Posts Tagged ‘happy endings’

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

The problem with Shutter Island, according to the film critic A.O. Scott, is that it tricks its audience into following a lot of leads and theories about what might be happening on Shutter Island, only to reveal that these leads are false – misdirections on the way to the film’s ultimate reveal – none of it matters – it’s all delusional.

For Scott, this bitter pill is a betrayal on the part of the film’s director, Martin Scorsese, ultimately declaring his vision “closed, airless systems, illuminated with flashes of virtuosity but with no particular heat, conviction or purpose.”

The reveal at the end of the film is, it should be said, very bitter.

There is no discovery of the missing girl.

There never was a missing girl.

Instead, we learn, the entire plot is a series of wacky ravings orchestrated by a man who did a terrible, violent thing and doesn’t want to come to terms with this terrible, violent thing.

He creates an elaborate fantasy in which he’s never been a violent man and if he can just figure out the mystery of the missing girl, he’ll get off of Shutter Island and ride into the sunset – a Hollywood happy ending.

The film, though, is not so much a closed, airless system as it is an open door to a more interesting question regarding the reasons we like the happy endings of Hollywood in the first place.

At the end, the protagonist is sitting on the steps of the hospital ward following a harrowing scene in which he “wakes up,” coming to terms with his own condition.

The doctors are skeptical, though, because he’s had flashes of insight into his violent past before and he always ends up regressing back to the elaborate fantasy world of good guys, bad guys, and happy endings.

This time is no different; the protagonist is right back in the thick of his private narrative.

The doctors are disappointed. But, in a great film moment, the protagonist turns back to his doctor and asks (almost winking):

Would you rather die a good man or live as a monster?


In the tradition of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Chinatown and Mulholland Drive, it’s a real question raised by a Hollywood filmmaker about the making of Hollywood movies.

Is it better for Hollywood to die a good place or live as a monstrous one?

Perhaps this question is its own answer.