I don't believe there can be any reasonable argument made against Martin Scorsese's fervent, all-consuming, and quite intense indeed, cinephilia. The auteur proverbially eats, sleeps and breathes cinema. A cinema zealot if you will. The director has been quoted as saying "My whole life has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else." It is this impassioned cinephilia that has led Scorsese to make such richly textured films veritably dripping with filmic history and cinematic lore. Films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed - to name just the most obvious ones. It is also this rabid cinephilia that has led the director to make his latest, the uber-Hitchcockian Shutter Island.
The director's fourth film with Leonardo DiCaprio (his latter-day De Niro!?) Shutter Island is quite possibly the most self-consciously cinematic of his forty plus year career. Even moreso than in the aforementioned gaggle of masterpieces and near-masterpieces, Scorsese's camera-eye in Sutter Island is frighteningly self-aware. We never have any doubt, while watching this movie, that we are watching a work of art and not reality (a realism which is more often than not the trend these days). Scorsese makes sure of that, and in doing so, adds to the dreamlike quality the film needs to work and survive on such an obvious plane of existence. Godard has famously said that "cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world" and Scorsese's obviously self-aware camera proves it again and again and again.
As far as the storyline goes, there is not much one needs to know going in, since the mystery of the film will unravel in front of you as you are led deeper and deeper into the psychosis of Scorsese's characters. DiCaprio plays an FBI agent who is sent to the titular remote prison island (along with new partner Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the sudden - and seemingly impossible - disappearance of one of its prisoners. Once there - and now unarmed - DiCaprio must deal with not only the strange goings-on inside the prison walls but also with his recurring flashbacks of his dead wife (played juicily by Michelle Williams). In essence, his world is collapsing around him and as the film goes on and on and DiCaprio's mentally crumbling investigator falls deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Shutter Island, the edges begin to creep closer and closer to home.
Most of the complaints about Scorsese's latest (and there have been quite a few) tend to fluctuate between the unrealistic look of the film (and that damned self-aware camera) and the obviousness of the movie's inevitable outcome. To those naysayers I must say phooey (or something like that!) yet I still feel I must come to the defense of this movie. Granted, this may not be Scorsese as his finest (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) but it is as close as he has gotten in many a year (since his equally maligned Cape Fear remake actually!) and is a luscious, gloriously self-conscious work of art nonetheless. As far as the actual look of the film goes, Scorsese is already channeling Hitchcock in mood, so why not his faux fifties look as well?
As for the obviousness of the so-called big reveal at the end (just the fact that everyone knows going in that there is a supposed twist ending puts everyone on the look out for it!) - yes it is quite obvious, and even the most unaware viewer should see it coming oh so far away. Yet, that is not the point of the film - not at all. With Scorsese's self-aware camera leading us in every cinematic direction, and playing games with us artistically, it must surely be evident (as evident as that just mentioned big reveal) that it is not the destination that matters, but the journey - and what a succulent journey it is. One that could have only been made by a cinema zealot like Scorsese. [03/02/10]