Shutter Island (2010)

Rated: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.
Length: 138 minutes
Grade: CDBC=C
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $214 million (128 U.S., 167 Intl., 19 DVD)

Written by: Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander, Night Watch, and 2 episodes of The Bionic Woman), based on the book by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River)
Directed by: Martin Scorcese (His first real film.) (Seriously, you don’t who Martin Scorcese is? Alright, I’ll bite. The Departed, Aviator, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Last Temptation of Christ, Color of Money, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, and Ben Kingsley
With: Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Ted Levine, Patricia Clarkson, and John Carrol Lynch.

A US Marshall is called to an island prison for the criminally insane to help the warden find an escaped inmate. It turns out he has been wanting to investigate this facility due to scattered reports that they are performing inhuman experiments on the inmates. Once there, however, he must both get the information he needs to expose them and get out alive.

Entertainment Value: C
It’s decent. That’s what C means. I watched it and never really wanted to quit. And it’s quite beautifully and dramatically shot. However, I was hoping for something better in the end to justify it all. I guess everyone who sees this movie knows something surprising is going to happen, but in reality I thought the twist was too obvious. So I was hoping for a twist on the twist or something more than just, “Oh, well I sort of suspected that from the very beginning.” I guess I was also misled a bit by the ads into thinking this was going to be a horror movie when it really wasn’t, although it sort of was. I kept my wife from seeing it, and she would not have enjoyed it, but not because it was a horror movie per se.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence F, Language D
There is non-erotic male nudity in this movie. A couple of conversations have to do with sexual behavior. There is plenty of alcohol consumption and smoking cigarettes. Language would be enough to rate this R, but it’s not overwhelming. Violence and scary images are the real concern here, with lots of death, blood, bodies, and just general creepy bits. Several scenes are flashbacks to a German concentration camp and the hero’s experiences liberating it.

Significant Content: B
The good stuff here has to do with the nature of insanity and the paradox that allegedly insane people have no feasible way of proving their sanity. Everything you try to do as a normal person in such a situation only makes you look more and more insane. One ongoing theme is the question of whether insane people should be treated as broken machines needing invasive repairs or as human beings needing consideration and companionship. There are various types of insanity, some evil and other benign or even just ways of avoiding the terribleness of some unbearable truth. Another issue which emerges from one rather unexpected conversation with the prison guard is about the naturalness of violence and whether God loves violence.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Maybe it’s because I was expecting more or because the issues about insane people being incapable of disproving their diagnosis are just very familiar to me already, but I didn’t find a lot here that was innovative. The ending is thoughtful, but only enough to get this from a D to a C.

Discussion Questions:
~Does it ever worry you what might happen if someone managed to diagnose you as insane? What is the difference between the agitation, anger, and frustration a healthy person and an unhealthy one would show in response to such treatment? Once diagnosed as insane, would you say a person has to actually become insane in an extremely passive and calm sense just to get released?
~Do you worry that the power to declare people insane and have them committed is too great to give anyone? What about those cases where people genuinely do need continuous supervision?
~If you had a horrible trauma in your life for which you felt partially responsible, how do you think you would deal with it? Can you think of any set of circumstances which might be massive enough to challenge your own sanity? Is your faith capable of handling such challenges?
~Have you ever thought you might be crazy? How do you know you’re not? How might you prove that you are not? What would it take to persuade you that you are? Do crazy people ever think they are?
~What do you think of the final resolution of the movie?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Encounter in the cave.
~The conversation with the guard about violence. Does the violence of this world indicate that God loves violence? How would you respond to the guard’s soliloquy?
~The end sequence.

Overall Grade: C
Good, but not quite more than that. In fact, “not quite” is probably a good description of this movie overall. Not quite bad, not quite great. Fine. The only thing “not not quite” about this film is the acting, which is excellent by all three stars.

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