Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer
The Farewell To Middle-earth Issue
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe: Get 12 Issues For £25
Buy the perfect Christmas present this year
Farewell To Middle-earth
Full details of our Peter Jackson-edited issue
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 (333)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Movies And Medinas: Empire Reports From Marrakech International Film Festival
By Phil de Semlyen

Dubai Film Festival: The unlikely appeal of camel beauty pageants…
By Nev Pierce

Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
By Nev Pierce

The Dubai International Film Festival: Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe turn directors
By Nev Pierce

Night Visions 2014: The Harvest, Let Us Prey and Nuntius
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Marcos Ortiz and In Darkness We Fall
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Pablo Larcuen and Hooked Up
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Spanish Contingent
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Documentaries
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Nordic Genre Invasion
By Owen Williams


RECENT COMMENTS

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"No worries! I just try to describe things as I see them, and I often forget that, as Empire has grow"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your early reviews from the festivals, and of course, I'm not alway"  pythonlove
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Sundance Part Six: In The Loop
13 comments

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview
9 comments

Basterds Blog
9 comments

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009
9 comments

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!
8 comments

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!
7 comments

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!
7 comments

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
7 comments

The Wrestler
6 comments

Uncle Boonmee: An Explanation
6 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (298)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (3)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS

SAVE UP TO 69% GET 12 ISSUES FOR ONLY £25
Get the best seat in the house by subscribing to the world's biggest movie magazine today. Save up to 69% and every month you'll get exclusive subscriber-only covers, access to the biggest stars and the best news, reviews and behind-the-scenes reports straight from the set. Click here to find the perfect offer for you


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Review Of The Year: 40 Worst Posters Of 2014
One-sheets that you'd rather not have on your wall

Hobbit Q&As: Ian McKellen On Finally Saying Goodbye And Farewell To Gandalf The Grey
Read our exclusive Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies interviews

Review Of 2014: Empire's Interviews Of The Year
Crews! Chan! Chickens?! The chats we loved in 2014...

Gallery: Peter Jackson Prop Art: The Bigiatures
An exclusive look inside the director's secret warehouse

Review Of 2014: The Best TV Moments Of The Year
We celebrate the small screen's biggest scenes

A Day In The Life Of An Orc
Three of Mordor's finest describe life in the Dark Lord’s employ

20 Great Films You (Probably) Didn't See In 2014
The underseen joys and unreleased gems of the last 12 months

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

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 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month 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)