'Shutter Island' nothing to shudder at

Odd twists and little plot keep the movie from being true horror.

The Greek philosopher Plato once said, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, the only fact he had gathered after years of contemplation was that horror movies and hard drugs don't mix. We can assume he meant for psychological reasons, in an attempt to prevent mental trauma or the anger of the blood. After all, science is science.

"Shutter Island" gives credence to such a suggestion and supplies a corollary to the argument: If you are tripping balls or riding lightning, you're not going to understand what the hell is happening on Shutter Island. And though research hasn't yet been done, we, as well-respected scientists, can make this assumption because even the most soberly enlightened people remain dumbfounded as to what occurred at the mythical fortress.

Two federal marshals hop a ferry to a loony bin in the middle of the ocean for an investigation involving a missing patient who might not exist. That little diddy would require a spoiler alert in some reviews but not in "Shutter Island," where the twists keep on coming, long after you quit paying attention to fondle your date under the minimal theater lighting.

Anyway, everyone on this island of lobotomized zombies acts suspicious, and we know they're suspicious because Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) keeps yelling things at them like, "Tell me the truth." As scientists, we should know this isn't proper treatment of the mentally damned and wouldn't be accepted in the '50s or a subsequent Reagan administration.

After this, you're on your own. There are hurricanes and flashbacks to World War II and a frozen pile of Jews. None of these has much to do with the central characters, except it makes them very angry, furrowing their brows in protest to both the memories and rain. And then they will furrow their brows in cells, caves and mansions. And then they'll flash back to the good old days, when they furrowed their brows while killing Nazis. Yes, those were the good old days.

In reality, those flashbacks are the good old days and the best parts of the movie. They have themes and direction, emotion and beauty. Even the lighting is better. But you never get to stay there. You always get dragged back to this weird, overreaching plot about washed-up river rats barking at Ben Kingsley.

Roger Ebert claims "Shutter Island" is a remarkable horror film for resisting the urge to rely on cheap action-oriented scares, and he is right. What he failed to point out is "Shutter Island" is a remarkable horror film for resisting the urge to be a horror film at all and providing almost no action whatsoever. Imagine "Saving Private Ryan" filmed completely as a close-up of Tom Hanks' face. Gorgeous, ladies and gentlemen, but unfulfilling.

Therefore, we as scientists must erase this from our catalogue of Martin Scorsese pictures, quarantined to the doom-vault along with his remake of "Cape Fear." We would provide the same treatment if Stanley Kubrick were to direct "Jumanji" or if John Ford put his hands on "The Bucket List." There is only one prescription for such unfortunate ailments: beautiful, beautiful denial.

So now we sit and wait for Scorsese to exit his "Donnie Darko" phase, rife with erotic DiCaprio dress-up fantasies and hope he returns to his masterpieces of crime. Oh, and cocaine, too.

More Stories