The story begins with its main Character, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) alongside his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo)—two federal marshals—about to embark on an island housed to the criminally insane and its caretakers. The reason for their visit is simple: to investigate the disappearance of one of Shutter Island’s patients, Rachel Solanda, whose disappearance occurred several hours prior to their visit. Teddy and Chuck encounter several problems, mainly due to an uncooperative medical staff that hinder their progress; the prime culprit being John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the head psychiatrist, responsible for the daily going-ons on Shutter Island. While Teddy and Chuck persist in finding the truth about Solanda, the movie uncovers teddy’s true, ulterior motive, which, suffice to say sets the stage for twists galore.
What Shutter Island does remarkably well is it invokes a harshness of reality on its viewers. Teddy is a frightened man whose psyche, marred by a haunting past, is under constant torment by the reminiscence of his dead wife. His dreams are opaque and muddled with uncertainties. While he believes his wife’s death was caused by an apartment fire, his nightmares paint a different picture; we get the sense that his own reality is the result of a distorted truth; a truth the movie tries painstakingly to keep at bay. The other characters serve to merely pervade Teddy’s delusions. Chuck, his partner, is seldom helpful. When he is, his loyalty is suspect. The movie reminds us repeatedly that Teddy has no friends and shouldn’t trust anyone. The wards and psychiatrists seem to go about their daily tasks without outwardly trying to impede Teddy’s quest for the truth.
The real story isn’t about Teddy’s quest, however; it is about Teddy. Throughout the movie, I felt compelled by his character more than the story itself. Here was a man, fraught with frailties who may succumb to them at any moment. The movie also gives us a glimpse of several realities inextricably linked with one another. As Teddy tries to unravel the secrets of Shutter Island (and his past), we, the audience begin to suspect that the truth is constantly eluding him. It shows us that the truth is just an illusion and only illustrates what we make of it.
The direction was fantastic and the cinematography helped create an atmosphere palpable to any movie of its kind. However, while riveting, there were latent periods where the movie seemed drawn out. On a personal level, I feel that Scorcese’s focus on grotesque visuals undermined the movie’s message about a personal quest for solidarity. There was simply too much focus on visuals and not enough on character depth. The movie’s dialogue and delivery, apart from Di Caprio’s, was sub-par compared to previous Scorcese instalments (Raging Bull, The aviator), but I feel the script was mostly to blame on that account. Apart from its shortcomings, however, I felt Shutter Island to be thought-provoking, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. If you are a fan of Scorcese, this movie will not disappoint.