Monday, April 25, 2011
Shutter Island -- guilt, monsters, and truth
Director: Martin Scorsese, 2010. (R)
2010 was a banner year for Leonardo DiCaprio. He starred in two thrillers, Inception and Shutter Island, that together netted over $1B worldwide. Not only were these financial blockbusters, but they were at the top of their genre. And there were similarities in plot. In both films DiCaprio played a protagonist troubled by dreams of his dead wife and who harbored a dark secret. This psychological thriller is not as scary as it seemed during the trailers, but it is deeper and more thought-provoking than many movies in this genre.
As in many of his films, Martin Scorsese has assembled a stellar cast. Alongside DiCaprio, who has teamed with the director three times before (in Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed), are veteran actors Ben Kingsley (Elegy), Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl), Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent), Ted Levine, and Michelle Williams. Their performances are spot on.
Visually, Shutter Island and Ashecliffe Hospital are stark and foreboding. There is something frightening about the place these two marshals must visit. The score is loud and discordant, echoing the twisted nature of the souls who live there. Together, the sounds and vision establish a menacing atmosphere.
Once they have arrived at the hospital, Daniels and Aule find a wall of silence. The doctors, staff and even the inmates seem unwilling to help the investigation. It as though there is a conspiracy covering up what has happened. When a hurricane-force storm pummels the island, knocking out power and communication lines, the two marshals find themselves stranded, trapped on an island that does not want to release them.
Guilt is one of the themes. As a Catholic film-maker, it is not surprising that Martin Scorsese weaves this thread throughout his career. Guilt is the feeling that a person has violated a moral standard through action or inaction. Closely related is the concept of remorse, the emotional expression of personal regret for committing a shameful or violent act. Guilt is intended to drive us to God in repentance (Acts 20:21). When we do this, we will find forgiveness, the only thing that can trulyremove guilt. The forgiveness of God is freely given (Eph. 1:7) but must be graciously received (Jn. 1:12). It cost God his son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25). We cannot erase our guilt in any other way, though, like Daniels, we may try.
The theology in view here is both right and wrong. God does not love violence. That is clear from his very nature: “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16). Violence was not part of the created order but entered the world with the fall of Adam. His son Cain became the first murderer (Gen. 4:8). Yet after the fall, with the entrance of sin, we are all capable of violence, of terrible acts. The film points to the atrocities of the Nazis in the second world war but also points to ongoing inhuman and immoral actions that occurred in Russia and even occur in America. Moreover, we read of the brutal acts of violence perpetrated by serial killers, monsters in our society, and we understand this aspect of the truth in the warden’s comments.
Monsters emerge as a third theme of Shutter Island. Dr Naehring (von Sydow) brings this point into view: “Wounds can create monsters. . . And wouldn’t you agree, when you see a monster, you must stop it?”
We are all wounded, in one way or another. Daniels was wounded and harbored deep, dark secrets. Our wounds result from the consequences of sin. Some may be our own sin, and we become our own victims. Sometimes it is the sin of others. Then, like the poor Jews in Dachau, we feel the pain of wounds inflicted on us by others. If we focus on our wounds, turning inward, we can become bitter and turn into the monsters who inflict wounds on others. The cycle can only be broken by dealing with the root cause: sin. And we cannot do this on our own. When we try, like Daniels, we find ourselves in a prison of our own making, running from those who may or may not be our friends. No, the person who can save us is Jesus (1 Pet. 3:21). He dealt with sin, once for all, when he went to the cross for us (Heb. 9:26). We must receive his gift of life, and find in him a new identity and a new nature; we become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:21).
As the film progresses it keeps the viewer engaged, unwrapping secret after secret at the right moment. With horrors without and within, it offers insight into the torments of the human mind. And it is through this inner war, fought by one man, Daniels, against himself and those around him, that we also see that truth is not always clear. Though Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32), we must look carefully for the truth, and discern wisely else we will be fooled, by ourselves and by our friends.
at 7:00 AM