I’m not trying for spoilers, here, but if you want to keep yourself pure, don’t read on. Read this instead. It’s probably my most popular post.
I set out to see The Wolfman at the weekend, but got there an hour before showtime so bought a ticket for Shutter Island instead.
(I saw The Wolfman on Sunday, but that experience is a whole nother story.)
Shutter Island is a Scorsese film based on a Denis Lehane novel, two factors in its favour. But I’d seen a trailer last year in which the whole thing had looked like a bit of a mess. At his best, Scorsese is a disciplined, visceral filmmaker; but when he tries to give the studios something commercial, he can be like bad opera. But what the hell. I gave it a go.
The movie started badly, with a long and lumpy exposition scene on the deck of a boat. I spent the first hour – more than the first hour, actually – thinking, This is terrible. Sinking into my seat, wincing at the lines and the crudity of the mise-en-scene, unable to buy into any of the characters.
I spent the last twenty minutes thinking, This is brilliant.
It wasn’t because the last twenty minutes was in some way separable from what had gone before. It was more like watching a drunken orchestra pull itself together and show where it had been going all along. You had to endure erratic and irrational behaviour and a long, slow sobering-up to get the payoff.
This isn’t a good thing. I’m reminded of a friend in publishing who rejected a novel only to have the author argue that “The boredom of the early chapters is essential in order to fully experience the horror later on.” It doesn’t wash. If I’d been watching Shutter Island on DVD, I’d have baled early and my impression would have been totally negative.
The story is set in the 1950s but it has the feel and ethos of a 1940s psychological mystery. TV ads are talking about ‘the twist’, but ignore all that. Don’t sit there guessing. There’s no twist, just an outcome. To my mind it’s a well-wrought outcome, but not entirely an earned one.
If you buy a ticket or pick it up on disc, do yourself a favour. Stick with it and be forgiving. If you’re like me you’ll think it was worth it in the end. But along the way, you might wonder.