Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Man on Film: Shutter Island

Apologies all, I really did see this roughly when I said I was going to but have been unable to get around to this until now.

Now as frequent Pricksters are aware, I actually read the book earlier in the week, so I came at this from a personally unusual standpoint. It is very rare that I actually read books that are adapted into films. I can safely say I have never read the book within a period of time in which most of my memories of the book are anything more than vague recollections of something that may have happened.

This was not the case here, obviously.

It is probably best to first touch on my feelings about the film independent of how it compared to the book.

In Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese has crafted an impressive technical film. Much like in Gangs of New York, the sets are fantastic, especially Ward C, which looks fantastic. His vision of Shutter Island and the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane is absolutely fully realized. Robert Richardson's cinematography (aside from the storm scene in the cemetery) is also magnificent, and these two elements combine to make a beautiful film. Then there is the cast consisting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Ted Levine, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, and more, all of whom predictably hit all of their marks. DiCaprio makes you wish that he only worked with Scorsese (or at least not ever with Ed Zwick). Ruffalo is perfect as usual.

Now, if you haven't read the book or seen the film, I would highly suggest that you not read any further. There will be SPOILERS ahead...

You have been warned.

As far as the narrative is concerned, Scorsese's Shutter Island is definitely lacking in comparison to Lehane's Shutter Island. Much of the thrust of this narrative is fueled by the seeds of doubt that are gradually planted regarding our protagonist's sanity. Unfortunately for the audience, just about any and all suspense is absent in this film is gone. Yes, one is driven to wonder what is going on to a certain extent, but the clues a dropped on the audience with the subtlety of an anvil. The perspective of Teddy Daniels is not adequately solidified as sane to then be undermined. Without that turnabout, the twist is not a twist; it's just a wrinkle.

And this is where the book plays better than the film. Lehane diligently goes about forging a bond between Teddy and his new partner Chuck. He imbues Chuck with a magnetic personality and traits plausible in a Marshal. He fleshes out Teddy's backstory, fills it with detail after detail that makes him seem more like a man and not an alterego. He adds more layers to the conspiracy, but layers that lend credence to Teddy's quest.

In the film, there is no laying of groundwork. Teddy's story and mission lacks the credibility that it has in the novel. Without that foundation, the structure of the film is a lot more fragile, the reveals are foretold in neon, and the twist is telegraphed. The instant Dr. Sheehan is said to have gone on vacation the audience knows what is really going on. Once that load-bearing card in this precarious house of cards is removed, the entire house comes crashing down.

It isn't that Scorsese's Shutter Island is bad. It is visually arresting and impeccably cast, but the screenplay is lacking something fierce in the way of subterfuge, and the narrative is lacking as a result.


Tim Fox said...

Im curious to think what you would have thought about the movie if you haven't read the book first. I thought it was awesome, the movie I mean. Totally tricked by Scorcesse, and that is what I loved about it. From the beginning of the movie I thought that Leonardo was actually a patient and ironically as the movie went on and the crazier his theories were, I thought there was something else going on and he wasn't. Nevermind the fact that there was nazi/russian experiments and giving mind-alterring drugs through cigarettes and he was meeting a strange woman that constantly hid on this island in different caves...I still believed that Leonardo was part of a conspiracy. I was so manipulated and loved it. Really interested in reading the book now especially if there is so much detail about Ruffalo. Also, the whole cinematography/music reminded me of David Lynch/Kubrick.

Old Man Duggan said...

I definitely wouldn't say that I didn't like the film, but Jackie was turning to me early on and pointing out all the tells without missing once. It seemed like she knew what was going on with ease, which led me to believe that I'd be feeling the same way. I highly encourage you to read the book regardless because Lehane is great.

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