Dave's Progress. Chapter 39: Shutter Island: What Was Scorsese Thinking?

One of my favourite film-makers of all-time has to be Martin Scorsese. From "Mean Streets" to "Taxi Driver", to "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas", he must have made some of my all-time favourite movies. Indeed, if I had to say, I would probably rate "Raging Bull" up there with "Apocalypse Now!", "The Godfather" and "The Third Man" as one of my favourite films. But now, it appears, Martin has, to my mind, gone off the rails somewhat by choosing to film a version of Dennis Lehane's novel, "Shutter Island".
The novel is set in the Summer of 1954, as US Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chukc Aule come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of an inmate, Rachel Solando. OK, so already I'm feeling a little trepidatious. A hospital for the criminally insane, eh. Well, let's just see what sort of representations the book gives us of mental ill health.
Well, not surprisingly for a hospital for the criminally insane, the representations of mental ill health are not exactly positive. Peopled mostly by inmates with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, they are almost uniformly violent and disturbed to such a degree that they cannot see "reality", i.e. they are all pathologically delusional. Perhaps in 1954, without the use of modern anti-psychotic drugs, this may be a fairly accurate picture, I don't really know. What I do know is, however, that "Shutter Island" will merely add to and reinforce an already existing reservoir of negative images of mental ill health in the movies. And, it would seem, as the majority of the public's perception of mental ill health is shaped by things such as movies, television and the print media, this is not going to help anti-stigma causes one bit.
Ironically, the film, which I admit I have not seen, although I have seen the trailer and read the book, will be released in this country the day before World Mental Health Day.
Also, the book does little for the reputation of psychiatry itself. Shown mostly as a deeply suspicious profession, leading investigator Teddy Daniels comes to suspect that they are carrying out illegal "experiments" on their patients, attempting to produce an invincible, violent "ghost army". As the book gets on, though, and the clues unfold, it becomes clear that this is not the case and a somewhat predictable denouement transpires.
So, although I would be lying if I said that I knew all about the condition of the criminally insane in the 1950's, I can say that this will go down as yet another negative, pulpy, sensationalising and brutalising version of mental ill health. I am also slightly disappointed that Martin Scorsese would seem to be jumping on the Dennis Lehane band waggon as there have already been two very successful films made from his books, Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" and Ben Affleck's "Gone, Baby Gone".
If I were to write to Mr. Scorsese about this I would perhaps like to ask why he has chosen this material for his film. I believe I once heard him say, in his "Journey Through American Movies", that "the mind" was perhaps the last taboo the movies could break down. Given this, why choose something which so obviously brutalises the meaning of mental ill health and perhaps makes the work of anti-stigma campaigners all the more difficult. What, indeed, Mr. Scorsese, were you thinking? Yours faithfully, A. Fan.
That's all for now from your normal, average paranoid and delusional man.


klahanie said…
Dear David,
Thank you for another highly informative blog.
Of course, you and I are both very much trying to eliminate the stigma and out-of-proportion perceptions that are still being fed to the public at-large.
From a somewhat cynical angle; it seems to me that Mr. Scorsese is very aware that sensationalism sells. Now, if only, Mr.Scorsese could have tried doing a movie that handles the concerns of those with mental health issues from a sensitive and compassionate leaning; that would be sensational in itself.
Perhaps Mr.Scorsese should approach you and ask for a script that portrays us with mental health issues, in a more understanding light.
In kindness and respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks so much for your comment. For a moment there thought I had been left somewhat uncerimoniously to "dangle", as 'twere.
Anyway, I totally agree with your comment about "unsensational sensationalism". If only we could get it to sell!
I hope to see you Monday, when, no doubt, more ideas about addressing mental health issues from a "sensitive and compassionate leaning" will be discussed.
Thanks once again, Gary,
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Dear David,

Please forgive my lateness in responding.
I watched the trailer and I found it to be another play on horror. I wonder if the focus of the movie is really on 'crazed physicians' and those in 'authorrity'. It's hard for me to judge yet, as I need to view more.
I no longer 'see' myself as a person with mental-health issues. Mine are cognitive, and I believe everyone else's to be as well. The stigma comes from those 'experts' who claim they have no problems. Yet they can't explain the vast improvement in my life when I stopped using their drugs.
Part of my lateness is because I do not intend to offend you or anyone else with my opinion.
I apprciate the work you do.
High regards,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thanks for your comment and opinion, to which you are rightly entitled.
I can't imagine you offending anyone, Dixie, and certainly not intending to. So please feel free to continue commenting on my blog. I always look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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