Also Known As:  Thoughts on Shutter Island
 
 

 

 

There wasn’t really any way for Shutter Island to suck in my eyes.  Sorry, but it just couldn’t.  It had far too many of the automatic movie love elements, although I wouldn’t have minded a little eye candy – Leo doesn’t do it for me.  Still, a ton of important elements were there:

 

  • Insane asylum – check.
  • Insane people – check (well, that’s kind of a given).
  • Bending of reality – check.
  •  Evil psychiatrists – check.
  • Tiny details that become quite important – check.
  • An ending I didn’t predict within the first five minutes – check.
 
 
Honestly, throw Leo Insanein some Robert Downey Jr. and a couple explosions, and I’d camp out in that theater.

 

 

 

 

 

SPOILERS

 

 

I love unresolved endings.  I love open-ended films.  I think we need more of them in our lives.  I also analyze all films the same way I analyze literature (and yes, this movie was based on a book), so I appreciate the interesting touches that can be thrown in here and there.  By the way, I have yet to read the book, as reading books before I go see movies made of them usually results in great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

Shutter Island takes you down the foreboding rabbit hole and leaves you with no idea as to whether or not you ever got out.

 

Naturally, we all knew Leo’s sanity was going to come into question.  It was thrown all over the trailers.  The way it came into question is what made the movie stand out.  On top of that, the viewer couldn’t even say for sure what was real and what wasn’t.  When questioning the inmates as to the disappearance of  an escapee, it’s obvious they’ve been coached.  But it’s supposed to be obvious to those of us who are paying attention, and that’s where things get tricky.

 

As to the rest of it, well…for anyone somewhat familiar with the mental health field, things got pretty nuts.  Was Leo actually unable to deal with the fact that he killed his wife after she drowned their children, or did his wife die in a fire of suspicious origin before they ever had kids?  Did Leo invent the doctor-turned-patient hiding out in a cave who confirmed his suspicions regarding experiments on patients?

 

Things we know for certain:

 

  • Leo fought in World War II
  • He saw the Nazi deathcamps and hundreds of their victims
  • He was a United States Marshall after returning from the war 
  • He was married
  • His wife died
  • He is a former alcoholic
 
Beyond that, who knows?  The doctor in the cave referenced Nazi experiments, and it’s likely that Leo saw some of that when he and the other soldiers stormed the camp.  Of course, that would help to confirm his suspicions (delusions?) about one of the head doctors, who was German.  
 movie still
 
Would doctors at that time have attempted such a drastic treatment?  Personally, I’d be surprised that a psychiatrist would go to such lengths to avoid giving a patient a transorbital lobotomy, which for a long time was all the rage and was used to treat everything from schizophrenia to childhood hyperactivity.  On the other hand, perhaps these doctors really did find the procedure barbaric.  The head psychiatrist mentions the introduction of a new drug called thorazine (chlorpromazine) and later attributes many of Leo’s strange symptoms (nightmares, muscle tremors, and so forth) to withdrawal from the drug.
 
 
Thorazine was first created in 1950…very close to the time of the lobotomy craze.  It has a long half-life, which means symptoms of withdrawal aren’t immediately apparent.  These symptoms include muscular discomfort, movement disorder, exaggeration of the already-present psychosis, and difficulty sleeping.  I appreciate the attention to detail on this part; I would’ve been a little annoyed if someone hadn’t done his or her research, and the actual effects of the drug weren’t in line with the claims of the film.
 
 
Still, the timing of such a complex treatment, including arranging such an incredibly involved ruse (coupled with the possibility of harm to others if Leo really was their most dangerous patient), makes me a bit skeptical about its feasibility unless it actually was a way to lure another patient in for experimentation.  At the same time, there are plenty of details that point to the other possibility:  the guard at the lighthouse was also a patient, Leo did see many things that conveniently disappeared, interaction with patients had several red flags, and in the end, there really was nothing in the lighthouse, which I’m sure didn’t surprise many of us.
 
 
At any rate, I recommend the film, especially if you want something to truly engage your thoughts and stimulate debate with your moviegoing companions.  I’ll probably watch it in the theater at least one more time to analyze details I’m sure I missed in the first viewing, and I’ll definitely be buying the DVD.
 
 
 
(4.5 Chicas out of a possible 5)