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Shutter Island - Are you nuts?
Shutter Island – Are you nuts?

Shutter Island, the new Scorsese movie with Leonardo di Caprio is one scary movie. Any movie involving the mentally ill always is; the line dividing us and insanity always being so thin, a veil, which we can so easily find ourselves on the other side of. Our grip on reality is so light, a feather’s touch. It’s like the magic trick with the coin - it was there when you closed your fist but is it still there? So with reality, maybe it’s there maybe not.

The island, the lighthouse, the usual symbols of loneliness and isolation (madness is such a lonely place). But the lighthouse is also a symbol of hope, a hope to save others, and the hope for to see the light.

The film conveys well this constant feeling of hysteria – am I ever going to get off this island? Personally, I don’t like horror movies. I don’t get them. I don’t mind gory movies, or startling movies (like Scream), but these movies which keep you in constant fear from beginning to end, I don’t like that feeling. They can be very good movies, like Hide and Seek with De Niro (the icnonic Scorsese actor) which people didn’t understand but was a brilliant movie, but what’s the point? Why do people like feeling this constant sensation of fear?

Before saying a few words about the plot, and spoilers, as a review of the movie let me just say that Leonardo is his usual great. He holds the movie together and seems to be Scorsese replacement for De Niro with his sane-insane look. Obviously great photography (the Auschwitz images are strange as they could have only come from a non-Jewish director). I guess I’d recommend going, but because it’s a good movie, not because I like the feelings such movies bring up.

SPOILER ALERT – Please don’t read this part until after having seen this film. You DON’T want to go to the film while knowing anything of the plot. Are you nuts?

I wanted here to turn your attention to the constant phrase his wife tells him: “If you don’t let me go you will never leave here.” That’s nice. He understands he needs to acknowledge the past and let her go but he can’t. The movie is about the last line:  “Do you want to live as a monster or die as a good man?” He prefers not to acknowledge the past, he prefers to die with the allusion of being a good man, than face the monster, face the monster that is himself. It’s an interesting defense mechanism, and an interesting choice. At the end the movie shows us a strong image of a psychological character.

Perhaps the tour-de-force of the movie is how we never question Di Caprio's sanity. Like him, we are sure he is sane and everyone around him is lying. It shows well our belief in our own sanity. (On the other hand, the others were playing with him.)

I’m not sure all the details add up, and I’m definitely not sure there isn’t a much deeper meaning that I need to think about, but Scorsese is not so much about meaning but about sensations. That sensation he wants to transfer, that sensation transfers well here. In that, it’s a smart movie. It's a scary one too, especially afterwards.
Films Discussed
Shutter Island

Hey Arthur,
I just saw this last night, packed house. It was a pretty intense experience. I definitely recommend the movie, though I also hope anybody who's scrolled past all the spoiler alerts above has already seen it.

I think it gives a really interesting picture of how the mind works. How we suppress things from our past which resurface, and the kinds of surprising and distorted forms these take. How other people play roles for us. In the movie this is done intentionally, "as a test," but in real life I think it's something people get other people to do for them all the time. Think of a girl who wants guys to play the mean lover so she can work out her bizarre issues with men, etc. etc. Or a guy who just happens to have a certain effect on women -- they were nice with everybody else, but the moment they start dating him, out comes the nagging and the distance. Sure it's their own free will. But there's a major trauma in his past involving his mother acting this way, so somehow time after time he manages to get other adults to play this role for him.
Even the bits like drowning, water, etc which could have been a cliched way of thinking about the unconscious were pretty brilliantly done, I thought.

So, amazing film, but heavy, and certainly not a date movie in my opinion. Take somebody who can cheer you up afterwards.
I'm right up there in your attitude towards movies of this genre, Arthur. Which is why I was really glad that I ran across the graphic novel while having 30 minutes to kill. From your spoiler, it seems that it's follows the movie pretty closely. I tend towards thinking about movies as myths, "What are they trying to teach me about my own life?" If it's a well-done movie, it's usually way after that I can start thinking about it like that. When the movie is not engaging enough so that my critic/witness starts engaging with me, then it's an ongoing interior dialogues.

With "Shutter Island" I keep coming back to, "How is my life like that of Teddy?" Or, "What am I insisting on that may not be so?" As he is defining his world as the result of how he is interpreting his relationship or acts in his relationship, how do I do that? How do I use what is happening in my primary relationship to color reality? It's a scary fucking thought. And useful. Useful in that I can sometimes remind myself that how I am feeling/interpreting may not have anything to do with what is happening here and now but the results of what happened earlier in the day.

One of my ongoing areas-of-work is my current relationship to adult men, as friends, acquaintances, and wave of the hand in greeting. Enough to say that my childhood relationship with my father was "strained". It is a struggle to identify my desire to pull away, out of relationship with them, as something from my interpretations of my past, rather than, "This is just the way it is." Walking around in a delusional world.

I had one of those vivid, can't-tell-that-it's-a-dream, dreams a while back in which something happened that triggered the memories that I had killed someone, hidden the body, and walled off the memory. I woke up, and in that half-in, half-out place, wondered if there were any walled off places in my "nondream" life. How would you/me ever know? As a counselor, I witness "forgotten" things coming to consciousness all the time.

It feels weird to play with the idea that this is all a fabrication. Drove myself to some really strange and scary places doing that while under the influence in my younger days.
Arthur, thanks for the review. What do you mean "the [Dachau?] images are strange as they could have only come from a non-Jewish director"? I also felt they were a bit aestheticized, but would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Kraye, nice to read your post.  "It feels weird to play with the idea that this is all a fabrication." Indeed -- I can feel the edge of that feeling writing this. At the same time, I suspect that it is our modern vocabulary with its straight jacketed insistence on the "real" which makes these boundaries so dangerous. We have no language to acknowledge them without conjuring up a very real threat. 

The ancient world, for instance, had a different conceptual vocabulary. This involved, among other things, disguise, metamorphosis and the fabulous. Which would make things very different.
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