Category Archives: Film

Reflections on the silver screen

On the Film Inception and The Merits of Art

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Finally, Inception has come out on home video. I enjoyed watching it the second time as much as I did my first viewing in the theater. With that said, I find that this is one of the most over-analyzedfilms in recent times. As I’ve written previously, the film is very good, but ultimately is not primarily designed as an intellectual or philosophical exercise.

There are many theories out there, some far-fetched, others more realistic. I won’t respond to the veracity or “correctness” of those theories: Inception just isn’t worthy of all of that analysis and thought. Unlike Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the reality we choose to accept has no real bearing on the plot. What do I mean, you ask?

You see, we can largely simplify the debate and draw the line to distinguish the two schools of thought. Inception is either a dream or it’s not. If the movie is a dream (i.e. we see no glimpses of supposed reality), the entire movie is irrelevant. The entire story is an abstraction of some guy’s mind. I mean, why do we care what Dom Cobb is dreaming? Why do I care that he is trying to work through the loss of his wife? By framing the entire movie as the figment of one man’s imagination, it loses any intellectual, cultural, or philosophical importance. It becomes immensely self-indulgent, becoming nothing more than Nolan’s very expensive yet financially successful autobiographical expression in the form of a two and a half hour film.However, if we accept Inception‘s relatively straightforward explanation (that is, that in this alternate film reality, there really exists a military technology called dream sharing, and that Dom Cobb is really a man who can perform Extractions, and so forth), the question to be asked merely concerns the ending: did the top fall or not? If it did fall, then Cobb has returned to reality, and his happiness is real. If the top did not fall, then Cobb is living in a fantasy. Either way, it is not the Matrix-type philosophical mind bending that people make it out to be. And I don’t feel that Inception is even attempting to do what the Wachowski brothers did in the Matrix trilogy. In The Matrix, there are plenty of philosophical references from within the film (one example being the hollowed-out book that Thomas Anderson takes a disc out of: Simulacra and Simulation).Contrast this to Inception, where there are no such references. To be honest, I don’t feel that it even fits Nolan’s style to attempt to create some fantastic intellectual discourse. The film itself is modeled after the heist movie, and the special effects are less fantastic than they are rooted in reality. As much as I argue against looking at a creative work outside of its own context, if one looks at Nolan’s filmography, it becomes quite clear that he is not interested in asking big mind blowing philosophical questions. His films seem to be more like a somewhat detailed look into a man’s personal demons: from Bruce Wayne’s catalyst that births the Batman to the lonely aspiring writer who stalks the wrong people in Following, they are gritty films grounded in reality that happen to light a spark of particular line of thought. And people should enjoy and appreciate his films for what they are. Inception is not a science fiction flick designed to shake the very foundations of your personal philosophy. It’s far more subtle than that. Personally, I’ve ultimately decided that the spinning top ending is merely a way to ask the audience: do you value reality or happiness more?

Now that I’ve given credit where credit is due, I’d also like to speak on the point of Inception‘s portrayal of dreams. There is nothing dream-like about it. While it istruethat I have a cinematic eye in my dreams (yes, i really do see myself in third person, and my dreams are replete with over-the-shoulder shots, medium shots, the whole nine yards), the truth is that there are lots of things in a dream that I just happen to know and accept as truth; there are jump cuts that transport me from one scene to the next with no scene continuity from the last one to the next; things are hazy and morph from one thing to another. I imagine that very few people dream with such vivid images and such precise cinematography. One major weakness of the movie lies in the fact that it neglects to make us feel like we are actually in a dream. Rather, it presumes that the dream world is essentially just an imitation of the real world.

Impossible staircase from Wikipedia.Additionally, I don’t understand how the Penrose stairs work. A dream takes place in three-dimensional space. Those stairs are, in reality, nonsensical: they don’t work. For a person to be fooled by a Penrose staircase, they must be viewing it from a very specific perspective (think echochrome). For the stairs to work that way, perspective must be reality for whoever is walking those stairs. In which case, the scene where Arthur is chasing the thug up a flight of Penrose stairs, the only “logical” explanation for that illusion to become “reality” is that they are both experiencing the dream world through that specific perspective granted to us by the camera.

On the whole though, there really is such a thing as over-analyzing something. The truth is that many creative works can be interpreted differently. The only distinction between various interpretations is the logical strength of each one. Personally, I do not believe in taking any evidence outside of the film itself. That is, I don’t think it’s useful to interpret a creative work by interpreting the creator’s life. Art, be it a painting, novel, or a film, should be self-contained.

I know that there is the idea that all art is affected by all art that came before it, that no art can be created in a vacuum; and therefore all art is interconnected and influenced by each other. This is true. But the interpretations and analysis of such art should be confined to that which is presented from within the content itself. Otherwise, if a work begins to presume that the audience is privy to specific knowledge not presented within the work itself, it starts to become a sort of experimental piece of avant-garde garbage. Considering the relatively traditional format of the film, Inception can barely be regarded as experimental despite its somewhat fresh intellectual premise. There is nothing to suggest that this is a film that regards itself as an intellectual or philosophical development: from the cinematography to the dialogue to the soundtrack, everything is absolutely standard fare when it comes to what you would expect from a Hollywood production.

It certainly is fun to entertain various theories and to discuss and debate varying interpretations of films and other creative works. But ultimately, Inception does not appear to aspire to such heights of intelligentsia, and as such should not be treated as such. Treating it as more than it is – a well crafted and entertaining movie that contains some novel ideas – would be unfair. Summarily, my main contention is with all the attention it got and the brouhaha that arose when the film came out; the film stands on its own merits but is given far too much credit by many people. I blame that on the lack of any decent and smart movies that came out in recent years, as well as on an intellectually stagnating public who would seem to jump at anything remotely debatable that doesn’t involve politics.

Inception: Interesting, but intellectually boring

I watched Inception last week. Yes, it was an awesome movie. Yes, I would like to see it again. Yes, I would buy it when it comes out on home video (but only if it comes with a kick-ass “Making Of”featurette”). But some people I know heralded it as a mind-blowing movie. Unfortunately, all I found to be mind-blowing was how confusing the mechanics of the Inception dream world works.

Oh, before I go on, I should warn that there is a very slight spoiler involving the ending of the film. But if you’re here, I imagine you’ve already seen the movie anyway.

There isn’t anything particularly mind-blowing about it. Popular opinion (at least according to aforementioned fellows) is that it is one big mindfuck. Apparently, there is much discussion about it on Internet forums and such. But really, there’s nothing particularly fresh about Inception‘s philosophical question. Yes, it gets you thinking about the nature of reality. But guess what? The Matrix has already done that for us. Inception is nothing more than a watered down version of what the Wachowski brothers have already created in terms of intellectual and philosophical discussion.The ending of the movie is essentially just a tease. It doesn’t serve any artistic purpose other than to suggest that we question the entire movie. Whether or not Cobb was dreaming the whole movie or not is inconsequential to the plot. I argued this with my brother. The argument clarified my stance on this movie: it isn’t a character study, and as such, Cobb’s intentions and psychology is uninteresting to me.You see, Inception is mostly an action movie (albeit an incredibly innovative and novel one) with a twist ending. The twist ending, though, isn’t enough to rile up my intellectual investigation. This movie’s intellectual appeal is weak. Any philosophical themes present were not strong enough to create a decent impression. It is not particularly complex and is in fact quite straight forward: is Cobb dreaming or not?

In contrast to Shutter Island, the reliability of a dream is unimportant as a dream is ultimately a figment of one’s imagination, and thusly inherently unreliable. If Cobb is dreaming, well, he’s just dreaming: who cares why? It doesn’t carry any implications for the rest of the world. This is not a character study, and so studying the character is ultimately the decision of viewer. If there are any philosophical questions to be asked, they would all boil down to this: Should I take the red pill, or the blue one?

I’m not saying Inception isn’t a great movie. It is certainly novel. It is certainly entertaining (though I really wished he had done more creative visuals with the dream world). But does it deserve all this intellectual murmuring that is supposedly going on everywhere? Not really. Ultimately, it’s a very slick movie that throws in a single ambiguous shot as an ending, just to remind you to do a little thinking if you haven’t already. ¶

The author reserves the right to change his mind on subsequent viewings.

The Shutter Island Mystery: A Visual Analysis (and explanation of the ending)

After eight handwritten pages of notes taken over two viewings (aside from the first recreational viewing), I have only more questions and not enough answers as to the truth of Shutter Island. The easiest explanation is the one that is offered in a straightforward fashion by the film itself. However, there are lots of questionable bits. My hope in writing this is not to assert my own “absolute truth” and to impose it on others, but to bring to light the many things that poke holes in the straightforward narrative fed to us by Dr Cawley. What follows are a series of questions and points of consideration that I ask all of you to try to examine in order to form your own interpretation of what happened on Shutter Island.

What Happened on Shutter Island? A Summary of Considerations

Before I present to you my narrative as based on the evidence I’ve provided, I want to show you a concise list of things that bring to light just how questionable the reality presented by the doctors really is. I invite my readers to keep this list in mind and to form their own conclusions on what really happened in this movie.

  • Teddy makes sure to mention that “it was the smoke that got her, not the fire.” It is important to him that his wife was not burnt to death.
  • Teddy never mentions his children by name or in his verbally recounted personal narratives. Additionally, when he says that four people died in the fire, he only mentions his wife specifically. Think about it: if your whole family died in a fire, wouldn’t you say that “my wife and kids died in that fire”, or “my whole family died in that fire”? In contrast, he does mention his wife by name.
  • Everybody is trying to get Teddy to accept false memories. One big example is when Deputy Warden McPherson says that Teddy said himself that nobody would survive the rocky cliffs without shoes; in fact, it was Dr Sheehan who said this. Also note how everybody calls him Marshal over and over again, to reinforce the idea that he is indeed a U.S. Marshal.
  • In the scene where he is denied access to the records, Teddy doesn’t know where his report is going to go: Dr Sheehan completes his sentence for him, saying that the report will go to the FBI (“Hoover’s boys”).
  • We can’t really trust anything the doctors say: they proved their duplicity by trying to pass the nurse off as Rachel Solando.
  • Dr Rachel Solando (in the cave) calls Teddy a Marshal, but she couldn’t have known that he is a Marshal if she was really on the run because Teddy only identifies himself as a cop.
  • Teddy doesn’t know what a real revolver feels like: he confuses a cheap water pistol for a real one.
  • The name ‘Andrew Laeddis’ looks made up when compared to the name of ‘Edward Daniels’. That is to say that Edward Daniels is the source of the anagram, not the re-arranged product.
  • The quote, “Why are you all wet, baby?” is misspoken in Teddy’s ‘memory’ of what supposedly happened as described by Dr Cawley. Instead, he says, “Baby, why are you all wet?”
  • Although this is a weak point, his wife Dolores calls him Teddy in his dreams.
  • Why does Dr Sheehan call out the name Teddy at the very end of the movie?

What really happened – An Explanation of Shutter Island From Beginning to End

Teddy Daniels’s real name is Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels. He is a World War II veteran. Coming back from the war, he became the maintenance man at his own apartment building; he was never really a U.S. Marshal. He was married to Dolores Chanal, but has no children. He is a pyromaniac who burnt down his own apartment, killing four people—one of which was his wife. He is also a conspiracy theory buff.

In his extreme mental distress at learning that his fire killed his wife, he broke down and dissociated himself from reality. He created a new history. In this new history, a hideous man named Andrew Laeddis (really a reflection of the ugly and unbearable side of himself) was the man who “lit the match that caused the fire that killed [his] wife.” Andrew Laeddis was sent to Shutter Island. To explain his own existence on Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels remade himself as a U.S. Marshal, originally sent here to hunt down Andrew Laeddis.

In reality, the newly incarcerated Teddy Daniels was declared insane and was sent to Shutter Island. At Shutter Island, Teddy became the subject of an experiment. The experiment was one in which the psychiatrists would attempt to implant false memories into Teddy’s mind. Teddy, in a state of delusion, claimed that he was a U.S. Marshal to justify his presence. He met Dr Cawley who invented Rachel Solando for him to hunt down. Dr Sheehan, posing as Teddy’s fellow Marshal and partner Chuck, stays close to him to push him in the right direction. He encourages Teddy to continue the hunt (“I’ve never quit anything”); instills paranoid fear in him (the mausoleum scene); and plays upon that paranoia (urging him not to go to the lighthouse in an exercise in reverse psychology), all in an attempt to ensure that he reaches the lighthouse (in a highly unstable state) for the final event.

When Teddy reaches the lighthouse, he is confronted by the inconsistencies and flawed logic of everything that he has been going through. He is presented with a far more reasonable explanation, though it is a fabricated one. This is the point at which the experiment is judged to have either failed or succeeded. If Teddy accepts this fictitious account, the psychiatrists have succeeded in attempting to implant a false memory into a patient.

Teddy has been through this before, and he now realizes that there is no way out of Shutter Island. He tells the doctors that he accepts their narrative in order to avoid lobotomy. However, sitting on the steps outside, he reconsiders and decides that lobotomy would be better than chasing Andrew Laeddis for the rest of his life: he figures they’ll just try to keep forcing this lake house narrative on him over and over again. When asking whether it’d be “better to live as a monster or die a good man,” Teddy is making a choice to take the lobotomy and thus die a good man. He refuses to accept the reality that he is just a maintenance man whose wife died because of his pyromania, and is instead perpetually stuck in a delusion in which he is Teddy Daniels, U.S. Marshal hunting down Andrew Laeddis (an entity created in his dissociative disorder), the man who killed his wife.

Things to Question

Here are some things to take into consideration, questions to ask yourself to formulate your own interpretation of the film. What follows is the reasoning behind my interpretation.

Is Shutter Island really a government operated correctional facility for the criminally insane?

Military field radios at Shutter Island
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I like to start with this because it’s one of the first pieces of reality that is presented to us.

At the very least, it is affiliated with the military. The Warden drives a military jeep that has government plates, and in the ending lighthouse scene, Dr Cawley uses a military field radio to notify someone to tend to the guard that Teddy knocked out.

The Warden is also described by Teddy as an “ex-military prick” (this of course is not necessarily reliable or specifically confirmed: the orderly only says that he won’t “argue with you there”). Finally, the guards are using the M1 Garand rifle, a military weapon. Of course, I’m no expert on the historical use of military weaponry in non-military correctional facilities (such usage is more common at maximum security facilities in the modern day).

A military jeep with government plates on Shutter Island
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With that said, the first two points still stand. While there may be nothing inherently suspicious about a correctional facility run by the government, it would reason that an actual military-run prison—one that is not conducting any shady experiments—would have military police and not corrections officers. I’ll admit that this is a rather weak point, but it’s something to take note of nonetheless.

The Role Playing Game as a Brainwashing Experiment

Try watching the movie with the perspective that the doctors are all trying to impress their version and reality onto Teddy. Note how they always address him as Marshal. This is a way for them to reinforce the idea that he is indeed a U.S. Marshal investigating Shutter Island. They never ask him to recall anything. Instead, they simply present a narrative for Teddy to accept. It’s quite possible that they are experimenting with ways to implant false memories: not a bad way to create a patsy. Note: 2 May 2012. It’s also possible that calling him Marshal is an easy way for the writer to avoid committing the character to either identity (Teddy or Andrew).

Earlier in the film, there is a scene in which Teddy is examining Rachel Solando’s room. Dr Sheehan is the one who points out the fact that Rachel did not bring the shoes. Deputy Warden McPherson was not present in this scene. Yet in a concurrent scene in which Teddy asks about the caves he sees in the distance, McPherson says, “You said yourself Marshal, she’s got no shoes.” Teddy never said this. It was Dr Sheehan. This is more evidence that what we are watching is an experiment in implanting memories. In a meta sort of way, it’s also a way to implant memories in the audience watching the movie: some people may “remember” that Teddy said that line. Clever, no?

Perhaps this whole role playing game that the doctors at Shutter Island created is actually a form of mind control in and of itself. Forget the lobotomies and other cruelties: what Teddy is going through is a cruel new experiment.

Was Teddy actually a U.S. Marshal?

This is not so clear. When he is getting angry at Dr Cawley for his lack of cooperation, he says, “We’re going to file our reports and hand it over to…,” fumbling with the correct government agency that would be in charge: Dr Sheehan finishes his thought, saying that the report would be given to “Hoover’s boys” (the FBI). Unusual for a law enforcement man who’s been on the job for a while, I’d say. Yet earlier, he was able to identify MI5 and the OSS as intelligence agencies.

What does this imply? It’s up for grabs, really. But maybe Teddy is just a conspiracy theorist obsessed with intelligence agencies. Perhaps when Deputy Warden McPherson tells him that “Executive Order 319 in the Federal Code of Penitentiaries” gives him final authority, Teddy’s leg was being pulled: maybe there is no such order. Just a thought.

But really, the questionability of Teddy’s status as a U.S. Marshal is evident in the ending lighthouse scene, when Teddy claims he knows that his gun is loaded because of the weight. However, he is entirely wrong: the revolver is a water pistol. It’s quite difficult to mistake a metal firearm for a cheap plastic one that can be broken by hand. Does Teddy really know what a real loaded revolver feels like in his hand? The dent in the barrel he described could be just a sign of his “highly intelligent and complex fictions.” All of this points to the fact that Teddy could very well not be a U.S. Marshal.

So if Teddy was not an actual U.S. Marshal, then what is he doing at Shutter Island? And if he wasn’t a Marshal, then what is he?
Note: 2 May 2012. Whether Teddy is a Marshal or not doesn’t seem to matter too much, I feel.

Teddy Daniels as Andrew Laeddis, Pyromaniac

It’s quite possible that he actually was the Andrew Laeddis that he described to Dr Sheehan: the maintenance man of his apartment building, the one who lit the match that burnt his house down. Perhaps Teddy Daniels is the pyromaniac. After all, there is consistent use of imagery depicting matches in Teddy’s hands. He also seems to be quite knowledgeable about how to start fires, especially big ones: he somehow knows how to set a car on fire, improvising with a tie and a pebble to create a fuse. I doubt that’s standard training in the U.S. Marshals.

There is compelling visual evidence that Teddy Daniels is indeed the pyromaniac. During a dream sequence, Teddy meets a scarred man (I call him Scarred Laeddis).

Extreme closeup of matches in Shutter Island
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This scene contains the first use of the extreme close-up shot of a hand lighting a match. In this scene, that hand belongs to Scarred Laeddis. In the rest of the film, the only other time we see this same extreme close-up of a hand lighting a match in the same way is when we see Teddy lighting it. Thus, I posit that Teddy is this scarred man named Andrew Laeddis. I feel extremely strongly about this: considering these shots, it’s as if Scorsese is telling us that Teddy is the same person as the scarred man, the person who lights matches in the same way.

Psychologically speaking, the big ugly scar speaks to a reflection of the scarring of his psyche, as well as to the horrifying ugliness he sees in himself. Scar Laeddis offers him his flask of alcohol, saying “I know how much you need it.” This is Teddy’s dissociated identity speaking to himself.

Matches in Shutter Island
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So let us consider that Teddy is a pyromaniac. Teddy is thus the pyromaniac who set his apartment on fire, a fire that proceeded to kill his wife. Quite reasonably, he carries an immense amount of guilt for the death of his wife, which is why he soothes himself by saying that “it was the smoke that got her, not the fire.” Perhaps Teddy is not an actual Marshal. More likely, he is in reality only a World War II veteran-turned maintenance man who burned down his own apartment building. In which case, what is he doing on Shutter Island? It could be for any number of reasons. If he is just a pyromaniac, perhaps he was taken to the island the first chance they got: when he was caught for committing arson.

Teddy’s Children

Because Teddy never mentions his children in his personal verbal narratives (they appear only in hallucinations and dreams), it’s quite likely that he indeed has no children. Remember, he only mentioned his wife specifically amongst the four people that died in the fire at his apartment. Who on earth wouldn’t say that their children died in the fire as well? Teddy in fact had no children.

For one, Teddy never sees the boys at all: not in hallucinations, not in dreams. The only one of his “children” that he saw was the little girl. And that little girl first shows up when he dreams of the frozen bodies at Dachau.

The little girl frozen at Dachau
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How can Teddy have hallucinations of Rachel Laeddis (his daughter) if he never had any children?

Remember, the doctors said that he had regressed many times. This means that it’s quite within the realm of possibility that he was exposed to those same photos that he was shown at the last lighthouse scene. The daughter never appears anywhere but in hallucinations. Besides, there is even stronger evidence that his supposed daughter is ac tually the little girl he saw in Dachau.

What is the Lake House Narrative?

The lake house scene in Shutter Island
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The lake house narrative is the story that Dr Cawley and Dr Sheehan tell Teddy is what actually happened. According to them, his wife burned down their apartment. From there, they moved to a lake house where she drowned their three children in the lake. Teddy then killed his wife – presumably to “set [her] free”.

This narrative is completely false: it is a version of reality that the doctors are trying to get Teddy to accept. Perhaps it is only a mistake in the filming of the movie, but a closer examination of the lake house scene shows that the children’s bodies don’t even appear in the lake until after Teddy starts looking for them. Not only that, one should note that Teddy says, “Baby? Why are you all wet?” when he is “recalling” this lake house narrative, rather than “Why are you all wet, baby?” as repeated by Dr Cawley as well as his wife in his hallucinations.

Who pushes Teddy along on his journey?

Everybody works to move Teddy through the experiment. Dr Sheehan is always the one to push Teddy along in a particular direction. In the scene where they are sleeping in their bunk beds, he nudges Teddy to continue the investigation. In Ward C, George Noyce suggests that Laeddis is in the lighthouse. When they get close, Dr Sheehan, in an act of reverse psychology, tries to dissuade him from going; at which point Teddy becomes suspicious of Chuck’s identity and tests him with by asking him how the weather is in Portland, knowing that Chuck is actually supposed to be from Seattle. Teddy’s movement throughout the entire film is influenced by key players, a reminder that he didn’t go down this journey with free will.

Is the “real” Rachel Solando real?

Dr Rachael Solando in the cave at Shutter Island
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Dr Rachel Solando (as opposed to Nurse Rachel Solando) is found by Teddy in the cave. When he says that he’s a cop, she slips up and says, “You’re the marshal.” If her story is true, if she was in hiding because of her inquisition into the conspiracy, then she couldn’t possibly know that he’s a U.S. Marshal: he’s in an orderly’s uniform. There isn’t any real Rachel Solando. Rachel Solando is entirely fictitious, an entity dreamed up by Teddy Daniels’ tortured mind. Think about it: the conspiracy theory she talks about is exactly something that a crazy patient would say. This Dr Solando is really just Teddy’s imagination at work. Where’s my evidence that she’s only a figment of his imagination, you ask? The white flashes.

What’s with the white flashes/lightning flashes?

Another visual theme in Shutter Island is the white flash. It happens when Teddy is sleeping in the orderly bunk, where we first see the warden (played by Ted Levine). Teddy goes to sleep and has a crazy dream. Then he “wakes up” in the same room he fell asleep in and sees his wife. We see very quickly that Teddy is actually just having another dream: he “woke up” from one dream into another one. When he really does wake up, it’s a white flash of lightning that wakes him. Later, when Teddy spends the night in the cave with Rachel Solando, he also awakes with a white flash. These white flashes are a reminder that Teddy is not experiencing true reality.

Who is George Noyce?

George Noyce in Ward C
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George Noyce is very likely exactly who he appears to be: someone Teddy met outside of Shutter Island. The truth is that he was part of their psychological experiments and that he was imprisoned for stabbing those men. When Teddy came along to Shutter Island, they needed someone he knew from outside the experiment, someone he could trust (at least to a certain degree). Thus, the folks on Shutter Island took George Noyce out of Dedham Prison and put him back on Shutter Island. So it is true that he is here because of Teddy “and Laeddis.” To Noyce, all he knows is that Laeddis is some guy that Teddy is hunting down. He doesn’t necessarily know that Laeddis is just a fictional character created for the experiment. But he does know that all of this is an elaborate game made for Teddy.

Water imagery in Shutter Island

Some may interpret this to the benevolent reality that surrounds and traps him. This is a convenient explanation, but let’s take a closer look at what water actually does in the film.

Water surrounds Shutter Island. A violent storm—a form of water—serves to keep Teddy Daniels trapped on the island.

Shutter Island - Rainy Car Window 2
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Water obfuscates Teddy’s vision.
Shutter Island - Rainy Car Window
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Water distorts images.
Running ink
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Water distorts this image too.

Water serves to obfuscate Teddy’s view throughout the film. Rain makes it difficult for him to see out of the back seat of the car. Rain smears the word RUN written by Mrs. Kearns in Teddy’s notepad. The ocean separates him from the lighthouse, prevents him from leaving the island. Supposedly, the lake is the cause of his children’s death. Water, in other words, is bad news for Teddy Daniels.

Teddy Daniels is Edward Daniels

Dr Cawley explains the anagrams on Shutter Island
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The true identity of Teddy Daniels is Edward Daniels, and not Andrew Laeddis. The ending lighthouse scene consists of Dr Sheehan and Cawley feeding Teddy the lake house narrative, and implanting the idea that Teddy is actually Andrew Laeddis. These are folks feeding good old Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels horse manure by the truckload. If Teddy accepts his identity as Andrew Laeddis, he must also accept the lake house narrative. Both of these are falsehoods though. Everything—and I mean everything—coming out of the staff’s mouths cannot be trusted. They are all in on some massive game. Everything about Andrew Laeddis is false. Besides, when you think about it, the name Laeddis looks made up. Edward Daniels seems like a much more plausible name, especially considering the time period.

Finally, in the last scene of the movie, Dr Sheehan calls out, “Teddy?” At this point, it is clear to him that Teddy is no longer ‘crazy’ and is of relatively sound mind. Teddy supposedly has accepted his identity as Andrew Laeddis. If he really was Andrew Laeddis as the doctors proposed, then Dr Sheehan would call him Andrew by instinct, considering the role playing game was supposedly over. Instead, he slips up and calls him Teddy because Teddy Daniels’s true identity is Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels.

Andrew Laeddis: Fact or Fiction?

Andrew Laeddis, the scarred psyche of Edward Daniels
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So if Andrew Laeddis and the history attached to the name is a falsehood, that means Teddy Daniels is Edward Daniels the pyromaniac who killed his own wife. So what is he doing on Shutter Island? Well, he got sent to prison after getting caught for setting the fire, and then he was transferred to Shutter Island. This is the narrative that Teddy invents for Andrew Laeddis, but it is actually his own story.

The reason he transfers his personal history to a dissociated identity by the name of Andrew Laeddis is because he carries an immense amount of guilt for killing his own wife (when he set his apartment on fire), so much that he assuages himself by saying that she died from smoke and not from burning (explained on the ferry scene, a point he emphasizes, almost as if he is telling himself for his own benefit and not just for Chuck). Instead of dealing with reality, he creates the alternate identity of Andrew Laeddis, a separate entity who is the man who killed his wife. Then, he makes himself a U.S. Marshal and gives himself the task of finding Laeddis. The doctors at Shutter Island are conducting experiments. In this experiment, they allow for his fantastic alternate reality to be played out. At the end—if the doctors were benevolent—Teddy should be able to see that there is no Andrew Laeddis and must accept the truth that he is actually the one who killed his wife in a fire.

Instead, the doctors are experimenting with implanting false memories and attempt to convince Teddy that he shot his wife after she killed his (non-existent) children, and that he is in fact Andrew Laeddis. So far, he has not accepted the doctors’ proposed reality. Assuming he gets to the vital point at which the whole game culminates (the lighthouse scene), then he must either accept the reality or not. If he does not, it counts as a regression. They could then detain him on the ferry until his memory ‘resets’, at which point he regresses into his identity as Teddy Daniels the U.S. Marshal, hunting down the man named Andrew Laeddis, the man who burnt down his apartment and killed his wife.

However, back in the real world, the idea to hunt down Rachel Solando was introduced in an experiment. The key point here is that Teddy came to Shutter Island insane, believing he was a Marshal hunting down Andrew Laeddis. Only later, when they started experimenting, did Rachel Solando become part of his hunt.

The Lighthouse

The lighthouse isn’t in the same place as the beginning of the movie. Or at the very least, something changed. Look at these screenshots.

Shutter Island - First occurrence of the lighthouse
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Shutter Island - Last occurrence of the lighthouse
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The first one is from the first sighting, the second one is from the last shot. As you can see, the first lighthouse had a great length of land lined with fences. The second shot shows the lighthouse without the long fences. This implies that the lighthouse was changed. Are there two lighthouses? I’m not sure, but at the very least, this should seem suspicious.

The thing about [ Cont'd ]

Dualism in Film

Yet another A paper, this one from my 200-level film class. This paper is about duality on the silver screen. As usual, it’s not exactly the most exciting work I’ve done. It is, after all, an academicpaper. As such, it was done in a rushed manner, though not without care and attention to detail. I do wish I had more time to smooth out the transitions and otherwise refine the paper before I submitted it.

Duality in people exists as qualities that are seemingly in opposition of each other. It is far easier to classify people with one label, to categorize them in such a way that is convenient. However, duality is part of the human condition. In both Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, duality is a prominent theme displayed in the main characters.

Clarice Starling is the heroine of The Silence of the Lambs. At the beginning of the film, she is an F.B.I. trainee with great ambition and aspirations. Immediately we see dualism manifest in Starling’s choice of career. In the field of law enforcement, she is a woman in a man’s world. This contrast is highlighted in several key scenes in the film. One such shot places Starling in the middle of a crowded elevator full of men who are all easily taller and stronger than she is. The distinction is further enhanced with the use of color: the men are wearing red shirts in contrast to Starling’s gray sweatshirt.

Starling is portrayed as a strong, smart, and resourceful woman who, through her ambition and bravery, overcomes obstacles that prevent her from reaching her immediate goal: to capture serial killer Buffalo Bill. While the classic depiction of the female image is that of daintiness, demureness, and otherwise one that is softer and more nurturing, Starling exhibits leadership qualities that are not traditionally portrayed in women. Throughout the film, she also shows us that she is a very strong and capable woman who can take care of herself.

One such example of Starling’s strength and leadership is in the funeral scene. All of the police officers seemed resentful of having a woman in their midst (one who means to overtake the investigation using expert knowledge no less). She takes charge by respectfully telling all of the officers to leave so that she and her colleagues can get to work. This is a clear demonstration of Starling’s strength and courage, especially given the male-dominant atmosphere. Demme shows us that she has the gumption to take command of situations where necessary.

This unusual display is offset in the same scene however. When the coroner passes around a small jar of ointment to apply to one’s upper lip, just below the nostrils, Starling shows us that she is not out of touch with her femininity. Out of a feminine sense of modesty, she demurely turns around to apply the ointment. Later, when Starling visits some academics to learn about the origins of the cocoon that was forced into a victim’s throat, she is asked on a date by one of the experts. While she showed no deference to the earlier flirtations of the hospital administrator, she acquiesced to the expert’s advances with feminine charm. As we can see, Clarice Starling exemplifies the duality of masculine strength and power coexisting with feminine demureness.

Another character in the same film exhibits such duality as well. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a brilliant psychiatrist who reached the top of his field. He is well educated and very cultured as can be seen in the way he carries himself. His ability to figure someone out with minimal information is a demonstration of Lecter’s powers of observation and inductive reasoning, a sign of his incredible intellect. He also appreciates courtesy and civility, a trait congruent with his appreciation of the fine arts.

However, beneath his refined poise and respectful manner lies a savage animal capable of killing and eating another human being. In the scene where Lecter escapes captivity, we see that despite his intellect and civilized demeanor, he effects his escape with a great deal of brutality and violence. In the same man who appears to be the civilized epitome of fine living is a terrifyingly violent monster.

One might conclude that this horrific side of Lecter is indicative of an inherent evil that pervades his eve ry move. However, he seems quite capable of controlling his murderous impulses, engaging in them only as he sees fit. Despite Starling’s clear threat to his freedom, he chooses not to hunt her down. The murderous violence that Lecter is capable of seems so wildly visceral and animalistic, yet he demonstrates that he is in control of his actions.

Duality is also prominent in Blue Velvet, perhaps more so than in The Silence of the Lambs. Dualism is seen not only in the characters but in the environment itself. David Lynch portrays protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont as a young man living in two different worlds. Jeffrey begins his journey in the relative safety of the suburban comforts of Lumberton. Lynch paints Lumberton’s safe existence as an idealized fantasy with the overly blue skies serving as a backdrop to the perfect white picket fences and oversaturated red roses. Lumberton is a town where children walk home in safety under the watchful protection of the crossing guard. It is a place where the grass is healthy and green, where firemen pass by happily with huge grins and friendly waves.

Jeffrey transitions from this picture of suburban perfection into the much darker and more dangerous world of criminals like Frank Booth. He becomes exposed to a sexual world intertwined with violence and abuse, a stark contrast to what he is accustomed to. This dark and dangerous world, hidden away from view, is the polar opposite of the surface of Lumberton, yet it exists in the same physical realm of Lumberton.

Accompanying Jeffrey on this descent into the seedy criminal underworld is his counterpart, the young and pretty Sandy Williams. When Jeffrey suggests that they sneak into a woman’s apartment, Sandy balances his enthusiasm with skepticism and a grounded perspective. She represents the voice of reason. She serves as a symbol of purity, as Jeffrey’s anchor in the world of normalcy. Even so, she too succumbs to mystery and goes forward with Jeffrey’s plan, suggesting that even the pure will have their moments of misjudgment and temptation.

Sandy’s pink and white dresses and blonde hair distinguish her from the woman central to the underworld. That woman, Dorothy Vallens, wears deeper and richer colors. Dorothy’s hair is black, and her apartment is couched in plush velvety textures and sumptuous reds. Compared to the virginal Sandy, Dorothy exists as a darkly sexualized female figure. It is she who initiates Jeffrey into a world of sexual perversion and violence.

Before this initiation, Jeffrey himself is relatively innocent. He is confident and silly, making Sandy laugh with his rendition of a ‘chicken walk’. He is, however, bored. Boredom, along with curiosity, serves as a catalyst to his adventure: “There are opportunities in life for gaining knowledge and experience,” he says. As soon as he steps into the underworld, his innocence is corrupted. What started as an exciting little mystery in a small town soon turns into a nightmarish trip into a disturbing realm hidden away from public view. He becomes dragged into a world of perversion and sexual deviance. Very rapidly, Dorothy snares Jeffrey and keeps him in a sexual relationship with her. While having sex, she asks Jeffrey to hit her. Although Jeffrey initially finds this repulsive, he does give in when provoked and strikes her. Here, his inherent desire to do good crosses paths with his darker side when he succumbs to the sexual opportunity presented by Dorothy. In this way, Jeffrey is not as different from Frank as we might like to believe. Here we have a person who risks life and limb to save a strange woman, all the while taking advantage of a sexual relationship that is borne from that woman’s dysfunction. It is difficult to reconcile these two sides of a person, making Jeffrey a fine example of dualism.

These two films show us that dualism is an inherent part of human existence. They illustrate that the good and the bad exist together, oftentimes in one person or one place. People are complicated. It is not necessary to flatten one’s character into a single dimension in order to understand them. Rather, one need only to understand that seemingly disparate qualities, be it good and bad or male and female, can exist together to create a complex dynamic in people’s psychology.

Movie Time! A Single Man

I was eagerly awaiting the release of Tom Ford’s A Single Man to home video. This was mostly because I love seeing suits on film and I had heard quite a bit about Tom Ford’s fashion background havingan influence on the film. Unfortunately, fashion seems to be all there is to this flick.

Colin Firth plays protagonist George Falconer, an English professor whose partner died in a car accident. We follow him on a single day as he contemplates suicide. Throughout the course of the day, nothing really happens. He meets an interested student, comes across an incredibly handsome young Spanish fellow, meets up with his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore), and ends the night by having a drink with said interested student and proceeding to take him home after a naked swim.

I’d like to get into a plot analysis and all that jazz, but the truth of the matter is that it’s really nothing more than a cursory character study of a gay Englishman. As a movie, Ford creates some visually stunning images. As an appreciator of men’s fashion, I noticed the great attention to detail to the character’s wardrobe. George Falconer was one tasteful and impeccable dresser. Ford’s use of saturation and desaturation was interesting. I only wish was that he used such an effect more subtly: the way Ford implements it almost smacks of amateurism, not unlike the way a kid plays excessively with his newfound favorite toy. Sound, usually an underused and ignored part of film making, was finely utilized. The dramatic and wistful score, combined with the stunning imagery, almost stands to say volumes on its own.Unfortunately, it doesn’t say enough. I am a huge fan of character studies. My own screenplay-turned novel is a character study. That is why I know how difficult it is to write one. For a character study to be successful, it must have conflict, and it must cause the audience to ask questions. It must engage the viewer’s emotions and challenge the intellect. It is immensely difficult to craft a movie out of a character study that doesn’t exactly have much going on in it. It takes a very skilled writer to pull it off. Getting the audiencetobecome invested in the psychology of the main character is difficult. When I watched the movie, it lost my interest a little more than half way into the film. I kept wondering if this was just some kind of exhibition show for homosexuality and fashion in the sixties.According to IMDB, co-writer David Scearce (who is really a lawyer by day) has no experience under his belt. That he says himself that he is “still learning how to write” is very telling. It’s clear to me that while his cinematic sense combined with Ford’s own visual direction to craft the fantastic set pieces we see in the movie, nobody on that movie knew quiet how to write.

Personally, I think it takes a great deal of skill and talent to be able to adapt a novel into a screenplay. I imagine that it would take someone who is firstly trained in literary writing to understand the source material. Then it takes someone who is also a cinematic thinker. An adaptation of a novel can only be successful if the screenwriter has both skills. Otherwise, things are lost in translation as they usually are when making the traversal from novel to movie.

Because the film doesn’t deliver as a character study (though Firth’s performance is undoubtedly as excellent as the clothes he wears), it is nothing more than a moving painting. Yes, there is no doubt that the cinematography can be described with words like ‘beautiful,’ and ‘stunning.’ But a film needs to be more than just appealing to the eye. It seemed to me that A Single Man was more a vehicle to show off Ford’s outstanding sense of fashion and attention to detail; a showcase of what a well-dressed man would look like in the sixties. I felt like there was much more to the book than we were shown in the movie. I imagine that the novel would be a far more satisfactory emotional ride. The movie is akin to a blonde bimbo: very good to look at but not very intelligent or engrossing.

If Tom Ford can marry his visual sense with better storytelling, I’m sure he’ll be a great success. But for his debut, he exposes his lack of cinematic vision and tells us that he is still just a fashion designer.