Animadversion: Shutter Island – Review by Kamran Jawaid and Farheen Jawaid

correction appended, re-edited version of the review printed in iMAGES, Saturday, 27 Feb, 2010


Stranded in an Island of Mind Games and Ghost Women

By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid

Shutter Island is the new gothic-drama-thriller from director Martin Scorsese, and from its first scene (where a dejected ferry cuts through a dense ocean-fog), clamps firmly into a sense of dreaded clam and doesn’t let go until the closing credits.

Juggling a complex, and at times over-amplified, fusion of filmmaking variants, Shutter Island is about a missing woman from a fortified sanitarium for the criminally insane. The sanitarium, guarded by steep cliffs and crushed greenery is located in a quarantined island, which also strands two federal Marshals. One Marshal, played by Leonardo DiCaprio – returning to his Bostonian accent from The Departed, his earlier collaboration with Scorsese – is reliably traumatized by the ghost of his dead wife; the other one, played by Mark Ruffallo, we barely have time think about. But that is because Martin Scorsese doesn’t want us to, yet.

The movie, which dives in and out of excessiveness at times, is a self-effacing spectacle. It carefully and sometimes brusquely bumps up its pace with frenetic direction, gray, anxious settings (by production designer Dante Ferretti, which includes a downcast crunch of black color in post-production) and expeditious edits (by Scorsese’s longtime collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker).

Set in 1954 the motives slingshots between historical, political and legit medical reasoning. This authenticity adds to the conflict and chaos, whose recipient is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels.

All of DiCaprio’s recent role-plays are weighed-down and subjugated by conflicting emotional turmoil – and this is specially the case in all of his Scorsese’s collaborations. If his Teddy seems detached to the audience in the first half of Shutter Island, it is because he is. His emotional void is an intentional vacuum, which is perhaps as vivid as his recurring daytime (and at times open eyed) nightmares about his bizarre looking dead wife – Dolores (Michelle Williams) – who was killed by a pyromaniac. This pyromaniac might be somewhere on this island. Possibly in one of the three blocks of the hospital.

But this is just one of the reasons why Teddy’s here. His main duty is to investigate a patient – Rachel Solando, played by both Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson – who disappeared, like whiff, from her tiny guarded room. Rachel was here because she murdered and then drowned her three children (one of which, a brown haired girl, keeps popping up in Teddy’s delusions).

Then are cryptic whispers about mind-altering drugs, and a hidden 67th patient (the hospital only has 66 registered patients).

Shutter Island is based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel, which I presume it would be as ingeniously structured as its adaptation by Laeta Kalogridis.

For some, its execution might be formulaic and trepid. A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune on their movie review show At the Movies label Shutter Island as “junky material” (both rated the movie as a Skip It).

With deceptive doctors (a prime Ben Kingsley and Christopher Plummer), cynical nurses, demented, yet normal looking inmates (amongst them a drastic featured Jackie O Haley) and case-hardened guards, it is formulaic and at times slapdash (a veteran movie-watching eye can see the climax coming a mile away). Yes, there are some problems with the constantly recurring flashbacks and Teddy’s Nazi war camp trauma, but these are minor grumbles.

Nevertheless, the formula in Shutter Island is best described as a tough bedding that enables Scorsese to create an impregnable, if a bit overlong experience (the movie runs to about 2 hours and 18 minutes). This isn’t Scorsese’s best movie. But it may almost get there by its second viewing.

Released by Paramount. Shutter Island is Rated: R for dried streams of blood, burning rooms, scenes of dementia and ghosts of dead women.

Quick Prediction:

Made with a budget of $80 million, Shutter Island opened with $41.1 million at approximately 2,991 sites and 4,200 screens (its worldwide total is $45.6 million by Sunday 21st of February). Island topped Martin Scorsese’s last personal best, Departed, which raked in $26.9 million. According to the box-office tracking website Box-Office Mojo “Paramount Pictures reported an audience breakdown” “was evenly split between genders and 50 percent” of its attending audience was” 25 years and older.” It is my estimation that Shutter Island’s eerie campaign, mixed reviews and draws of star Leonardo DiCaprio (and Martin Scorsese) would facilitate it to gross nearly $300 million worldwide. Avatar is still its biggest competitor, with Cop Out, the buddy–comedy starring Bruce Willis which comes out this week.

Second Opinion

By Farheen Jawaid

Shutter Island is a splendid example of a mixture of genres blended together by a creative master who knows exactly what he’s doing. The film starts out as a who-done-it, and then turns into a supernatural-thriller about a subdued political agenda, and finally a psychological-drama. Despite this, Shutter Island is never in an identity crisis.

Leonardo DiCaprio (always in an internal battle in Martin Scorsese’s movies), Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Plummer, Emily Mortimer and even Patricia Clarkson perform outstandingly. Understanding their roles limitations and requirements, their performance never over-steps Martin Scorsese foresight, or the film’s striking yet downplayed visuals, or its eerie atmosphere.

Shutter Island’s slow pace, and the consistent to and fro between the flashbacks, might eventually be its downfall with the viewers. It already has mixed opinions with the critics. Its big pay-off by its end is predictable (the movies last minutes can start up a debate by itself); but if a movie is made this well, no one can ignore it totally. Even the ones who hate it.

* Printed Versions can be found at:



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