starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Ted Levine and Max Von Sydow
screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis
directed by Martin Scorsese
Oh, how I would love a movie in which psychiatrists are tortured by their own drugs, machines and methodologies by a society taking its righteous vengeance.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is a scary psycho-thriller about a U.S. federal marshal who visits a hospital for the criminally insane to investigate the escape of a prisoner/patient from what ought to be an escape-proof facility - like Alcatraz Island/prison in San Francisco Bay. Or, that’s the starting premise, anyway. The story develops in a way to keep you guessing what will happen next, and considering the range of available story plots you can anticipate possible likely outcomes with each new turn: the Marshall’s weapon is taken from him; the ferry to the mainland is cut off by a hurricane; the power goes out; he changes into patients’ clothes after his suit becomes wet, etc. Can you see where all this is leaning? It’s like peeling layers from an onion. Once you start you can keep peeling until there is nothing left. You look around at the detritus and wonder where the onion is. There never was an onion.
The story did not develop or end the way I wanted it to, but it was a great two-hour show. It was dark, it featured dungeons and even had a Gothic horror thunderstorm knocking out the power. Ben Kingsley played the chief doctor of the facility and, since Hollywood favors using British accents for evil characters I kept imagining the story to be one of mad scientists gone amuck with mind control experiments. It’s a reasonable because Ben Kingsley is, admittedly, kind of sinister-looking: a small, wiry, brilliant man stiff with malicious tension, like an adolescent Hitler. Using the defenseless - criminally insane in this case - as guinea pigs is a plausible ruse in so far as people diagnosed as mentally ill, or legally declared insane lack credibility because who would ever believe them? Anything and everything they say or do can be dismissed as a symptom or feature of their insanity even if they are perfectly rational and empirically correct, and the public will accept that dismissal.
I oppose psychiatry. I oppose it because it is immorally presumptuous, fraudulent and morally abhorrent. I condemn the quick and easy use of the“mentally disturbed” label by professionals and amateurs alike to describe a whole range of “disturbing” or unconventional behaviors. The label at least partly exonerates us from complicity in social unpleasantness, thereby encouraging even easier use of it. Each of us is too apt to sacrifice others so that we can continue feeling good about ourselves, and we call them mad. Just because a doctor says that a person is mentally ill - a politer label than “insane” - does not make it so. If a person says he is hearing voices, maybe he really is. Who can say for sure? If a person says that they were abducted by aliens and subjected to experiments, maybe they were. Arguing the improbability of such a thing is not enough to disqualify it. If someone is paranoid, maybe they have good reason to be. I know I do.
Oh, how I would love a movie in which psychiatrists are tortured by their own drugs, machines and methodologies by a society taking its just and righteous vengeance. But that hasn’t been made. Yet.