Defense mechanisms of the criminally insane.

I want to muse a bit about Shutter Island here.

Bear with me though. Let’s break it down to… oh, shall we say, “No Spoilers” and “Spoilers,” something like that?

No Spoilers.

The movie starts like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, wandering out of the fog and into our lives. Or, rather, it starts with a boat, coming towards us out of the fog, and heading towards the island of the movie’s title. On that boat is Dicaprio, hunched over, vomiting his brains out.

The plot is simple: It’s 1954, and Dicaprio is a US Marshal, working for the first time with a new partner, played by Mark Ruffalo. They’re on their way to Shutter Island, home of a hospital for the nation’s most criminally insane. One of the inmate/prisoners has escaped, seemingly vanished into thin air (no, not vanished, more like “evaporated,” just like water would), and the marshals are there to find her. And, of course things are not what they seem…

The first scene there on the boat, as Dicaprio walks onto the deck and meets his new partner tells us so much about the movie we’re about to get. It literally plunges us into the motifs we’ll see over and over again and informs us that we’re in the playground of both paranoid noir and the best kind of playing homage, the one that sparks originality.

Dicaprio is a man haunted by a past that we see in flashbacks, both to his life with his wife, played simply and straightforwardly by Michelle Williams, and before that, to his time in World War II, and his part in liberating Dachau and witnessing both man’s cruelty to man after the fact and during the cold, violent act itself.

That opening scene, which I need to return to again for just one more paragraph, still amazes me. It’s so simplistic, feeling at first almost like an SNL quality of production for a Casablanca scene, or something in which somebody like Humphrey Bogart could actually appear in. Everything, this scene tells us, is going to be about water, something you can drown or be drowned in, immersed in, or it’s going to be about fire, ash, the dark nuclear future on the horizon, and the smoke which, like the fog, is going to surround you, and you’re not only going to get lost in, you’re going to lose yourself.

That’s heavy, I know.

The downside of this movie is that it’s way too long. The way a nightmare feels too long, but the pacing is expert. And it’s simple, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Scorsese is trying new things, the paranoid thriller, working effectively in a field where, like we’ve said, someone like Polanski really excels in. And Scorsese, ever the master, ever the craftsman and lover of film, knows what he’s doing. You’re going to sit there and you’re going to be drugged and unnerved because that’s what he wants from you.

But with the mechanics of your typical hysterical thriller hokum, the creepy staircases, the rain and lightning, the darkened hallways, Scorsese takes you places. He takes you to the Holocaust, gliding effortlessly into memories that intersect with the present, and into the place where your memories walk away like nightmares and lie to you. Somewhat like the “twists” and “turns” of the movie, which at times come out of nowhere,  and other times lead you down phony paths that may actually be the real one.

Unshockingly, when Dicaprio’s character gets to the island and gets the lay of the land in the first ten to fifteen minutes, and then gets a headache, one that requires the head doctor, played both creepily and both perfect genuine smarm by Ben Kingsley, to give him an asprin, you automatically assume that Dicaprio’s character is being drugged. Your cinephile instincts just tell you that immediately…

And they’re right, but not totally in the way you’re assuming. From that moment on, the movie is a drug.

You’re absolutely living in the character’s frustrations and fears and paranoia.

To me, The Others was a perfect creepy movie for a crowd. I first watched it with a group of people, none of us having ever seen it before and we were freaked out, but we were enthralled. That same sense of rapture is present here, but this is not a crowd movie, not to me. You need to see it in the theater because there it’s big and loud and gorgeous, but it feels so solitary. Once this film starts and that boat punches through the white vaporous fog, you’re alone. And even if you weren’t, you can’t be sure that person sitting next to you is real anyway.

And the acting is serviceable throughout. Sadly, more than what the actors give in performance, they give in appearance. The period-ness of this picture is perfect through and through. Dicaprio, whom my fingers keep wanting to mistype as “Dicrapio” gives everything he has: the angry guy, the tough guy, the sad, hurt child. Nothing with charisma or nuance, though. In the beginning of this movie, he almost feels like he’s regressed (ha ha, spoilers) back to where he was in the beginning of Revolutionary Road, still feeling like, as Natasha Vargas-Cooper put it so brilliantly: it feels like you’re watching “a high school actor, a very fine one, play Hamlet.”

I’m still curious what Scorsese gets out of their partnership, but somewhat akin to The Departed, the thing that Dicaprio best conveys to this story: The need, the crazy reaches for survival. In his hands, you think you’re wanting to grab yourself some understanding, seeking out truth and trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, but really, you’re just trying to survive to the conclusion.


Seriously, if you didn’t see that “twist” coming in some form or another, then… well, I don’t want to be mean here, but I’m assuming you were born yesterday and this was the first film you’ve ever seen, right?

I mean, of course Dicaprio was going to be an inmate himself and the film was going to be his emotional quest to discover something for himself, an emotional plateau and on it, possibly a chance at redemption or acceptance?

And Mark Ruffalo, doesn’t he always play not just a cop, but kind of a son of a bitch? I was talking to someone about that after the movie and she was confused. “Does he always play a cop?” she asked. I just smiled and said, “You should go watch In The Cut. Really. You should.” But in all seriousness, a minor note I’d make about Ruffalo’s performance: Something about his facial expressions throughout the first half… They just felt so perfect with the period to me.

Will the lighthouse become that new piece of terrifying imagery?

I’m curious what people will think of this movie after the fog of it’s release settles. This isn’t necessarily an award winning movie, but it’s solid, completely. It’s made by a master and the cast is more than capable and game.

And the ending? It’s sinister. It’s devastating. It takes a moment to realize what’s going on there, and it’s dark and it’s human and it’s all Dicaprio. It’s a man making a decision, whether to live a certain way or die another way, and I think it’s a division that resonates when you walk out of the theater. Some people will hate this movie and I want to say something about them not being lovers of American cinema, or just the art of making movies at all, and some people will walk out of this film, still thinking about it, carrying a bit of it with them for a while, jumping at and questioning the shadows that appear as you just try to grab hold of something real out there in the fog.

I am a traveler of both time and space.

When he wakes up in the morning, Sayid from Lost takes a shower, makes himself some breakfast, cereal probably, and then goes out and creates red hot paradoxes!

Last night’s episode of Lost, entitled “He’s Our You,” wasn’t a great episode, but it was certain a damn interesting one. And, at least for me, a welcome return to the single character flashback system, focusing wonderfully on Sayid, always the coolest character in any room, but also one of the most interesting, and played with graceful nuance by Naveen Andrews.

And it looks like Ben was right all along about Sayid’s killer nature, years before he ever knew it. Or knew he knew it. Of course, it’s easy being right when you’re laying face down in the mud on the Island.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like Sayid’s bullet hit evil little Harry Potter young Ben right in the chest, practically right in the heart, right? A killing shot, to be sure, and yet I somehow suspect we’re in for some twisty simple non-super crazy fun paradox way out of it. Was little Ben wearing a bullet proof vest? I almost wouldn’t put it past him.

Though I’ve got my fingers crossed for some hot, raw paradox action. Maybe Desmond’s not the only person that the rules don’t apply to.

Even more fascinatingly to me at the moment was the book that Ben gave Sayid to read during his captivity: A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda, the fiction-as-anthropology dealing in Mesoamerican neo-shamanism. The book, one in a series by Castaneda, detail the author’s many years in an apprenticeship with a Yaqui shaman named don juan Matus. Matus, who was perhaps the original Tyler Durden or Jacob, identifies Castaneda as having the energetic configuration of a nagual, essentially saying that he has the soul of a leader-sorcercor, one who can percieve the higher planes of reality via the use of psychotropic plants and may quite possibly have the gift of transmogrification.

Even better: Ben tells Sayid that he’s read it twice. There’s so many shades of things we’ve seen in the technoshamanism that Lost dabbles going on there, that it makes sense. I’d read it twice too, you little shit.

Many critics have doubted the authenticity of Castaneda’s works, including Joyce Carol Oates, and Donald Barthelme even went so far as to parody his books, though substituting any uses of the word brujo with “brillo.” Castaneda is a classic plastic shaman, but he’s an entertaining one. Just don’t forget to wear your God helmet!

Being a mega-dorky fan of this and an even bigger fan of implied connections a la synchronicity, all of this double interests me because of my recent viewing of Altered States (thanks for that, by the way, Benjamin Light), the 1980 film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken “Apocalyptic Sexuality” Russell.

The film stars William Hurt as a scientist trying to study other states of consciousness while getting over his loss of (Christian) faith in the world, and ends up experimenting with a fictionalized form of the psychoactive amanita muscaria mushrooms in a sensory deprivation tank because they can supposedly bring about the same hallucination in every user: unlocking the keys to genetic memory. They do in his case, causing him to de-evolve into a type of primitive man beast, and then later into a form of man-shaped cosmic energy. The special effects for the hallucinations and the genetic changes are both amazing for their time period and predictably horrible.

Blair Brown plays Hurt’s wife in the film, and of course his savior, because predictably it’s discovered there really is no God, no Jesus, no higher plan (which makes sense), there’s only now and love, and, sigh, love conquers all. Young Blair Brown, incidentally, is gorgeous and is bascially eye candy in the film, her acting talents totally wasted accent in a typical wifely “Be careful” whisper as Hurt’s scientist character goes off in search of different levels of understanding. She is currently playing a cyborg on Fringe, which had a scene with a sensory deprivation tank in it’s pilot which worked as a nice little in joke to the film.

Meanwhile, back on the Island…

I like how so many of our main characters on Lost are still so grounded, despite all the weird shit going on around them. At this point, they’re so used to it, so when Sawyer says, “Oh, by the way, we’re in the 70s,” Jack just kinda bobs his head in an understanding way. In fact, he looks like he’s still on the hillbilly heroin in some of these scenes.

But as much as I like Jack, and wold like to see his character return to the fore in a decent way, I’m kinda digging Sawyer as the main man in the 70s. I can’t say that I’m really excited about a love triangle there, but was happy to see that the Juliet/Kate “confrontation” played out much more civil in the episode than the advertisments would’ve lead us to believe. Essnetially, Juliet: “I’m giving Sawyer what he needs, Man Hips.” Kate (feeling dejected): “Well, shit. Maybe Jack needs a pity fuck…” Juliet: “Or some pills… Oh, hey, there’s Sayid. I bet he’s about to go do something awesome.” Kate: “When is Sayid ever not doing something awesome?”

You got that right, Kate.