Film Review: sHuTtEr iSLaNd in the UK by Ali Karim

I was delighted to see Martin Scorcese’s film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island do so well in the US, despite the agonizing wait for its release in the UK next week on March 12th. The wait has been unbearable for me as Shutter Island is a novel that has haunted me ever since I read it, back in 2003 and have collected it in as many editions as I can lay my hands on. My wife and family think that my obsession for sHuTtEr iSlAnD is rather eccentric, and perhaps a little unhealthy. I have to state in my defense, that I can’t help my fondness of this gothic masterpiece, and whenever I read the opening prologue, I feel myself moved, close to tears. For comfort, I carry a copy of sHutTeR IsLaNd with me at all times; because whenever I feel low, I re-read sections of it, especially the prologue which is headed – “From the journals of Dr. Lester Sheehan, May 3, 1993”

I thought of Teddy and his poor dead wife, Dolores Chanal, and those twin terrors, Rachel Solondo and Andrew Laeddis, the havoc they wreaked on us all. I thought that if Teddy were sitting with me, he would have seen that rat too. He would have.

And I’ll tell you something else:
He would have clapped.

If you’ve read the book, you may well understand the context of that paragraph that closes the prologue. If you question what you see around you in terms of what your personal reality is, then perhaps, and only perhaps, you may well understand why this gothic masterpiece has captivated me for all these years. I truly believe that despite many outstanding novels from the pen of Dennis Lehane, it will be Shutter Island that he will be best remembered for, but like the main protagonist Teddy Daniels, I maybe a lone voice because I know many Lehane fans were perplexed by this unusual work. It divided his readers like a cleaver.

Naturally I have followed with interest the film rights saga behind Shutter Island [the film], with Wolfgang Petersen et. al. trying to prise the novel from Hollywood’s development hell. I took heart when I heard that Martin Scorcese had driven the ‘Ashcliffe Project’ out from development, and into the full glare of the camera. I recalled what Scorcese had done with another contemporary gothic crime vehicle – his remake of Cape Fear, full of lurid color and crashing piano notes with a totally over the top performance by Robert De Nero. I had high hopes for the film, but as the novel is one of my favourite tales of murder and madness, I was worried. It would be hard to top what Lehane had achieved with the written word, giving the film-maker a tough act to follow. The first signs were not good when in 2009, we heard that Paramount Pictures had delayed release from the October 2009 date originally slated; for Feb 2010 in the US and March 12th 2010 in the UK. The reason was that Paramount wished to devote a large budget to market the movie, and the economic crisis had posed a challenge in 2009 for Paramount.

Then the US release came along, and the first signals were of a lukewarm reception, but word of mouth grew. It is a difficult film to review or talk about, because like the novel it has a twist, so dramatic in its last act that to reveal it would ruin the reading / viewing experience, hence making it problematic for word-of-mouth. This seemed to be a huge problem for movies of this type. I recall the cinema release of Hitchcock / Stefano’s adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho having a tag-line “Please do not give away the ending, as it’s the only one we’ve got!” This problem of the twist in the tale did not pose an issue for either Psycho nor Shutter Island, as the latter, like the former – stormed the charts, and is currently No 1 in the US, knocking off the mighty Avatar from its perch at the top of the hill.

Last Thursday, a received I call from Transworld Publishers [a division of Random House UK], who whilst apololgising for the short notice, advised me that they had a spare ticket for a special preview screening on Friday at Paramount Pictures London. Though having to reorganize my diary completely, I managed to find myself in a private theatre at 6pm when the curtain went up for Paramount / Transworld’s invited guests.

The running time is over two hours, of which I sat in my chair as if Paramount had layered it with adhesive. The only three times I found myself not on the chair was when I jumped from my seat in shock. When the curtain came down, I found myself clapping uncontrollably like the novel’s prologue stated when Dr Lester Sheehan wondered what Teddy Daniels would have done when he saw the rats –

“He would have clapped.”

And clap I did, because Scorcese and his team pulled it off. They crafted a magnificent gothic thriller, whose last two lines from Teddy Daniels will haunt those of us that question our own personal reality and the context of existence and how we craft and shape that reality.
Unquestionably, Shutter Island is the film of the year, based on what I deemed as the novel of the year in 2003. Why did the film work so well? The 1950’s backdrop was wonderfully realized, in the post ‘Mad Men’ world. The screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis followed Lehane’s narrative closely while Scorcese’s imagery was as hallucinatory as the narrative. The cast were impeccable especially Sir Ben Kingsley as psychiatrist Dr Cawley. The music score was sufficiently melodramatic to ensure the viewer is immersed in a sense of unease from the outset. The climactic ending is never signposted, as we watch the tale unfold under the camera lights and like a magician the rabbit is pulled from the hat making us realize that in the closing act, what we actually saw was cloaked in madness.

I know this is not a conventional film review, but I am so concerned in spoiling the viewing experience, that all I can say is that the two plus hours I spent on Shutter Island were wonderfully chilling, and I implore you to catch that ferry and travel there for yourselves, because when you return, you may realize that like me, you never really left. The ferry for Shutter Island starts its journey in the UK on March 12th, and not having a ticket would be unforgivable

Ali Karim

Ali Karim – is Assistant Editor at Shots eZine, a contributing editor at January Magazine & The Rap Sheet and writes for Crimespree magazine, Deadly Pleasures and Mystery Readers International and is an associate member of both The Crime Writers Association [CWA] and International Thriller Writers [ITW]. Karim contributed to ‘Dissecting Hannibal Lecter’ ed. Benjamin Szumskyj [McFarland Press] a critical examination of the works of Thomas Harris, as well as The Greenwood Encyclopedia of British Crime Fiction [ed. Barry Forshaw]. Karim has contributed to ITW 100 Thriller Novels due out in 2010.

Karim been three times nominated for a Anthony Award [2007, 2008 & 2009] as well as The Spinetingler Award in 2008 for special contributions to the Crime and Thriller genre and he blogs about existential thrillers at