Harry had written to Scorsese to see if we could get this film, and this was apparently something of a personal struggle, as writing to one of the gods of film well ought to be. He knew the letter needed to be short, because, as he told us, "[Scorsese's] answer would be." As it turned out, Scorsese loved the idea of what we were doing and loved the lineup that preceded his film, with one exception. He wanted Harry to screen The Red Shoes before his film instead. So, after a couple of exchanges, because the change would add 40 minutes to an already tight program, Harry finally asked himself why he was arguing with Martin Scorsese and stopped. Knowing that Martin Scorsese programmed a film at BNAT fills me with immeasurable joy.
Shutter Island is not what you think it is (unless, of course, you've read the Dennis Lehane novel on which it is based). I was expecting an exploration of psychological horror, along the lines of Scorsese's earlier Cape Fear (which is actually one of my favorites of his). Oh, and with the super-creepy setting of a mental institution. Seriously, there is nothing that frightens me more than insane asylums.
But the movie is very different from what I thought. It starts as a missing patient mystery, and I got some distinct Wicker Man vibes, possibly in part because I'd been thinking about that film recently, hoping (and ultimately failing) to get a post about it up in time for the Final Girl Film Club. I don't even know that I'd call this film a horror film. There are definitely frightening elements, and there's a certain "haunted house" feel to it. But though the island is inhabited by the criminally insane, they don't really pose that much of a threat. There are several twists and turns in the story, much like The Prisoner (as
Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are U.S. Marshalls called to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando, who is in the institution for killing all three of her children. The two of them don't get very far with the other patients and the hospital staff before things start to look incredibly fishy. It turns out that Teddy specifically took the case because he wanted to look into the disturbing medical practices the place was involved with. There are lies on top of lies on top of lies, people are not who they say they are, and you're never really sure who's telling the truth and what's real. All you know is for God's sake don't smoke their cigarettes.
I have to say a word about Leonardo DiCaprio here. I have long been a fan (not to be confused with fangirl) of his, and I've been interested in the choices he's made as an actor, especially in his now fairly long-standing artistic relationship with Martin Scorsese. I'm going to step up and say that I think his work here is a career best so far. At times frighteningly intense, and at others deeply moving. There's a moment near the end where he completely loses it, and I was so afraid that it was going to cause some laughter, because it's one of those moments that, through no fault of the actor, could just hit the audience wrong. Thank goodness it didn't, because it's one of the most heart-shattering things I've ever seen from an actor. Amazing.
I will join the throng of BNAT-ers who've said that if you spoil this movie you should be locked in a cell with Jackie Earle Haley so that he can rip your face off. I hate even saying that it's a highly spoilable movie, because that's a kind of spoiler in and of itself, you know? Now that I've seen it all the way through, though, I can't wait to see it again with the full knowledge of what's going on. Great, great movie, and a wonderful addition to the BNAT lineup.