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So I also saw Shutter Island
Earlier today: The Book of Eli. Which also has a major twist, though I don't say what it is.

When you write about a movie that's just come out, you have to make the call as to whether you want to discuss key plot points or not, because on one hand, you don't want to spoil the experience for others (particularly if you're telling them to go see it). On the other... there's not much you can say about the thematic meat of the movie if you can't discuss what happens. So! Considering that this an adaptation of a book people may have already read, and that the ending isn't all that hard to guess--I'm going to go ahead and discuss the whole thing behind the cut. However, for those of you who want to stay unspoiled, I will just say that the music drove me out of my mind. It was this heavy-handed DUN! DUN! DUNNN!!!--it reminds me vaguely of the music that Scorsese used in the Cape Fear remake, but don't hold me to that--that seemed to take the place of the movie actually being scary. Hell, the movie opens with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo being driven up the long road to the asylum (DUN! DUN! DUNNN!!!) and through the forbidding gates (DUN! DUN! DUNNN!!!) and up to the happy, colorful little garden in front of the main building (DUN! DUN! DUNNN!!!). I really would have liked to see what Scorsese could have done with, say, a nice unnerving silence instead of the SCA!RY!NOW! strings.

On to the major, major spoilers.

Seriously, the whole thing now.

So the premise is that it's 1954 and DiCaprio is a U.S. marshal who goes to this island to figure out how a female patient at an asylum for the severely violently criminally insane basically just evaporated out of her room. The twist is that he's insane. He is, in fact, a patient himself there; "Rachel Solando" never existed. I had been accidentally spoiled by people who had already read the book--all I knew was "He's actually insane"--and so I knew just enough to want to find out what was actually going on, but not face-punch the movie in the process. Because, seriously, if I had not known that there was a Shyamalan-level twist to this movie, I would have hurt someone by the time I got to it, in no small part because the movie seems like it would be incredibly frustrating if you thought that everything happening was meant to be taken at face value. "Rachel" tells DiCaprio at one point that the reason he's having hallucinations is because the asylum doctors are spiking the aspirin, food, drinks and cigarettes they give him, so you as the viewer can get back on the hook of "Oh! It is possible that this is all real and the past traumas that haunt him are a red herring and he's having flashbacks and migraines because they're trying to poison him and it really IS all a cover-up experimentation conspiracy!" And then at the end of the movie you realize that she must have been a hallucination. The thing is, though--things happen in the asylum, interactions take place, that are not internally consistent with the idea that Teddy Daniels has never been there before. If you're listening, you'll notice that other characters mention things about him that they couldn't have possibly known if he really were "Teddy Daniels," a stranger. And because I knew something was up, I kept picking up on that and being really glad I didn't want to tear my hair out just then. Because, seriously, hundreds of rats pouring out of a tiny seaside cliffhole does not just happen. In fact, I guess it's possible that you could see the twist coming a mile away anyway. I personally would have started to suspect it when Teddy finds a cryptic note: "Who is 67?" And the moment we find out that the number refers to the 66 patients--thus, who is the unaccounted-for 67th?--I wanted to yell out, "IT'S YOU, DUMBASS." (Of course, that's not fair, because movie characters don't know they're in a movie.) And I knew when that one patient--Mrs. Kearns?--got all squirrelly, didn't want to talk about an absent doctor, and came up with a way to make Teddy's partner leave the table, that Teddy's partner would turn out to be the doctor. I don't know--maybe it's because I'm a writer, and I can't help but watch a movie like one.

It's really well done, though, and I like how the backgrounds had an unreal quality to them, particularly the sea at the beginning and the passing greenery when Teddy's in the car with the warden. Well, except for the music, which drove me nuts. And other than the music, there is one huge, gigantic problem with the movie, and it is: the entire premise. Let me get this straight: you have a former U.S. marshal who is now violently insane after trauma in his past, and he's "the most dangerous patient" in the whole place because of his law enforcement training and military experience, so... you're going to set him loose on the island for two days to do whatever he wants? "The greatest role-play in psychiatric treatment" is one of those setups that's great for a protagonist on a journey of self-discovery, but does not make any sense at all from a professional health standpoint--not in terms of the safety or the rights of the other patients. You're going to let him interrogate other patients? He torments one of them and nearly kills another--you let him run around wherever he wants and "sneak" into the Scary Ward of Scary Naked Scariness? Which now I'm not sure was real? But he had to have really talked to that guy in some capacity, but maybe it looked different and less filthy-medieval in a reality we didn't see and I DON'T EVEN KNOW, OKAY. And wait, if "Chuck" was trying to get "Teddy" to face reality, why was he telling him there was a conspiracy? Why was he telling him to get off the island, when he knew that wasn't possible? To drive him to the final confrontation at the lighthouse? Where Teddy totally could have fallen onto the rocks and DIED? And then after Teddy knocks out a guard, the head doctor actually asks him, very sadly, "How badly did you hurt him?" What kind of doctors ARE you people? There's a point where the setup is so ridiculous from the perspective of, you know, logic, that you just have to throw up your hands and go, okay, look, it's a story, the point is not the other people in it but rather what's going on inside this one guy's head.

There are a few great scenes in the movie, though, like the one where Head Doctor (Sir, as I hear he insists he be called) Ben Kingsley and Dr. Partner Mark Ruffalo are trying to get Teddy to understand what's real--the grand dénouement of the great roleplay--and Teddy is fighting it, because that's the point of a criminal cover-up conspiracy, right? To discredit you by making you think you're crazy, and if he really is a U.S. marshal investigating a criminal conspiracy, he's got to get out of there before they lobotomize their little law enforcement problem away. So he's got to fight it, and there was genuinely a point where I wondered if I'd heard the twist correctly--maybe it was going to play out differently. But they keep working on him, and the scene keeps going, and it's like you can actually, finally feel reality turn on its axis in this guy's head. Another one is a bizarre little dialogue between Teddy and Hard-Bitten Warden Ted Levine (there are all kinds of unexpected one-scene cameos in the movie--Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley), and I'm not sure if I find this conversation more disturbing before or after you find out that it's all a game. (You know that warden--a man in charge of the facility's security--spent the whole movie being all like "ROLEPLAY MY ASS.")

My point here, though, is that I think it does help to go into the movie knowing that it's an illogical nightmare, rather than trying to sit there and figure out what the hell is going on and how the hell it could be going on. I can't imagine how many handfuls of hair I would have been pulling out if I didn't know, and even then I still assumed that the Patricia Clarkson character was real, and sat there trying to figure out how she intended to live in hiding on a bare rock of an island she couldn't leave--where was she going to get food? So not having to sit there and wonder, "How does Max von Sydow know so much about Teddy? How did Jackie Earle Haley know he was married? WHY ARE THERE HUNDREDS OF RATS ON THE CLIFF? DO THEY LIVE IN THAT HOLE? BUT IT'S THE SIZE OF A SHOEBOX! WHAT DO THEY DO THERE? DO THEY EAT FISH? ARE THEY SEA RATS???," I was just able to hand-wave it and go, "Well, he's crazy, so it'll all come out in the wash," which, I feel, improved my viewing experience 150%. In other words, I got to go ahead and skip to the "second viewing" experience, if you see what I mean. And I'd still like to have an actual second viewing, now that I've seen the whole thing and know the entire back story (the seasickness at the beginning takes on a new meaning, for example). What I'm saying--GOD, it's taking me forever to get around to this--is that Shutter Island is not actually about a mystery or a cover-up or even a shock twist. The heart of the movie is summed up in the very last line: "Is it better to live as a monster or die as a good man?" It's about what's going on in Teddy's head, why he chooses the defense mechanisms that he does, and why he can't let go of them. That's what makes it an interesting movie. And you can focus on that better, and the movie is a more rewarding experience, if you get the twist out of the way ahead of time.

One more thing: I really got the feeling that the Creepy Asylum portions of this movie desperately wanted to be Silence of the Lambs, and Shutter Island is just not. Partly because "asylum horror" isn't really what it's about--it's about the horrors in Teddy's head, not jump-scares in the grimy dark--but also because you can't beat that movie at its own game. To be fair, the spectre of Silence of the Lambs is going to hang over any other film with a grimdark asylum set for many years to come. I don't know--maybe I'm just seeing things, because that is one of my favorite movies, and a lot of things are going to remind me of it, and you know, Shutter Island did grab Ted Levine, and...

After involuntarily pushing back the release date of this film to February for financial reasons, Paramount Pictures intentionally set the release date to five days away from The Silence of the Lambs (1991) in hope that it could walk home with several Oscars.

Good luck with that, kids. 

ETA: rockgeisha makes an interesting point about the ending.

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In my case, the very premise of the twist and the hiding of it makes it sound overworked and unnecessary, and a bit too much like both 'Identity' and 'Jacob's Ladder.'

Having discovered the twist, it makes me very much not want to see the film, due to a: the prior films listed being on my favorites and thus this film may bring me little else new and b: I don't like being jerked around unnecessarily when there isn't cohesion throughout the story. Sixth Sense - not jerked around, internally consistent, comes up with a FUCK, I SHOULD HAVE GUESSED. This - sounds like '...bwuh?'

Well, the thing is, I'm leaving out a lot of the Shutter Island story--I didn't even mention Dachau or Michelle Williams. The parts that don't make sense either add to the hallucinatory quality if you notice them, or don't come up until you're thinking about the movie later. I guess that's what I'm saying--it's the last five minutes of the movie that I thought made everything that came before more interesting, and I'm not really giving away what that is.

Okay, that explains why the ads and trailers have been so squirrely with plot details. Thank you for choosing the "discuss spoilers (under cut)" approach, because I'd rather see this movie and know how to 'read' it going in than have the insane asylum version of "it was all a dream" pulled on me.

Also, I hear you on overwrought music. That's the reason I'd like to see a remake of The Maltese Falcon with less-dramatic music. At least it has the excuse of being made when they were still transitioning from Some Dude Plays Live Music While You Watch The Movie (DUN! DUN!! DUNNN!!!).

Yeah, I think the presence of a twist might distract people from appreciating what it means for everything that came before. I'm not saying people should be spoiled for it, but that if you're interested in spoilers, they might actually help you read the movie, as you put it.

This is kind of interesting - its not an original soundtrack, just music cherry picked to fit the tone, according to
Wikipedia. The track as they were driving into the asylum was way over the top - I kept expecting something to leap out any second. It was like the effing drums in the deep signaling something ominous is coming.

I had such a different read of the movie - it seems really subjective in terms of interpretation, because there are so many options and no concrete answers. Granted, I haven't read the book or spoken to anyone who has, so I came out of it feeling like, yeah he could have been insane OR it really could have been a cover up and there was some truth to the opening scenes after all. 'Chuck' calling him Teddy at the very end just seemed like a weird little clue - why would he called him that name if they're no longer humoring him? Anyway, other cliched moments aside, that struck me as an inspired way to write it - so open ended that there are multiple possibilities for the truth. It'll get people talking, at least.

What that said to me was that once Teddy called him Chuck, they realized that it was hopeless, and "Chuck" really did go back to humoring him, because he knew they were going to have to go to plan B, the worst-case scenario. Teddy basically chose to stay Teddy, and there was no hope for him. I don't know if you noticed that the orderly was holding something wrapped in his hand as he approached, but that led me to think Plan B was about to happen, and everyone seemed so sad about it that it didn't seem like villain conspiracy at that point to me.

So... like you said: it gets people talking.

The twist is that he's insane. He is, in fact, a patient himself there; "Rachel Solando" never existed.

That's pretty much what I guessed from the trailer.

Yeah--in the original draft of this post, I wrote, "The ending's exactly what you'd think it would be." But then I thought that maybe it wasn't what everyone would guess, and if they didn't keep reading, they wouldn't find out otherwise. But yeah. I almost want to get the twist out of the way for people, if they're willing to find out what it is, because the movie's more than just that moment.

The book makes the premise behind the roleplay scenario a bit clearer, by dint of having more explanation (because there's more space TO explain)... it's still a bit of suspension-of-disbelief but not quite as umwha? It's also a lot more brain-breaky on the insanity/internal landscape for same reason.

That said, this was a very good rendition of the book (imo, I've yet to see a Lehane novel filmed poorly) and the really nice thing about it is it gets to tell the WHOLE story... they elided some bits for time, obviously (there's a whole bit on the numbers/names schtick that threads the book that you just don't get the sense of in the movie, and the car and ferry are both somewhat more notable, fr'ex). But I just reread the book a couple months ago, and I didn't see a major plot-point detail actually left out. Of course, I also knew not only the twist but the whole corkscrew trip going in, having read the book, so I may have noticed the details better than someone who was seeing it cold - even with major spoiler of "dude's nutso."

You know, without having read the book, I suspected that it must be a pretty good adaptation. I'm not sure why, but I got that feeling.

i saw the first trailer for this movie while at my parents house, and said, "Now that's a horror movie that i think I'd actually like to see." My age and misspent youth reared their ugly heads when my mother said, "Why, because Leo is in it?" with a smirk.

I feel like pointing her to this post and going, "no, because THIS kind of shit happens."

I think what that anecdote is trying to say is that it sounds exactly like I expected, with the mind fuckery and weird plot twists and the final resolution. And you saved me from freaking out when rats showed up on screen.

Yeah, we got to the rats and I kept thinking, man, I'm okay with this, but I bet there are a lot of viewers out there who are so very, very not.

Haha! Another movie I figured out the plot twist from simply from the trailer.

This is really getting annoying.

Ted Levine? I didn't know Ted Levine was in this. CAPTAIN STOTTLEMEYER I MISS YOU!

*ahem* Sorry. That was out of left field. Guess I miss "Monk" even more than I thought I did. (Too bad I can't go see him in this because I'm totally and completely chicken.)

It's not scary though if that makes you want to see it more. :) I'm a complete chicken as well and the trailers make it seem way scarier than it is. To the point of I read the book after first seeing the trailer because I figured then I could handle scary-ness better. But there's really nothing scary about the movie. He has hallicinations but they aren't scary/horror-ish.

I knew he was a patient from the first trailer I saw. I think it's kind of shame, though, that some people are going to dismiss it (because that twist is so mothballed), because I really liked how it was handled. Like, the end when it's a little wuzzy on whether he's still delusional or if he knows but is choosing to be delusional because of the monster/hero question. That actually made me cry but I'm a marshmallow. And speaking of that line, it's interesting to think of it in relation to Andrew's encounter with the Nazi officer. That scene itself was another that made me teary.

One of the random things I really liked about it was that it expected you to know its references and didn't give you a social studies class like some movies would, all:

"...a grant from HUAC."
"The House UnAmerican Activities Committee? Why would the congressional committee investigating communism be involved?"

See, scenes like that are why I thought it was worth more than just a twist, and why I was hoping people could get past that--it really is a Second Viewing kind of movie. Because yeah, I did think he seemed suspiciously lucid when he got all "I gotta get off this rock, Chuck" again. I really felt like he knew what was about to happen.

The interesting thing is that I never felt like Teddy/Andrew was insane, or that DiCaprio was playing insane; the movie kept us with him and sympathetic to him the whole time, and never alienated us from him. It's like--it's the difference between "Reality is not what he/you thought it was" and "HA HA! HE WAS REALLY CRAZY THE WHOLE TIME!" It asks you to stay with him and understand why this is happening to him, and that's what makes the last scene so sad, and even noble.

Edited at 2010-02-21 12:07 am (UTC)

I vowed I wasn't going to watch this movie because it was all in his head and it would just piss me off... friends said I couldn't possibly know that from the previews..

turns out I CAN actually know that. Hollywood loves to play this weird "all in your head" thing right now and I for one, have HATED it since I read a book in 7th grade called Muse (OMG!HORRIBLE!BOOK)! If you think it's a mindfuck WATCHING those kinds of things, imagine reading it.. UGH!

Please feel free to point and laugh at my dumbness, but...I have now reread that last bit from IMDb about Silence of the Lambs three times and I still can't grok it.

"After involuntarily pushing back the release date of this film to February for financial reasons, Paramount Pictures intentionally set the release date to five days away from The Silence of the Lambs (1991) in hope that it could walk home with several Oscars."

I...don't understand..????? It set the release date of a movie to five days away from the anniversary of a movie released 20 years ago? Is that what they mean? I feel like there's an important word missing there that would make this make sense. And if that's what they mean, wtf does it matter? How can the anniversary of a movie from 20 years ago have any affect on Oscar chances? I...wha...?

Which, not that it's anyone's job to help me understand, I'm just fearful that this is going to become that Lewis Black "if it weren't for my horse, I never would've spent that year in college" routine, and I'm afraid I'll suffer his predicted aneurysm.

It's a stupid bit of logic, and a source isn't cited, but Silence of the Lambs itself won five Oscars, including Best Picture. I think, if that bit of trivia is true, that the studio was trying to suggest a comparison by releasing it at a time that would invoke an older, better movie that it has a few things in common with.

I just got through reading the book, because the movie looked interesting, but I'm so not good with the DUN DUN DUN, oooga boogah! gotcha! type of films. So I read the book instead. I will note that the final exchange between Teddy and Chuck is not in the book, which makes it pretty clear that Teddy has regressed to his delusional state. So adding that uncertainty changes things quite a bit for me, and what makes me mad about that is the book was pretty clear that this was about more than just Teddy. Could this type of therapy work? As opposed to chopping up people's brains or zombifying them on drugs. And Teddy/Andrew was condemning possibly hundreds of other patients by choosing to pretend to be delusional and opt for surgical oblivion. And Chuck, who was supposed to be a doctor in search of the truth, was letting him. Not the same thing, and not as heartbreaking as the book, IMNSHO, where he wakes up the next morning, back in his delusion.

Well, the movie does talk about it being more than just Teddy--the head doctor stands there and begs Teddy to have a breakthrough, so as to prove that the therapy is viable, and he spends a good bit of time talking about his therapeutic approach and how he wants to treat patients differently; he corrects Teddy ("Patient, not prisoner") more than once. I hadn't fully thought out the repercussions of the movie ending, but there are some very sad glances exchanged--if Teddy does choose to "die a good man," he's making a choice for a number of other people as well, unfortunately. Did he choose? Did he just regress involuntarily? The movie being a movie, they have to communicate a number of things in a short amount of time, but I think that element is there, the more you think about it.

The twist is that he's insane.

I never thought I would solve an "twist" ending quicker than when I guessed who Charlie was five minutes into Hide and Seek. Turns out I out did myself by guessing Shutter Island's ending by simply seeing the trailer--as many have already pointed out.

Yeah, I almost wish there was a way to get that fact out of the way early in the movie. Or just tell people, "This is a movie about a man finding out that he's insane." The process of him discovering this and then what he chooses to do afterwards is the point of the story, not a gotcha! moment. I even wonder if they try to telegraph that as best they can early on. There are a number of little clues and nuances.

Edited at 2010-02-21 12:53 am (UTC)

Sounds like your experience of the movie was similar to mine of the book. I had heard there was A BIG TWIST ENDING THAT YOU'LL NEVER SEE COMING, which I felt totally ruined my experience because it was disappointing when I finally got there because I had thought through so many BETTER explanations than he's crazy.

So, I can out of the book meh, and have always wondered if it'd be better on a second reading and haven't gotten there yet.

I still really want to see the movie, though.

Not that it adds anything to the conversation, but "WHY ARE THERE HUNDREDS OF RATS ON THE CLIFF? DO THEY LIVE IN THAT HOLE? BUT IT'S THE SIZE OF A SHOEBOX! WHAT DO THEY DO THERE? DO THEY EAT FISH? ARE THEY SEA RATS???" cracked me up HARD and I'm now trying to explain to the family how a post about Shutter Island could make me laugh that much.