Friday, February 26, 2010

FILM TOPIC: Shutter Island & The Wolfman: man vs. monster


I've been double-dipping in my theater viewing for the last few weeks, pairing movies that are somewhat similar (Leap Year and When in Rome = sappy love stories; Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and Valentine's Day = cute boys, lol) to watch back-to-back. This week, I saw Shutter Island and The Wolfman. I figured they were both scary and they'd cancel each other out nightmare-wise. But I was very surprised to see a common thread between the Martin Scorsese mystery thriller and the Benicio Del Toro horror romance.

Both scripts explored the concept of man vs. monster, and the truth of which inevitably consumes which. Toro played Lawrence, a man who was cursed with the mark of the beast. He had a choice of either allowing it to consume his life or destroying it. Leonardo DiCaprio played Teddy, a U.S. Marshal who was plagued by guilt and self-hatred. To him, his past was his curse and what made him the monster he considered himself to be. His choice was to either live with what he'd done as a monster or die a better man.

Both films had confidants who were hellbent on helping the fallen heroes. They would sacrifice themselves or their careers to ease their burden. Emily Blunt played Gwen, Lawrence's future sister-in-law, who, after her fiancee's vicious murder, grew closer to him. Once it was clear that the creature that murdered her husband had cursed Lawrence, she scoured the land for a cure and faced his monstrous side head-on. Ben Kingsley played Dr. Crawley, the liaison for the mental hospital who gave Teddy access to anything he needed in order to find the missing patient. The true identity of the missing patient was actually hidden in Teddy's mind, and Crawley worked diligently to pull it out for his sake. Wolfman introduced the idea that the only person who could "free" the man within the beast was a loved one. Shutter Island echoed that point when it was made clear that Lawrence needed to find forgiveness within his delusions, in order to stop having them and live a normal life. Even his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), knowing she was a monster for what she did to their children, wanted to be "freed." For all three, freedom was the sweet release of death.

It's no surprise that both films had scenes within an insane asylum. Monsters are made in the mind, not the heart, which is why they're so easy to tame when you appeal to their emotions and their memories as Gwen and Crawley did during dangerous confrontations. Surprisingly enough, even though both of them could see the "monster" or realized what the "monster" was capable of, it did not deter them from their goals. In the end, understanding was the only cure. Unfortunately, for Teddy, he didn't want to understand. If we were to consider a line from Wolfman, "Where does one begin and the other end?," we'd understand Teddy's trepidation. To him, there was no distinction—he and the monster were one in the same. There was only one way to get rid of it. Teddy explained his decision with his last line, posing a question that I'm sure Lawrence would've answered similarly, "Which would be worse: To live as a monster or to die a good man?"

Both stories were interesting psychological thrillers, especially considering the "big reveals" in the end of who the true enemies were. But that's where their similarities end. Scorsese's, without question I'm sure, was far more superior, well-written, and well-executed. The amount of symbols—from the smoke representing how he wanted his wife to have died painlessly to the rain and island-surroundings that were a constant reminder of how his children died—and the subtle hints towards the truth—from the resilient bandaid on his forehead to the double-meaning responses of an informant (Jackie Earle Haley from Watchmen)—were beautifully choreographed to slowly ease out the truth like overturned honey. But Joe Johnston (Jumanji and Jurassic Park III) gets props for bringing to life the old-school Wolfman that reminds people just how stupid Twilight's giant-wolf-werewolf truly is.

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