A Martin Scorsese movie is always an event. He is a master storyteller and a great student of the art of motion pictures.
But “Shutter Island” is mostly a departure for him. It’s not a mob movie, but a psychological thriller set in 1954.
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are U.S. marshals on a ferry ride to Shutter Island – home to Ashecliffe Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane. Teddy took the assignment for personal reasons, but the job is to investigate the disappearance of a patient who killed her children.
This hospital is like most facilities of this kind: filled with all manner of strange characters that have done horrible acts of violence. Stranger still is the staff of the hospital. There is Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley), the bow-tie-wearing chief administrator. He is a bit of a maverick in this field; he believes talk therapy is the way to help those in the throes of psychosis. Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow) is a German psychiatrist who gets under Teddy’s skin.
Teddy is a veteran of the European theater of World War II, where he saw the horrors of the concentration camps. He is haunted by dreams of what he saw. His disdain for Dr. Naehring is based on his hatred for the Nazis and their cruelty.
Teddy has also been damaged by the death of his wife in an apartment fire. Dolores (Michelle Williams) walks through his dreams and calls to him. She is why he has taken the assignment.
The man who set the apartment building on fire is a patient at the hospital. Teddy wants to find him. He says he doesn’t want to kill him, only talk to him. Teddy’s violent ways, however, make one wonder if he is telling the truth.
Teddy learned the man responsible for his wife’s death is there because he met a person released from the hospital, George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley), who tells Teddy about him. He also tells Teddy about experiments performed on the patients and how the whole place is funded by money from the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Many people will find this movie upsetting. Some will walk out unfulfilled and dissatisfied, saying the movie is hollow and rings false.
Some will be upset by the fact that the movie calls us to question our own sanity. It’s full of twists and turns, with things happening to make you wonder if they are what they purport to be. When it is done, you may feel like you have been on the greatest roller coaster of your life.
Scorsese is at the top of his craft here. Delivering suspense and intrigue akin to Hitchcock, he gives us a vision not seen in movies for decades.
The universe of “Shutter Island” is one where storms rage and wipe away barriers meant to hem in haunting thoughts. The monster here is as unsettling as any created for the screen, but we don’t know it until the end.
The whole cast gives laudable performances, but DiCaprio shines brightest. This is a complex role, one that requires a vast array of emotion. DiCaprio hits every mark and makes the audience know each facet of Teddy Daniels’ life. The pain of his loss, his anger at the Nazis, the fire of determination to find the truth all are expressed without cliché.
If you like a movie with twists and turns, like a roller coaster, this is the movie for you. But be warned: The trip to “Shutter Island” might make you long to return. For like any masterpiece, it requires a second viewing to see all the nuanced brushstrokes of the artist.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis (based on the novel by Dennis LeHane)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio: Teddy Daniels; Mark Ruffalo: Chuck Aule; Michelle Williams: Dolores; Ben Kingsley: Dr. Crawley; Max Von Sydow: Dr. Naehring; Jackie Earle Haley: George Noyce.
The movie’s official Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.