My father once gave me some very interesting advice. He told me to practice wearing a suit. He even relayed his own adventures to me of semi-regularly setting out for such practice to what cultural hot spots were available to a young man in the bustle that was Crosby, Minnesota circa 1950-ish. It may not sound like much, but it is advice that I have translated to nearly everything in life, and it has served me well. Nothing stands out more than the one guy in the room who has never worn a suit before, and whether you’re going to a 5-star restaurant, a punk rock concert, a wine tasting, or a monster truck rally, sometimes you don’t want to look like the guy who has no business being there. It may be a stretch from, “practice wearing a suit,” but the truth is, if you’re not at least fairly familiar with most everything, you’re not going to be very good at anything.
There are a few things we learn in the most recent Scorsese-DiCaprio venture, Shutter Island based on this general idea, ranging from the simple flaws to the grand ones, and they come together as the main problem in what turns out to be a boring, silly bit of self-indulgent nonsense.
Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, doesn’t wear a hat. You might even suspect that he’d never really had the concept of hats explained to him before. He’s also never smoked. Few things have been filmed that came off more ludicrously false. There are numerous such examples to be found in Shutter Island, but the big one is that Martin Scorsese is not familiar with psychological thrills and trickery.
Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and newly assigned partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are making their way by ferry to a mental institution on a creepy island near Boston. Federal Marshalls, the pair are going to investigate the disappearance of an inmate. A straight-forward enough idea to start us off, but things seem very strange once we get to the island. There doesn’t seem to be any way this inmate could have escaped, there isn’t anywhere for her to go, and the people running the joint look to have a lot of secrets. It doesn’t take a serious case of paranoia to lean toward the idea that something funny is going on at this fortress of a mental prison/hospital.
As we toil along (and believe me, that’s what we do), we discover that Teddy struggles with his past by way of his wife’s death, and his time in the war. Soon he begins to have some very strange dreams, hallucinations, and before you know it the game is not so much exposing whatever is happening on this creepy island, but finding a way to get off it.
There is some interesting interplay between Teddy and the head psychologist, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), that make things somewhat interesting, and we are forced back and forth in our interpretation of events here and there, but the thing drags and much of it exists merely because it thinks it’s fabulously clever. Many scenes that are curious, frustrating, and even seemingly nonsensical, are only there because at the end you are meant to think, “Ahhh… I see why that happened like that now,” but these are jockeying for position in your mind with as many events that don’t make any sense at all when you get there. Worse, you really don’t care.
It seems that the film actually makes little play for a conclusion, or its “answer,” and is instead working itself up to be the kind of feature that, if nothing else, will have people enjoying the ride. It is clearly the kind of construction that is after quotes like, “A suspenseful thrill ride!” But, there is little suspense when nothing makes sense, and there aren’t any thrills. It goes on so long, and takes such elaborate, convoluted steps to get from A to Z (instead of just going to maybe C or D), that you hardly have any hope of letting yourself go for a ride, because you’re barely in before you are simply thinking that you know some donkey twist is coming. It’s a turn of audience ability that some filmmakers apparently just don’t get, but you simply aren’t invested in what’s happening when you know full well that whatever’s happening isn’t what’s happening. As Shyamalan eventually figured out, it’s hard to get a lot of response from a theater filled with people whose interest-level is only, “Fine, what’s the gag this time?”
You hope not to be too influenced by public reaction, but when an abnormally loud, collective, “WTF,” surrounds you as the credits start to roll, it’s pretty hard to ignore. Especially when you find yourself inclined to just use that as your entire review.
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