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Shutter Island: Inception for the waking mind

Shortly after the release of Titanic I wrote Leonardo DiCaprio off as just another teen heart-throb, and The Beach seemed to support this theory. Then along came Gangs of New York and suddenly the dreamboat was a stone cold dramatic actor.
Fast forward to 2010 and we find DiCaprio in two spot on performances. I saw Inception in the theater but only just saw Shutter Island when it came to Netflix this week.


The plot starts out simple enough, DiCaprio and a fellow U. S. Marshall are sent to an island prison in Boston Harbor for violent mental patients that makes Alcatraz look like Grand Central Station. They are charged with locating a missing patient that seems to have vanished into thin air.
The action is set in 1954, and DiCaprio’s character has frequent flashbacks to his service in WWII and the liberation of Dachau. These give the movie a distinct Inception feel as they become more intense along the way. In fact, there are a number of things that bring the summer blockbuster to mind.
Both Cobb and the Marshall have lost their wives. Not only has each man failed to find closure, but the memory of each woman interferes with their work.
While Inception confuses the lines between dreams and reality early, Shutter Island’s blurring increases as the movie progresses. The confusion is on the part of the audience as we try to work out the mystery of the island. Inception instead uses confusion to introduce the audience to the premise.
Unfortunately the greatest similarity between the two is a major spoiler, but if you have seen both films and want to discuss it just ask me in the comments and I would be happy to detail it there.
In the end Inception has more action and more closely follows the formula for a summer blockbuster, but it is Shutter Island that will keep you on your toes mentally.
I am always a sucker for psychological thrillers. A Beautiful Mind and Silence of the Lambs are two of my all time favorite movies. There is something to be said for the twisting and turning mind puzzles that some brave director decides to take at what seems like 10 year intervals. When I heard Guy Ritchie was making a new Sherlock Holmes I had high hopes, but for some reason Ritchie took it in a Hollywood Blockbuster direction. Maybe if my other favorite British director, Edgar Wright, had tackled it we would have had a proper tribute to the greatest fictional sleuth of all time. Shutter Island, on the other hand, is a psych thriller that fails to disappoint. Director Martin Scorcesse weaves the storyline and flashbacks together to form a twisting and turning tapestry that kept me guessing right up to the end. And I pride myself in being able to discern the plot well before my fellow movie goers, and long before the credits roll.
It is interesting to note that Scorcesse also directed DiCaprio’s first film to earn my respect, Gangs of New York. While it’s true What’s Eating Gilbert Grape featured magnificent performances by both DiCaprio and Johnny Depp, I did not have the pleasure of viewing the older movie until I became a true believer in DiCaprio’s talents. The actor and director seemed to share a love of period films, a love that continues in Shutter Island, though the time period plays a much more subdued role than in the pair’s other period pieces such as Aviator. In fact, only a couple of minor details would need to be rewritten in order to bring the story up to the present time. If the writer were less than careful it could lose some of its impact though. Unfortunately we have not made the strides in psychology that we have in doctoring the rest of the body in the last 60 years. At least we’ve moved away from lobotomy. Shutter Island works just fine set in the early 1950’s either way.
I’ve spent a good deal of time talking about Leo but I would be greatly remissed to neglect Mark Ruffalo. I’ve enjoyed Ruffalo in a number of films, though the only name that comes to mind is House of Sand and Fog. The setting for that particular movie shares the claustrophobic feelings found on Shutter Island. The island itself does an amazing job of adding to the mystery of the events unfolding. No matter how much of the island and its buildings DiCaprio explores there always seems to be more. By the end I felt as though I had seen the island through moments of clarity in an otherwise drug or perhaps sleep induced fog. It was a simply wonderful way of keeping the audience guessing.
The film makes for a great thinker on par with M. Night Shamalyn’s earliest works, but like his later works, in the end all the audience is left with is the twist. Scorcesse seems to be making a vague statement on the value of the individual and personal rights but the message is muddled by a great story. Oh well, who needs a bunch of philosophical soap boxing anyway? I say enjoy this excellent picture for what it is. I think we have all realized the horrors of human experimentation.

Also, Shutter Island, streaming on Netflix right now!

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5 Responses

  1. Williams finds acting liberating…

    Michelle Williams finds acting ‘liberating’. The ‘Blue Valentine’ actress admits she is shy in real life, and performing scenes she would never do in real life is a way of escaping herself. She said: ‘I just find my work very liberating, and I fin…

  2. This may affect my Man Card status, but I have always liked DiCaprio as an actor. Yeah he was a teeny-bopper heartthrob back in the 90’s, but I always looked past that and recognized that he was one of the best young actors around. I was bummed when he didn’t get the Anakin role as rumored. You’re right though, his abilities have grown steadily.

    I really didn’t think the spoilers of the two movies were all that similar below the surface. I in terms of questioning reality, they are similar, but Shutter Island’s ending clearly defined what was going on: Andrew Laeddis decides to be lobotomized. Inception’s ending was open to interpretation—my wife and I came away with completely opposing theories. Both are great movies though and highly rewatchable!

    • I don’t think we can give you too much grief for being able to look past the teen sensationalism and see that DiCaprio was in fact a good actor. Man, how much different the new trilogy would have been with DiCaprio and GASP! real emotion.
      I have to disagree with the endings though. After weighing the facts in Deception I think there is only one conclusion you could come to. Based on a number of factors in addition to the still spinning top it’s clear Cobb is still dreaming and it’s equally clear that he just doesn’t care anymore. He wants to be with his family as he remembers them.

  3. He was totally awake, Enosh WRONG!

    • Haha. I just don’t see how you could say that.

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