Woe be to anyone who has to set a scene in an insane asylum.
By now we're all thoroughly immunized to the idea that the guy in theNapoleon hat makes so much sense maybe society is the crazyone. Besides, modern treatment is way boring. We don't have theskull-drills anymore. The dunking vats (which in typical governmentcheapness probably doubled as witch-testers). Electroshock has beenrevived, but that's turns out it's a good thing.
Modern treatment seems limited to pills, pills and more pills, andthat's hardly dramatic when a loony bin's pharmacological intake isn'tany heavier than your average classroom of second graders. What's awriter to do? Set his story in the asylum's grimmer past, duh, like inthe adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island.
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Federal Marshal Leonardo DiCaprio and new partner, Mark Ruffalo, havebeen dispatched to Shutter Island, home of a treatment center for thecriminally insane. One of the patients has gone missing, vanished fromher cell without a trace.
But it's as if chief psychiatrist Ben Kingsley doesn't want her found.The staff are uncooperative or unavailable. The other patients havebeen coached. It isn't until an island-battering hurricane sets manyof the inmates free that DiCaprio's able to clue in to an apparentgovernment conspiracy to turn inmates into super soldiers.
Shutter Island is a tough one to talk about. I can't talk aboutthe ending without giving it away, and if I did that and also existedin a hypothetical reality where I was ever recognized, I would have towear a bag over my head to stop getting punched in the face by angrytheatergoers. But pretty soon people would wise up and start punchingthe bag-headed guy instead, so really I'd have to invest in some sortof spiked football helmet. Point is, a lot of the movie can only betalked about within the context of that not-talkaboutable ending!What's a spoiler-averse guy supposed to do?
Well...talk about the rest of the flick, I guess. Which is awesome,from the gorgeous cinematography to DiCaprio's raw performance, whichrecaptures his simmering anger in The Departed whileapproaching it from the perspective of a man wracked by his ownmemories.
Those memories are shown in flashbacks and dreams, bright and graphicand surreal sequences of dying Nazis and the dead spilling frominternment camps. Normally, I hate dream sequences — either they make nosense or their logic is forced and artificial. They're mostly a cheaptrick to drum up suspense or atmosphere the movie doesn't deserve.
Director Martin Scorsese uses these dreams as more than tricks. Theydefinitely build atmosphere — it's soon so thick you'd think you couldflap your arms and lift right off the ground — but his dreams build tothat big ending, too, slipping vital pills of back story into thejuicy visual steak of burning wives and flopping Nazi commanders. IfScorsese directed my dreams, I'd eat nothing but Ambien and NyQuil.And key lime pie because that shit is delicious.
In the hands of just about anyone else, Shutter Island wouldhave been a mess. Between the dreams, DiCaprio's interviews with crazypeople and a convoluted conspiracy, it should have coagulated intoone thick stew of "who the hell cares."
Then you've got an ending that's nearly impossible to get right.Masterfully as Scorsese sets the table for his loopy conclusion, it'sstill going to leave a lot of people feeling confused and cheated. Iwanted it to turn out differently, too.
Too bad for me. What I got instead was cohesive, driving and disturbing — a film I wanted to seeagain the moment it faded to black.