June 07, 2010

Coming Together of the Greats

End credits roll. I’m the last person to leave the theatre. Making my way through the empty corridors of this old mall that has lost its sheen, I’m looking for a toilet. Arrowheads guide me, through a maze of shops, reminiscent of that shopping complex beside West End Cinema in Pune, whose name I fail to recollect. There is a man holding the gate of the toilet open for me. There are no urinals in there, only cabinets with commodes. I take a while to choose one, considering the floor is wet. The cabinet I choose is, as I discover later, wetter. I relieve myself and emerge out of the cabinet to find urinals right in front of me. I am scared – of this place, of the staff, of the people around me. I make sure I escape before they trap me.

Outside, the city prepares itself for the rains, a mid-day sun playing with the pre-monsoon drizzle. I take an auto-rickshaw and reach home. Switch on my laptop, and start typing these words. I am not sleep deprived, nor starved. But I feel delirious. Nothing makes much sense. Everything seems unreal. It’s as if I’m stoned. Well, I am. A movie has just turned me crazy.

David Lynch does this often. But there is always a sense of unbelievability in his films. His cinema keeps reminding you of its unreality. You feel shaken, cerebrally charged to solve the puzzle the film has been, dazed and confused, but you are never as affected as a truly emotional, heart-wrenching film can be. Even among Lynch’s films the most affecting is 'The Elephant Man', which is of a different league than his other surreal classics, which I have loved, but which have failed to make me feel the way I do right now.

The first half of 'Shutter Island' is classic Hitchcockian. It is in the second half that things actually start turning insane. Real and unreal don’t make much sense any more and you are left solving a puzzle that perhaps never existed. Perhaps, because you can never be sure. The film ends with a shot of an imposing lighthouse – that guides you to nowhere. But in spite of an open end, and all its abstractions, 'Shutter Island' is more intuitive than cerebral; it plays more with the sub-conscious than with the conscious mind. You feel exhausted – because you have internalized the conflict of the film. The director has done what Hitchcock did – played psychological games with your mind. He has used the illusion of cinema without making it obvious, unlike Lynch. And then he has delivered the master stroke by maintaining the ambiguity. You can always expect a master like Martin Scorsese to do something like this.

Want a high? Go for Shutter Island. There is a lot that we can talk about later. For me, this film has just begun.


  1. havent seen the movie yet but going by the write-up, i guess it helps tremendously if the director has a firm grasp of human psychology, to control/manipulate the viewer's emotions as and when required...

  2. of course, the Greatest filmmaker of all time Alfred Hitchcock did it to unbelievable effect...
    just studying Hitchcock's application of psychology can be an immensely rewarding and enriching experience...

  3. the shopping center beside West End...Clover Center! I'll watch Shutter Island

  4. Thanks Kaustubh!
    I remembered it had something to with 'clover.'
    Seems passing time is having its say...

  5. caught a late night show yesterday .. with just 5-10 people in the theater ,it seemed like the perfect setting :) loved how the movie changed lanes from a thriller to a surreal dilemma ...open-ended affairs always leave an aftertaste to brood on and discuss :)

  6. so what's your take Atul?
    Leo is sane or insane?

  7. well ,well:) i only wish that i could put it in terms that black or white .. i was almost convinced of the 'sane but sucked into the elaborate trick' act ..and then scorsese ensured that the other side was played out equally beautifully .. like that 'lady or the tiger ' thing .. the transition particularly was very seamless and powerful to make out any telltale signs .. but after some thought , head goin for insane and heart for sane ..but just a thought .. did Scorsese really want us to make that call :) over to you :)

  8. brilliant movie no doubt! till the point Kingsley actually unravels the climax I was convinced Leo was sane and that whole plotting business by the psychiatrists was true..but then you can't expect Scorsese to be so straight forward..if you believe that leo is insane then one can digest the whole movie's plot..on the other hand if you think he was sane then there is a problem. it means that the whole shutter island was a experimental nuthouse, like the Bratislava we saw in the movie Hostel..but that is too hard to believe that so many people, the doctors, nurses, orderlies, soldiers are all part of a big bad government experiment..i think he truly was insane and Scorsese didn't want us to think so much..It was a general thriller..not like No Smoking or there's dis Marathi movie called Vihir where the director leaves it to the audience to decide..But yes, the last frame with the Lighthouse...that was a cliche..Leo searches the whole place and he doesn't find an Operation theater or people doing transorbital lobotomies..my last thought..do they just kill people there? he says in the end- "which is worse, to live as a monster or to die like a good man?"..or perhaps the lobotomies were done somewhere in the basement? or was it just a symbolic representation of the fact that he was taken for a lobotomy, not necessarily the lighthouse, just that the in the whole movie, the lighthouse was the "supposed" place for lobotomies..Phew!! So much analyses!

  9. The Insane theory makes more sense. But it is also very convenient. Everything can be ignored if we consider this. It is like: You show anything and end it with 'it was all a dream.'
    I truly believe that Scorsese didn't want to rely solely on that age-old trick. And thus he did his best to keep us wondering. And wondering, we are.
    I would still accept your argument and the Insane Theory. But I won't agree that 'Scorsese didn't want us to think so much.'
    The movie was brilliant anyway. Can watch it over and over again.

  10. yes the movie was brilliant..but the fact remains that if we believe Leo was actually a Marshal doing his job and was screwed by the people on shutter island..it doesnt make sense! what about Andre Laeddis? he was supposed to be there..then his wife...throughout the film she has been shown in wet clothes..that doesnt explain things..if she really was burned down by Laeddis..the only only catch was the last frame..i think Scorsese wanted us to wonder whether Leo lived on like that or lobotomized..or worse..dead? i dont think there was any doubt after the climax about the fact that it was him who was at fault..