Even in his worst days, Martin Scorsese is an artist worthy of scholarship.
In a career defined by dramas like angry bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Freedmen, Scorsese’s few forays into the genre, such as horror, are always accompanied by an immaculate veneer marked by elaborate, almost dreamlike staging. Cape fear, Scorsese’s 1991 horror about a freed status rapist who stalks a teenage girl, contains many stylistic nods to classic Universal monster movies. Note the horn section of the orchestra and the consciously designed lighting under Robert De Niro in one of the film’s most remarkable visuals.
Almost 20 years later, Scorsese has returned to dark fiction in a twisty pulp psychological thriller. It’s probably not among Scorsese’s best works – which is quite relative when you’re talking about a work that also contains Taxi driver and the wolf of Wall Street – but if it was anyone other than Scorsese behind the camera, it would be a career-defining masterpiece.
A few months before Christopher Nolan Creation asked Leonardo DiCaprio to question his reality and begged his audience to do the same with his ambiguous ending, Scorsese unleashed shutter island, and this is the movie you need to stream before it leaves Netflix January 31.
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In shutter island, DiCaprio stars as U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels, a World War II Army veteran still haunted by what he saw during the liberation of Dachau. With a new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Edward investigates the case of a missing patient at Ashecliffe Hospital, an insane facility on the remote island of Shutter Island.
Run by Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the facility has a reputation for taking in the most dangerous patients and using the most radical treatments to cure them – or so they claim. It doesn’t take long before Edward suspects something loathsome in Ashecliffe’s heart. Meanwhile, the man who killed his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), is a patient in the hospital, which only means Edward has other reasons to be here, in a remote place where the sunny days are as lush, warm and green as its stormy weather can be brutal and unforgiving.
Released in February 2010, it’s hard to say what counts as a “spoiler” or not. I will be delicate; the movie always works best when you know little about its “twist” ending (if it hasn’t spoiled you already). All the same, shutter island is an elegant masterpiece from a master stylist and worth watching for Scorsese’s craftsmanship alone. (A word of praise should also be dedicated to cinematographer and frequent Scorsese collaborator Robert Richardson, whose color choices tell as much of a story as screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis’ script and Scorsese’s direction.)
Working on a screenplay by Kalogridis, the IMDB of which has covered the gamut since 2001 grave robber to the latest Netflix Altered carbon (and currently the anime adaptation by Netflix Sword Art Online), Scorsese delivers a cheerfully grimy noir that flirts with the surreal. Many times, DiCaprio’s Edward (also nicknamed “Teddy”) enters an impossible dreamscape full of opposite meanings. In one memorable instance, Edward finds his beloved wife turning to ash and running water in his hands as a raging fire surrounds her.
These elements play an indelible role throughout Shutter Island. No spoilers yet, but Edward’s life (at least what the film tells us) is marked by the wrath of the elements. Death by drowning and arson are all part of Teddy’s story, and it is still that way on Shutter Island. It is a strong storm that keeps him anchored in a cursed place, it is the violent oceans that sicken him, and it is fire that ultimately leads him to the truth, both through an enigmatic antagonist ( Max Von Sydow) which is shown seated in front of a fireplace and much later an exploding car.
I won’t dwell on the exact details of the “twist”, but I will commend it for being the archetype of shutter islandthe inspirations of paper pulp from the beginning of the 20th century. It’s as if Scorsese had developed a taste for the mystery section of Barnes & Noble. And that’s not a bad thing. Smart Reddit alecks may deem the ending weak – and it’s pretty telegraphed and obvious from the start if you’re paying close attention – but that doesn’t negate the work that makes up the rest of the film. And the work is hard.
shutter island is not Scorsese’s best; it’s halfway through the director’s prolific work. But mid-level Scorsese is still Scorsese. There’s more artistry, intrigue and sense-activation than the latest money laundering scheme masked as a Netflix Original. (Netflix isn’t streaming this in 4K, but find a copy of this movie in that format and you’ll almost feel the film’s abundant rain, wind, and dirt yourself.) Just like its characters, you can never leave. shutter island behind. You can turn off the movie, but there will still be a part of you still there.
shutter island is streaming on Netflix until January 31.