he does go crazy at the end and it’s pretty awesome. And sad.

  7. YES! I love talking to people about movies they just saw or if we have common movie interest it’s the best so I could only imagine a video store aha LETS BRING IT BACK!
    Ahhhh I see! Well next time I see it on tv or in the store I’ll def have to check it out! ^.^

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s