Johanna Isaacson, who will be teaching a course on San Francisco literature at SFSU in the Fall, kindly offered this film review of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island for exclusive publication at analepsis.
Shutter Island’s Valuable Things
1954, a paranoid moment– US doctors have lobotomized 18,000 people with no end in sight, top CIA officials purchase ten kilos of LSD from Sandoz Labs, the House of Un-American Activities is ramping up the Red Scare, the Cold War is launching into a protracted period of crisis and escalation. Enter Teddy Daniels, a working class detective, ex WWII soldier who was present for the liberation of Dachau and the exposure of its horrors. He is now approaching yet another nightmare zone, Ashecliff Hospital, a mental institution/penal colony for the criminally insane where the benign gardens and open air treatment mask an insidious world of physical and psychological torture. We’re not certain, but all the signs point to Ashecliff as a gothic no man’s land where non-compliant patients are disappeared and converted into drugged or lobotomized zombies– soldier-fodder for history’s insatiable maw of militarism and violence. Fortunately, our detective exhibits an acute critical capacity and intuition, he will not be put off the scent by the Warden Dr. Cawley’s transparent front as humane doctor, he knows that the experiments at Shutter Island are anything but benign and compassionate. Crawley says of his experimental methods, “Valuable things have a way of being misunderstood,” and we, with Teddy, shudder at the sinister implications.