Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
4Music's Size Does Matter
Introducing your new favourite app
Empire Blogs
Off The Wire

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Shutter Island: A Thriller Out Of Time?

Posted on Saturday February 13, 2010, 20:55 by Damon Wise in Off The Wire
Shutter Island: A Thriller Out Of Time?

It's been interesting watching the reactions to Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, from the trailer alone. People seem to forget that artists have a fractious relationship with their times, that sometimes their work arrives out of synch with public taste, and that sometimes their art takes chances that even their most loyal followers won't accept. The irony, of course, is that nobody knows this better than Scorsese, who has conducted a personal journey through the film cultures of three very cine-literate countries (Italy and the US, with Britain on its way) and directed a milestone documentary (No Direction Home) about the musician, poet and electric folklorist Bob Dylan, himself no stranger to controversy and public questioning. Along the way, the song remains the same; sometimes a contemporary audience isn't always sitting in the right seats to judge.

So what has Scorsese done to blot his copybook, in the wake of his most successful commercial run since the 70s and early 80s? Well, the arguments over Shutter Island appear to be raging over Scorsese's decision to embrace high melodrama: thrashing winds; crashing waves; thundering rain; a detective dressed like a tsunami-drenched Dana Andrews; an insane asylum right out of Dickens; a score with more threat and bombast than Bernard Herrmann's original theme for Cape Fear...

But the odd thing is, these things were all either in, or suggested by Dennis Lehane's novel, which, itself, takes the trappings of a period story, pulling in the tropes and paranoias of the early 50s – true and fictional – to weave its lurid story of a man grappling with his demons to find a sinister, unpalatable truth. For some reason, though, there is now a general consensus that Scorsese is, or should be, the master of the neo, and what he ought to have done with Shutter Island is take the conceit, unpack it, and do what he usually does in his filmmaking, which is either present the past with a modern eye, or explore the present with a wry detachment. But Shutter Island is an all-or-nothing kind of story; it was written with a certain irony, a certain political skew and a certain humour, and if you take that away, you're left with a daft airport novel, in which a would-be detective bites off more than he, and possible the reader, could ever bear to chew.

So if Scorsese has chosen to follow Lehane down his genre path, pouring gasoline on the B-movie flames that are already there, there has to be a reason. There is, of course, the purely practical matter that, as a film historian, Scorsese enjoys the spectacle and challenges of B-I-G movie-making, especially the classic kind, and here he achieves an amazing fusion of past and present by creating false perspectives that echo Hitchcock's use of back projection while using the picture-perfect CG tricks of today. But Scorsese is bright enough to realise that genre can't be used for genre's sake; there is a reason he is taking us into the old dark house – and it isn't for nostalgia.

It seems to me that, deep down, Shutter Island is a companion piece to Taxi Driver. Scorsese has revisited this character before, in the underrated Bringing Out The Dead, but he has never revisited the context. Like Travis Bickle, Leonardo DiCaprio's Teddy Daniels is a product of a war – the second, world one – and he is haunted by the things he has seen and done, things the general populace are unaware of and less than thankful for. Like Travis Bickle, he wants to do right, but being good is not easy for some: as we see in the trailer, Daniels is sickly, tormented, quick to anger and traumatised by a love affair that, however it ended, clearly did not end well.

Like Travis Bickle, Daniels wants to be the author of his own story, and this is where the film is being shortchanged even at the trailer stage. Scorsese is smart enough to know that, in times of crisis, escapism makes a major comeback: at this very moment, with very real wars raging in Afghanistan and Iraq, the most popular movie in the world deals with the rape and pillage of a fictional blue planet. Scorsese can see the paradox in this, and with this film, he is not trying to hide it: Shutter Island could not be more obvious about its construction, and it's not trying to fool us with its subtleties and sleights of hand. He could have made this film in Boston today, not off the coast of it in 1954, with flat, natural lighting and a cast of unknowns, but he chose not to. He chose to make a big, grand Hollywood movie, with Hollywood players, Hollywood ideas and even, dare I say it, more than a few Hollywood clichés.

Because no one knows better than Scorsese that, in times, of crisis, America retreats into itself, and, perversely, by playing up the structure he's critiquing the country's capacity for self-delusion, seeing grand plans and designs everywhere at the risk of losing its melancholic, troubled, individual identity – like Travis Bickle and Teddy Daniels. For now, Shutter Island made be too close to its time to see what it really is, and how political Scorsese's comment on escapism might actually be. Time will tell, and it may not be any time soon, but to borrow a line from Tarantino, this Wagnerian spectacle just might be his masterpiece.

Login or register to comment.

Comments

1 workingsushi
Posted on Monday February 15, 2010, 19:23
I am trying to not form any opinions about this until i see it. normally i trust the guy so i'm sure it will at least be worth my money. plus i think leo is a pretty ballsy good actor.

2 davelogan
Posted on Thursday June 17, 2010, 23:11
Whenever Scorsese puts out a new movie these days it is almost automatically said to be worse than all his previous work. This may be true, but his films should be compared to other films comming out at the same time. 'Shutter Island' is great because of its emotional impact and the ideas it brings up. Just because this isn't the Scorsese that is usually seen, some people say its crap. But if you look at a film from someone else who uses similar techniques you notice how Scorsese does it so much better than everyone else.

The trailer didn't do the film any favours. It just looked like a run of the mill horror in that. But the film is way more complex and builds up the tension in a more effective manner than the trailer suggested.

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (440)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Screen To Stage: Shakespeare In Love
By Helen O'Hara

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
By Ali Plumb

Pete Docter And Jonas Rivera Talk Pixar's Inside Out
By James White

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
By Dan Jolin

H. R. Giger: An Empire Tribute
By Ian Nathan

How Edible Cinema Finally Allows You To Eat A Movie
By Ali Plumb

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
By Helen O'Hara

Are iPads And Smartphones Changing The Face Of Filmmaking?
By Ben Kirby

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
By Helen O'Hara

My Encounter With Shia LaBeouf
By James White


RECENT COMMENTS

Screen To Stage: Shakespeare In Love
"Have just re-watched this twice over the past few weeks and forgot how fantastic it was. I'm now des"  fire_and_water5025
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"This looks unbelievably good... wish I could afford to go!"  Roo
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"Nice to know Martin enlisted another author to help in his world-building. Time to get acquainted wi"  Imperion
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"@Y2Nield.com The original Hogwarts section and what was duelling dragons (has now"  Sexual Harassment Panda
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"Actually i recomend The Foucault Pendulum for several reasons, in the first place it explores the es"  andresfelipeurb
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"A great sneak peek, Ali. Aside from your confusion as to where Diagon Alley/King's Cross and Hogsmea"  bruciebonus
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"im due to go in October this year and having been before, i can honestly say i cannot wait. I agree "  kopite
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"still think it's a shame that they didn't make this in England. imagine getting the Hogwarts Express"  RX78
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"Were you actually there Ali? If so, surely you know that Marvel Land is Islands of Adventure and not"  Y2Neildotcom
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"I did the exact same thing with the books after season 1(even though I'd promissed myself to just re"  manufan
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Movies’ Most Quotable Lines
566 comments

'It's Just A Bit Of Fun': Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News For Movies
361 comments

Competitive Geek Baiting: Or, How To Start A Fanboy Fight
338 comments

The Avatar Backlash: Evaluatin' The Hater-atin'
303 comments

The Complete List Of Tired Movie Cliches
286 comments

Your Favourite Animated Film
217 comments

Note To Hollywood: How To Get People To Switch To Blu-Ray
192 comments

Food For Thought
132 comments

The Ten Moviegoing Commandments
127 comments

Just The Facts, Ma’am
127 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (167)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Future Of Film: Your Favourite Movie WIll Be Crowdfunded
Click here to donate

The Empire Podcast #128: Interviews With Sir Roger Moore And George MacKay
Plus we say goodbye to Richard Kiel and the British Expendables are assembled...

Shut Up, World! Gary Busey Is Talking!
Strap yourselves in and meet a true Hollywood original.

Classic Feature: Gods Among Us - Paul Newman
A cat so cool he makes Steve McQueen look geeky.

The Future Of Film: There’ll Be An Oscar For Performance Capture
And the Academy Award goes to...

The Boxtrolls Interviews: The Cast And Crew On Laika's Latest
Sir Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning and more talk stop-motion

How We Made The Boxtrolls
Directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable talk us through the challenges of bringing Laika’s latest to life

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)