Shutter Island



Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo

Director: Martin Scorsese

Fur Coat

The glamour of moi.

I and my crack team of show doctors managed to whip the script and score of Gypsy into shape in record time, so I was more than ready when summoned to my first rehearsal at the Pacoima Playhouse. As the star in the title role, I arrived wearing my best GlamourPuss Gown (a Rumpleteazer in chartreuse velvet with aqua watered silk bodice panels) and the Blackglama mink I received from my ‘What Becomes a Legend Most?’ photo shoot some years ago.  Sweeping into the auditorium, I prepared myself to greet my colleagues and to talk them through all my improvements which will turn their tired little revival into a stunning theatrical spectacular.  I was a little taken aback to find that the role of Rose, my mother is being portrayed by that has been, Angela Arden, who was involved in some sort of lurid scandal years ago.  I was very disappointed.  If I had known the producers were handing out roles to such C list gutter trash, I would never have agreed to the part.  A quick phone call to Joseph, my manager, revealed that like it or not, my contract is legal and I will have to either play or pay.  I am a great actress.  I shall keep my distaste for her well-hidden.

Angela was not very taken with my rewrites as they sharply reduce her part for more attention to be focused on me, as it should be.  The rest of the cast were more enthusiastic and the producers feel like it might get the show more attention from the press than they might otherwise.  They’re going to pitch it as a radical reconstruction of an American classic and try to get the avant-garde audience to fill the cheap seats.  As we are opening in a week, we had no time to waste and immediately set to work to create a visionary new look at old world vaudeville and burlesque.  We started off with the new second Act dream ballet in which Gypsy imagines various ways of killing her mother (we took the music from All I Need Now Is the Girl as there was no need for a number for such a minor character as Tulsa).  The boiling in oil moment was very tricky with the syncopation and Angela just wasn’t getting it.  She also kept muffing the timing for the guillotine bit which could be a wee bit dangerous.  We may have to use a body double for some of the number.  She was not in good humor when the stage manager announced time and we all headed home.

Normy was busy in his studio finishing his tuba concerto so I retired to the home theater for a little relaxation with a selection of single malt scotches.  I flipped through my to view DVD pile and came across one of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s collaborations, Shutter Island from 2010.  I missed this during its theatrical run as I had been somewhat on ice during that time so I popped it into the player for a view.  Most of the other pairings of star and director have been straightforward crime dramas.  This one is a bit different; it’s a psychological thriller with film noir elements based on a best seller by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the novels on which Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone were based).  It’s a little bit different territory for Scorsese but there’s enough themes and characters close to his usual oeuvre to understand why he was attracted to the material.

The time is 1954.  The place is an island off Boston Harbor, the Shutter Island of the title.  It’s home to Ashecliffe, an asylum for the criminally insane.  As the film opens, we meet Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), a US Marshal heading to the island along with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando.  There they meet the head of the hospital, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who seems to be keeping secrets.   Our heroes start to explore the asylum and its grounds but are told to stay away from the spooky ward C, an old civil war fort, where the most dangerous inmates are kept.  When a tropical storm comes bearing down on the island, communication with the mainland is cut and Chuck disappears while Teddy meets a mysterious woman hiding in a cave who may or may not be the missing Rachel.  Add in troubling rumors of unethical experiments, Teddy’s PTSD flashbacks of his role as a GI in the liberation of a Nazi death camp, patients doing things like writing ‘Run’ in Teddy’s notebook and soon both Teddy and the audience are disoriented as to what is real, what is a psychotic fever dream, and who is playing mind games with whom.  There are more twists and turns and eventually all is explained, or is it?

Scorsese pays homage to the great thriller film makers throughout Shutter Island, with shots and nods to Hitchcock, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, and the better films of M. Night Shyamalan.  He’s a master film maker and his technique is assured and he is skilled at both confusing the viewer and clarifying the murky waters of the various plot twists in his own good time.  He’s aided by Laeta Kalogridis’ literate screenplay adaptation of a complex novel.    Unfortunately, he overdoes it at times with a few too many dizzying shots and too many layers of atmosphere tipping the proceedings over from moody thriller to gothic.  At times, I felt that Leo would have been more comfortable dressed in a voluminous nightie as he runs away across the moors from a tall tower with a light in the topmost window.

I think DiCaprio is miscast as Teddy.  He’s not an introspective enough actor for us to buy all the character transitions that are necessary for the part to work and, because of this, Shutter Island ultimately didn’t work for me the way that it should.  Unfortunately, I can’t think of a marquee name of the right age and type that might have done better.  The young Russell Crowe would have been ideal.  The rest of the cast has less to do but is generally well done.  I was particularly taken with Ruffalo (maybe he and DiCaprio should have switched roles) and with Michelle Williams in a small, but pivotal role.  Ben Kingsley is doing some sort of variation on British mad scientist straight out of an early James Whale film and could have toned it down a bit, as could Max Von Sydow as an aged psychiatric sage.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Shutter Island, but was disappointed in it at the same time.  I kept thinking about how a little more restraint or a different leading man might have led to a more engrossing and satisfying experience.  It’s definitely worth a look, but don’t expect a masterpiece.

Seasickness.  Smoking nurses.  Cliff climbing.  Exploding car.  Mysterious lighthouse.  Gratuitous shower scene.  Multiple anagrams.  Falling trees.  Drowned innocents.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at

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