The best plot twists are more than just a moment of revelation on ones expectations. The best twists audiences remember for the questions they raise about the films themes and ideas. Think of how “The Truman Show”‘s twist explains the world Truman has existed, and why the audience has experienced Trumans life this way. It is a twist that raises awareness, rather than a haughty moment of self-indulgence. Through its technical brilliance and great scenes, “Shutter Island” has the latter of these kind of twists.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese, and his crew throw everything at the wall in “Shutter Island”. The film is aggressive and intrusive, overwhelming the ears and eyes with its sharp, blaring soundtrack and DiCaprio’s dialed to eleven performance. The twists, while subversive, were on some levels to be expected.
As Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) approaches Shutter Island, an insane asylum where a woman has allegedly escaped captivity, the film establishes itself as a harsh piece of belligerence from the start. The boat looms out of the fog, with Robbie Robertsons sharp soundtrack piercing through the screen. The film is very visual.
Each scene features performances, camerawork, and tension that are nerve-shredding and frightening. A scene where Daniels approaches a prisoner lit by match has dual pressure, as Daniels hears him speak through bars. The subject matter is deeply disturbing, and in many ways the twists that the film offers are equally unsettling.
But where the film fails is as a piece of literature. Scorsese has done the filmmaking, but hasn’t written anything worthwhile that challenges us to think. There is still much left to explore, even if the film leaves itself feeling well resolved.
The film is comparable to David Fincher’s 2007 film “Zodiac”. Yes, the films share Mark Ruffalo and follow an investigator going down a rabbit hole while questioning his own sanity. But also, they have a similar tone, with Fincher’s meticulous aggression also seeping through every crack of his film. However, in “Zodiac,” there are knots tying the themes of the story together. “Shutter Island” does not have these knots.
Maybe the film should have gone to boy scouts first. But in seriousness, Scorsese’s film was technical, serviceable, and as a Hitchcockian suspense thriller, it succeeds, although the statement it makes may not be entirely present. In the following decade, both Scorsese and DiCaprio improved themselves significantly, either together (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) or separately (“The Irishman”, “Inception”).