18 April 2010

This Post is Not as Much About Shutter Island as it is About How We Watch Movies

It should have been obvious. If a person (in this case me) goes to see a movie a second time on the pretense of making up his or her mind about said film, that individual must like it. The movie, I mean.

I was not being honest with myself or you my vast legion of readers (hello Courtney B. in Arkon, Ohio) when I rambled on in two recent posts about needing to see Shutter Island  a second time to clear up my confusion regarding, of all things,  what I thought of it.

I mean what idiot goes to see a movie in the theaters twice in two weeks at today's ticket prices if he (or she) has any ambiguity in the "did you like it or not" area? Not this idiot.

But I was desperately curious about how a second viewing on the big screen would sit with me. As mentioned in a previous post I felt influenced by having read Dennis Lehane's novel upon which Shutter Island is quite faithfully based. I also had interference in the form of a lot going on in my life, plus there'd been a zillion reviews of the film which taken together fell into the category of "mixed."

Here's the thing, once you see a movie that has a profound effect on you, it's part of what's going on your life. Shutter Island jumped right into my brain sharing space with studying for my Second Language Acquisition class final, falling behind in my French class (tres stresse !) and other cares, woes, concerns and preoccupations. I don't know about the rest of you (of Clive N. in Leeds U.K. I have my doubts) but it can get pretty crowded in my brain. Compartmentalizing is not always so easy. You've got general stress, or elation or depression or ambiguity going on, and a movie can be a distraction or it can mix right in. And don't think you can watch a film without the filter of what's happening in the "real world" (I hate that place!).

You see movies through a prism.

Imagine watching a film with a blank slate. Okay you didn't read the book it's based on. You haven't read or seen any reviews. Your mood is just fine. Nothing much on your mind. Something is going to tap into your biases, prior knowledge or maybe even your  metacognition, for crying out loud. We've all got an affective filter going.

The lighting of a scene. The soundtrack. The actor's accent. A violent act or a kiss. We react, we relate we contemplate. Ever notice how differently people from similar backgrounds can view the same film? And I'm talking about people who all love it.

The editing! The use of metaphors! The realism! The acting! The movement of the camera in that one scene.... Because everything we see is caressed or slapped or nudged by our world view

I'm going to let you in on something -- we're all different. Very different. Its remarkable any of us get along at all. One thing that's different about all of us is that we look at the same blessed thing and see something else. Problem is that some people are afraid to like or not like certain things in our culture because of good old peer pressure. That's a powerful fear and though most prominent among teens it can strike any of us. Bravo to those brave souls who say what they like and dislike without reservation.

So I maybe wasn't quite so preoccupied my second time seeing Shutter Island. Plus I knew where the story was going, no surprises to deal with. (That's a whole other topic, how surprises in a movie can be wonderful or distracting or not really a surprise at all.) It's always with the second viewing of a film that I can really determine how much I like it because I'm not having to worry about what happens and can focus on how it happens and how it makes me feel. Sometimes that second viewing causes me to realize that the movie was just about "what" and how it was told wasn't that interesting. Other times I see it again and like it even more because of how wonderfully the story was revealed. The same phenomenon is true of songs.

If not properly done Shutter Island could have been a classic one-and-done film because of what I must assume is a very surprising twist at the end to people who haven't read the book. Thus if this story was merely adequately told people would be satisfied with one viewing but feel no desire to re-visit it. But Shutter Island is a Martin Scorsese film and whether you like this particular one or not you know you he's grand storyteller.

The other night when wife and a child were watching a network TV drama I was struck by how facile the series is and worse how intellectually dishonest it comes off. It's a bunch of actors in a made up story acting out emotions. It was as real as to me as The Flintstones.

Scorsese is nothing if not a brutally honest director. His films don't involve pretense. The story feels real, immediate, without artifice. (William Wellman and John Ford were the same sort of directors.) While, for example, Shutter Island has shades of gothic horror to it, it's every bit believable and not a single punch is pulled. Scorsese draws magnificent performances from actors and it never hurts that he's able to lure the creme de la creme from the profession. Hell, in Shutter Island Patricia Clarkson showed up for a small role

Here's another sub topic. Famous or familiar actors. You see an actor in a film and your mind steps out of the movie for a second to say: "hey look, it's Max Van Sydow!" Or even more distracting, "who's that actor, I've seen him somewhere before."  If the performance is strong enough, such mental interruptions are short lived.

Leonardo DiCaprio is in every scene of Shutter Island. That's a helluva responsibility to put on one bloke in a two hour 18 minute film. He's excellent. After the nonsense that was Titanic it was difficult to imagine Leo becoming one of our better actors. But he is.

I feel the urge to summarize now but will fight that urge to my last breath. Hot or cold I've said what was on my mind about the experience of seeing a movie.  I leave much more yet to be said but have tried your patience quite enough (thanks for hanging with me, Didrik N. of Oslo, Norway). Suffice to say, more in the future.

But, what you ask, of Shutter island? What did your second viewing tell you about the film? Fair enough questions so here's my answer: I liked it!


Andrew K. said...

Great writeup...so much to say, but where to begin.

I LOVE Scorsese even though I didn't love Shutter Island...but I agree that Shutter Island is more about how than what. It doesn't depend on the twist and is an excellent technical achievement on its own.

It is always an issue worrying about liking films or anything that others don't.

I don't think I've ever watched a film without any knowledge or preconceived words. That would surely be interesting.

"nonsense that was Titanic" - I'm going to ignore that, but yeah Leo is excellent.

Rich said...

For years I couldn't stand DiCaprio (apart from one of my cult favourites The Quick and The Dead) but I really think that both age and Scorsese has made a worthwhile actor out of him.

I enjoyed Shutter Island the first time around so didn't need to give it a second viewing, but I can see how some people might. It was different to a lot of the cinema fodder going round at the time and a bit more cerebral than most. The only thing I didn't like about it was Mark Ruffalo - I spent most of the film being distracted by the fact that he just is NOT Vincent D'Onofrio.

John said...

I think what struck me the in between my 1st and 2nd viewing of the film was the question of why Scorsese decided to tackle this project. I came to the conclusion that the film was a representation of the movie going experience. It's essentially about a character so distraught and torn up inside he projects himself into the guise of someone else. In his case just about anyone else would do considering the tragedy in his past but the guise he adopts is someone fairly similar to him, someone he can relate to easily. It might be a stretch, and not having read the novel I can't say if it was a thread for Lehane, but a strip of film runs infront of a shutter at 24 fps...maybe too cute? But as Glenn Kenny pointed out the film was also in the tradition of the Scorsese hero who has to punish himself, over and over, for reasons they may not even know. Leo's character obviously has some guilt who's source can easily be identified but his choice is to relive this over and over. Were his previous regressions a result of a mental defect or simply a choice? He ultimately, in my view, chooses to take the big shave as it were. And as always its wonderfully connected to cinema's past and as it seems all his films are a celebration of this to some degree any new Scorsese film is a reason to be happy. But I think this one really hit it home for me and the 2nd viewing only confirmed it.

Eric S said...

I dunno. I've always lived with the theory that if you have to think about whether you liked something or not - you didn't like it.

Could be wrong, often am.

Heldon said...

Very interesting. I am from Germany and I had the great opportunity to see THE MATRIX on vacation in California long before it started in my country. I never heard of the movie before. Just liked to see a good new scifi-flick. At this time in Germany, there weren´t even newspaper articles about it. It was a very special experience. I was stunned, I didn´t know how it came that I never heard of the Movie. I thought it was visually groundbraking, but I also assumed that the story was too "complex" or irritating to become a real blockbuster. I was completely blank, and I saw one of the most defining scifi-movies in the decade. It´s so funny to think back to this point of time, when it wasn´t already such a monster of a movie... =)

Anonymous said...

I obviously recognized Leo, but I didn't have that moment of "Wait! That's...!" That's because, as you say, Scorcese pulled amazing work out of him, the likes of which I'd never seen from him before, so part of my braan kept doubting the ID.

Rohit Mehta said...

Well said there...I can't agree more with every single word you said. Not just about Shutter Island but about how we watch movies and Scorsese. To be very frank, I personally didn't expect much from DiCaprio after Titanic too, but the way things are going for him (Eastwood, Spielberg, Scorsese and Nolan), we are going to tell our children what a legend we all are witnessing.

Roy_Munson said...

How could you have read the book and STILL not understood the film??

Richard Hourula said...

I never said that I didn't understand the movie, I said I didn't understand how I felt about it. I also don't understand how people post comments without having read the post. Sheesh!