Not to be a spoiler, but let me cut right to the jaw-dropping, totally unexpected twist ending of this blog post: If you read it all the way to the last word — or, more accurately, if you do that and then read the message board comments — you’re going to find out the big “Whoa!” surprise ending of Shutter Island. So if you don’t want to know what happens at the shivery climax of Martin Scorsese’s stately, foreboding gothic asylum thriller, I hope you know just what to do: Stop reading! Now! And, please, don’t say that you weren’t warned.
Okay, good, now I assume that we’re all among “spoiled” friends. Actually, I don’t plan to reveal the twist ending. In truth, I’m going to leave that to all of you. I leave it to you to reveal it, debate it, deconstruct it, and analyze the movie through the lens of it. Has anyone gone back a second time to see how the first two hours of Shutter Island play — stormy rocky-island vistas, creepy asylum inmates, creepier shrinks, Holocaust flashbacks, dead-wife flashbacks, conspiracies, blink and you’ll miss the discussion of the ethics of psychotropic drugs — when you already know what’s coming?
Or maybe you already did know what was coming. Personally, I had no idea. That’s right, I want to stand up right now and declare, with full confessional fervor: My name is Owen, and I watched Shutter Island without ever once suspecting how it was going to end.
The reason I make a point of that is that it seems to me, in various discussions of the film that I’ve had, that whether or not you were able to figure out the ending has become something of a savvier-than-thou, you-can’t-put-one-over-on-me! film-snob issue. If you’re really, you know, smart, if you really know your cinema, then you had it all pegged, maybe even pretty early on. If you’re thick, dumb, or maybe just haven’t seen enough old movies, then you didn’t get it.
Well, I’ve seen a lot of old movies, but I have always been notably — and happily — gullible when it comes to figuring out the surprise plot twists of new ones. I’m just not very good at it. But I’m sort of glad that I can get sucked in so easily, and I don’t consider it a mark of dishonor. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that I almost always make a point of not reading a book before I see its big-screen adaptation. If you already know Dennis Lehane’s pulp novel, for instance, then how can you really watch Shutter Island and have the movie affect you the way that Martin Scorsese intended? He wasn’t counting on us walking in knowing the ending. And I’d wager that only a tiny fraction of the audience — like, say, five percent — probably has any familiarity with the novel.
But Shutter Island, even though it’s a halfway cunning thriller (and, to me, halfway laborious), isn’t so cunning that it hasn’t brought out a certain smarty-pants factor in some of the reactions to it. The movie, by its nature, is a puzzle that tests your wits, and it strikes me that some viewers are taking a certain pride in demonstrating that their brains can run circles around this particular insanity-as-thriller-device contraption.
So I return to my original question: Did you see the twist ending of Shutter Island coming? If so, I’d be really curious to know: What was it, in particular, that tipped you off? And if, like me, you had no idea what was coming (and maybe, like me, enjoyed the hell out of the revelation), does that make you feel dumb? Gullible? Or just glad to be intellectually susceptible to a movie like this one?