On the 19th of February 2010, audiences were treated to Martin Scorsese’s 21st feature-length directorial credit. For the most part, it was a gritty neo-noir thriller that saw Leonardo DiCaprio thrown onto a grey, rainy island full of psychiatric patients. DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a detective investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando alongside his partner Chuck Aule.
Unraveling the mystery surrounding the creepy island is exciting enough, but the psychological madness truly unfolds when we [spoiler alert] discover that Daniels is a patient himself (their most dangerous patient, Andrew Laeddiss, in fact, who had killed his wife after she killed his daughter) and the entire plot of the film was an attempt to trick him out of his psychosis.
The interpretations of the final scene of the film have generated a lot of conversation over the last ten years. On the surface, it seems that Laeddis failed his test; he refers to his fake partner as Chuck once more and suggests that they need to leave the island. However, when he is led away to be lobotomised, it has been suggested that he was in fact cured but doesn’t want to live with the grief of his past. At the same time, it has been suggested that the question “which would be worse- to live as a monster or die as a good man?” is nothing more than a flash of sanity in an otherwise non-fixed mind.
These mind-boggling final moments have allowed the film to take pride of place amongst the greatest hits of twist-laden cinema. Memento, and its non-linear story and incredible revelations; Saw, and its revelation that Jigsaw himself was in the room planning every move the whole time; The Prestige, and its reveal of clones and twins brothers in the final moments. The list goes on.
One of the most unique selling points of Shutter Island is its mesmerising soundtrack. Rather than hiring a composer to write an original score, Scorsese enlisted to the help of Robbie Robertson to create a collection of classical music for use in the film. It includes the Mahler quartet of which Max Von Sydow’s Dr. Jeremiah Naehring is so fond, as well as some truly disturbing modern works from the likes of Morton Feldman, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Alfred Schnittke. Using these works creates an amalgamation of sounds and experiences that fit the mental turmoil of the central characters perfectly.
With Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow fronting the cast, Shutter Island was always destined to be a hit. Scorsese’s direction and artistic vision are what truly propelled the twist-heavy feature into the modern classic it has become. Even if its reviews were a mixed bag at the time, I’m sure this will experience a critical resurgence in time.