Thursday 3 October 2013

Shutter Island (2010)

A twin delight of writing The Penciltonian and having access to Netflix is that I'm able to catch up on some of the big movies everybody else seems to have seen at The Cinema.  Since I'm not immensely sociable, and since movie theatres are unappealing for dozens of reasons, I've managed to miss almost all the blockbusters of the last half-decade, so I had ample choice for 2010's movie.  I left the choice up to Saskia, since she worked in a cinema at the time, and she picked 'Shutter Island', as I said I knew nothing about it, nothing at all.

Apparently complete ignorance is a good starting-point for this film, so if you think you'd like to watch it (and it is very good) I'd skip the rest of my comments, though I intend to say little and spoil less.  I knew only that it was set on an island.

So Leonardo DiCaprio is a detective, ferried into an island asylum for the criminally insane, there to investigate an implausible disappearance.  This much is clear in the first ten minutes, and it's really all I need to talk about.  It's a fine, attention-grabbing set-up for a film, and he's an actor I quite enjoy.  I was wary of the whole 'island of insane criminals' concept, but once Sir Ben Kingsley turns up as a quiet, intense, but generally agreeable psychiatrist we get a decent discussion of medical and surgical responses to the island's prisoners and patients (this being 1954, and the age of needless brain-surgery) and his own preferred method, the talking cure.  The mentally ill prisoners are shown to be irrational, sometimes unpredictable and in some circumstances dangerous, but for once they aren't presented to us as monsters.

I'm rather pleased to have discovered so recent a film about crime and psychiatry, as it's a pair of themes that are often coupled in the movies.  From pictures I've seen this year, 'Das Testament des Dr Mabuse' (1933) and 'Der Cabinet des Dr Caligari' (1920) both tell of murderous psychiatrists who dwell within their asylums, and 'Häxan' (1922) ends with a familiar discussion of whether institutionalising our eccentrics is really much of a move up from burning them to death.  'The Island of Lost Souls' (1932) also leapt to mind, since it too begins with a hero on a boat to a dangerous island ruled by a doctor, his guards and patients.  Its a pity I didn't make room for Hitchcock's 'Spellbound' (1945), which popularised all the common psychiatrist stereotypes while telling a tale of a murder investigation.  Cinema has taught us to be immensely suspicious of psychiatrists, and this film spends a long while asking us, and DiCaprio's detective, what we should make of Sir Ben Kingsley and his Germanic colleague Max von Sydow.

What we get is engrossing and rather fascinating, and feels much like a cross between 'The Wicker Man' (1973) and 'The Prisoner' (1967).  Indeed, it does the things that 'The Prisoner' did very much better than that series own 2009 remake, and is, as a result, extremely satisfying and much to my tastes.  If I've one complaint it's that the last few minutes of the climax are too laboriously thorough, telling us something we already know to make sure we get the point.

At the end I discovered this was yet another Martin Scorsese film.  These keep creeping up on me during my Penciltonian viewings, so this one goes on the list with 'Taxi Driver' (1976), 'The Last Temptation of Christ' (1988) and 'Goodfellas' (1990). Only Peter Greenaway and Fritz Lang have lent me so many movies, and I'd be happy to see more by any of 'em.

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