Shutter Island: Scorsese’s Paranoia Film

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Based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 best-selling novel, “Shutter Island,” Martin Scorsese’s new film is a haunting tale of psychological suspense and mysterious paranoia, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his fourth collaboration with the director, the latest of which was the Oscar-winning “The Departed.”
Set in 1954, at the height of the Cold War, the story unfolds entirely on a fortress-like island that houses a hospital for the criminally insane. When the tale begins, Edward (Teddy) Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are summoned to Shutter Island to investigate the bizarre, implausible disappearance of a woman, who had murdered her three children, and is now gone from he locked room in the seemingly impenetrable Ashecliffe Hospital.
Upon arrival, they are interrogated and then followed by a suspicious staff of probing psychiatrists and medical doctors, not to mention being surrounded by dangerously psychopathic patients. The hospital is located in a far remote, windswept isle, with a hurricane bearing down on the region
Into this eerie, volatile environment, the duo arrives, quickly realizing that nothing there is quite what it seems. The investigation proceeds, but not smoothly. The suspicions and mysteries get more and more horrifying, with revelations made along the way. There are hints and rumors of dark conspiracies, sordid and illegal medical experiments, dangerously repressive mind control, secret wards, even suggestion of supernatural powers. But proof and evidence are all but vague and elusive.
Moving in the shadows of a hospital, haunted by the terrible deeds of its slippery inhabitants and the unknown agenda of its equally ingenious and mysterious doctors, Teddy begins to sense that the deeper he pursues the investigation, the more he will be forced to confront some of his most profound and devastating fears. Worse, he is told, and begins to realize the harsh reality, that he may never leave the island alive.
Changing Gears
Shortly after completing his novel “Mystic River,” which became an Oscar-winning film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Sean Penn, writer Dennis Lehane shifted gears radically. Moving away from the gritty, blue-collar Boston settings of his previous books (including “Gone Baby Gone”), Lehane fashioned an intensely atmospheric, terror-filled psychological shocker, set at the height of the 1950s Cold War paranoia, dealing with the fine line between sanity and madness, the nature of truth, illusion and delusion.
Indeed, “Shutter Island” merged elements of several genres: Gothic mysteries, pulp fiction, conspiracy thriller, turn-of-the-screws, Edgar Alan Poe-style horror. The end result was a riveting, unsettling work, which took readers by surprise.
The intense narrative takes place over four days, set within the island-based Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, during a raging hurricane, classified as Category 5; most of the outdoor scenes are set during torrential rains.   What makes the investigation all the more scary and unusual is that it’s completely cut off from the outside world—the only way to get to the island is via ferry, which is tightly controlled by the institution.
During those days, the couple of investigators confront a realm in which the human psyche has run dangerously amok, as well as harrowing secrets, frightening memories, and deeply buried truths, which they want to unveil and disclose when (and if) they go back to normal civilization.
The book touches on such topics as the lingering trauma of World War II, the potentialities and technologies for new, vast conspiracies, the debate over invasive psychiatric treatments, the extraordinary power of the human psyche, in spite of all scientific and legal efforts, to elude even the best efforts to bring it under control.
Adapting a Complex, Mulit-Layered Book
Startlingly original, Lehane’s book is also instantly cinematic, due to the author’s acknowledged fascination with Hollywood movies, particularly his love for B movies. The author mentions Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor,” a brilliant mental asylum expose, as well as more subtle film noirs, such as Preminger’s “Laura.”
The book is adapted to the screen by Laeta Kalogridis also credited as one of the many exec-producers, a screenwriter known for her affinity to suspense and adventure, as evident in the Viking-era thriller “Pathfinder.” Kalogridis immersed herself in the project, exploring the broad nature of unsettling topics that Lehane raises, from the horror-filled past of insane asylums, to the dark science behind prefrontal-lobe lobotomies, to such historical terrors as Nazi concentration camps and Cold War-era mind control experiments.
It’s not an easy book to adapt, as the narrative is multi-layered with different threads. She chose to explore the different movements of the characters by inserting flashbacks.
This kind of text called for a director of particularly savvy cinematic knowledge and deep love of psychological drama. The producers immediately though of Martin Scorsese, who had just won Best Director (and Best Picture) for “The Departed.”
To their surprise, Scorsese was available and passionate about the themes and style of “Shutter Island.’ Scorsese read the scrip, while working on a narration of “Val Lewton: “The Man in the Shadows,” a documentary about the distinctive creative force behind such influential and ominous works as “Cat People” and “I Walked With a Zombie.”
While reading the scenario, Scorsese thought of a favorite silent German film, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919), a classic Weimar-period horror film; a framed poster decorates the wall of his office.

Please read tomorrow about the making of the picture.