Apocalypse Prochnow

A new video essay on John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, made for our 20th Century Flicks screening of In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

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The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010, USA)

It ought to come as little surprise that The Social Network opens with a bad date which culminates in the ending of a relationship, since the protagonists in David Fincher’s films seldom seem to be having a good time in the amour stakes. If they are not recently divorced (Nicholas Van Orton in The Game, Panic Room‘s Meg Altman) then their marital relationships are showing signs of undergoing severe strain (David Mills in Seven, Robert Graysmith in Zodiac); if they are indeed ‘getting some’ at all then they are either not cognizant of the fact (Fight Club‘s unnamed protagonist), fatally unable to complete their Oedipal trajectory by dint of ageing backwards (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) or, most unfortunately of all, subject to impregnation by a xenomorphic alien creature (Alien 3).

It is worth focusing on the opening scene for a number of reasons. Firstly, it illustrates how surprisingly well the combination of writer and director – both distinctive artistic voices in their own right – are well matched here and enhance each others’ strong suits rather than compromise them. The Aaron Sorkin-penned brashly-inarticulate dialogue sits perfectly with David Fincher’s famously frenetic visual style, though the real standout in this first scene is perhaps the rapid cross-cutting of co-editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, a breathless velocity which sets the pace for what will become a whirlwind trip through the time between Facebook’s inception and its rapid spread across the globe.

The second function of the scene is succinctly to introduce us to the character of Mark Zuckerberg. What we can immediately glean is that he is a spiteful, sharp-tongued yet socially awkward high-achiever whose apparent main concern is not the enjoyment of life and study on the campuses at Harvard, but a zealous desire to gain entry into the freemason-like social sphere of its final clubs which he believes will be the making of him. If this is more than enough for his appalled girlfriend Erica to call time on their relationship and seize the opportunity to jump ship, the scene for the viewer foregrounds the question of the film’s main character’s curious motivations, which in two flash-forward time frames will be repeatedly called into question.

This initial scene also facilitates the first plot point: the drunken, spurned Zuckerberg is spurred into setting up the ‘Facemash’ website which will quickly gain him enough notoriety to bring him to the attention of the blue-blooded Winklevoss twins, whose proposed Ivy League dating site plants the seed for the idea which he will make his own. But so too does it confirm the film’s existence as a work of fiction, given that the date we are witness to could never have occurred in reality since the character of Erica has no real-life counterpart. If the factual accuracy of The Accidental Billionaires – Ben Mezrich’s book upon which the film’s screenplay is based – is questionable then evidently so must be Fincher and Sorkin’s account.

This is no sleight against the film. If the prospect of a narrative based around two injunctions brought against the maker of a website hardly sounds enticing, then the fictive world which is rendered is anything but. As Zuckerberg drunkenly codes his initial site, the film cuts between him and scenes of final club sophomores partying with local nubiles specially shipped-in for their entertainment, the scene more closely resembling the glossy abandon of an alcohol advertisement than anything approaching reality. The worlds of Fincher’s films often have a sense of the unreal about them, and that this time his story does not centre on serial killers, paranoiacs or sado-masochistic basement brawlers does not mean that it has any greater degree of fidelity to the real world.

In many ways, The Social Network is an interesting companion-piece to the director’s previous works, most obviously Zodiac, another film ostensibly based on ‘facts’ but introducing a large degree of conjecture about events which may remain unknowable. But that film functioned in a different time, one in which information dissemination was slowed by technology – the scene where the police admit not to having a fax machine springs most readily to mind – and time passed laboriously with no progress. By contrast, The Social Network plays out in an age of instantaneous worldwide communication and global viral memes. If the protagonist of Fight Club is astonished to discover how quickly his titular phenomenon has spread, it comes as little surprise to Zuckerberg.

That the film’s events take place in the very-recent world of near-instantaneous communications technology is what lends the film its feeling of suspense, and the sense that the events taking place are metonymic of the zeitgeist is underlined by the key difference between the ‘mirror identical’ Winklevoss twins (other than their handedness): their attitude towards pursuing the individual who they feel has stolen their idea. While Tyler Winklevoss is keen to be seen to behave according to the more old-fashioned, gentlemanly mores of Harvard social convention, Cameron Winklevoss seems to be more aware of the fact that the more time they allow Zuckerberg’s TheFacebook to gain the ascendancy, the further they set back their chances of pursuing him for theft.

Zuckerberg’s eventual ‘triumph’ over the Winklevoss twins in getting his Thefacebook out first and into social network hegemony is representative of a strange changing of the guard; the blue-blood Ivy League social groups which he so wanted to penetrate at the start of the film no-longer have relevance for him, as he moves his operation first to universities across the globe, and then to millions of public users. Facebook expands out from the cloistered intelligentsia to the wider proletariat, representing a triumph of bourgeois-capitalism over an antiquated quasi-feudal oligarchy. Ironically, the most humiliating evidence of the twins’ defeat comes at alongside a more literal defeat at that most bourgeois of occasions, the Henley Royal Regatta.

If The Social Network is about a character driven by his inability either to enter into the societal circles he wishes to inhabit or hold down a relationship, then it is not for long a sexless world which he and his co-founder Eduardo Saverin inhabit. Indeed, a key plot point is Zuckerberg adding the crucial element to Thefacebook: the ‘relationship status’ section. As membership of their site spreads across campus, so too does their own fame, and the former losers become unlikely lotharios. The real seduction, though, occurs later on when Zuckerberg meets Sean Parker, the Napster co-founder whose suave charm lures him away from Saverin and the stuffiness of New England academia and out to the more laidback, pseudo-bohemian lifestyle of California’s Silicon Valley. It feels analogous to similar events in Annie Hall, Parker very much the Tony-Lacey-like underhand villain, and Saverin’s evident distaste for West Coast hedonism the equal of Alvy Singer’s.

The film defies easy categorization. The pacing suggests a kind of thriller, though the subject matter makes this seem absurd. As a character study it is hardly a tragedy, nor is Zuckerberg’s story anywhere near a clear-cut one of rags-to-riches or of triumph against adversity. At its best it is actually closest to farce – the seriousness of the settings of the deposition hearings hilariously bearing witness to the petty squabbling and juvenile prankery of young adults – even to the point where a lawyer threatens to use one character’s supposed treatment of a live chicken to blacken his character. If Zuckerberg and Saverin are largely played straight, it is the exaggerated, cartoonish secondary characters which linger in the memory longest – the pathetic seriousness brought to the Winklevoss twins by Armie Hammer, and Justin Timberlake’s irresistibly debonair Sean Parker.

Ultimately, the sheer surface excitement of the story disguises the complexities of the film underneath; its three time-frames – the linear narrative of the main story and the two separate deposition hearings seen in flashforward – fit together so cohesively that their temporal relationship to each other is never muddied. What, though, is the message we are to take from the film? The deliberately deadpan ending makes clear that, in spite of his financial success and popular fame, Mark Zuckerberg has alienated himself from those who sought to get close to him, and even from this experience he has ultimately learned nothing. His response? Look up an old flame and click ‘add as friend’. What we do know is that he’ll be in for a long wait.

Predators (Nimród Antal, 2010, USA)

After the pedestrian turgidity of the Alien vs. Predator (2004) sub-franchise it became clear that all the demonic killing machine of Predator (1987) needed a metaphorical fresh lick of paint and to be sent back out into the jungle to tangle with another group of hapless marines without too much trouble: the formula worked, while attempts to stray from it proved unworkable. This is, in essence, what this Robert Rodriguez-produced action film offers, though coming post-Lost, there is the inevitable need to contrive a plot which throws together a seemingly arbitrarily-selected group of strangers and literally throw them into a deserted wilderness where they come to overcome their initial suspicions of each other and try to figure out where they are and what has happened to them.

And so Predators does, and for a few of its opening scenes there appears to be some life in the simple rehashing of John McTiernan’s original action thriller, but unfortunately this promising setup of disorientation and team-building quickly descends into farce as soon as it becomes obvious that the characters within the film are mostly little-more than borderline-racist caricatures of broad national stereotypes. There’s poor Danny Trejo, playing yet another comedy Hispanic muscleman, the kind that even a Spaghetti Western hack director might have balked at for being too one-dimensional. There’s the big Bond-villain-sized Russian half-wit who is sure to turn out to have a heart of gold before dying violently. Then there’s the stern-faced but sexually alluring Latina who obviously has to make it through to the last reels in order to sustain some sense of sexual tension as a character motivation for the protagonist. Worst of all, there’s the silent Yakuza inevitably handy with a samurai sword, and a lumbering African tribal warrior who is (of course) more in tune with nature than the rest of the troupe and therefore more able to sense danger than the others.

Throw in a knowledgeable doctor and an ex-Black Ops marine for regular expositional helping hands, as well as a wisecracking jocular type for levity (though an obviously inferior aping of Aliens’ Hudson) and you have the gang whose plight Predators asks us to sympathise with. The sheer cardboard simplicity of these archetypes gives a sense of the ambition of the film, which is ultimately very limited indeed – with depressing predictably they swiftly come face-to-face with the dread-locked trophy hunters and face routine fights to the death for their survival. Somewhere in the combination of the utter lack of sympathy for any of the characters and a leaden script which never rises above the run-of-the-mill , Predators somehow manages to be crushingly dull, despite director Nimród Antal’s fairly competent handling of the action set-pieces. As opposed to the creeping sense of dread that McTiernan’s film successfully inspires, the story offers a near-complete lack of physical menace here, quite an acheivement given the inherent menace of the titular ruthless extra-terrestrial assassins. In the UK, the film has been rated a 15 (in comparison to the original’s 18 certificate) redolent of the fact that this is ultimately a film designed to scare adolescents rather than adults.

Predators, then, proves to be an utter waste of time, though it will undoubtedly take money and, by extension, spawn a host of unnecessary sequels and prequels. The concern on Adrien Brody’s face throughout speaks not of his character’s travails but of an Oscar-winning actor who has been reduced to doing bilge like this and the only marginally worse Giallo (2009). Lawrence Fishburne appears midway-through, but appears to be watching an off-screen video of Apocalypse Now (1979) in order to pick up acting riffs from Marlon Brando, as well as just-as-unsuccessful dietary tips. I can’t help but mourn slightly for what has been lost in the transformation the original’s post-Vietnam paranoia into this bland, meaningless game of intergalactic cat-and-mouse; a symptom of a wider malaise in action movies, or just a plain lazy cash cow? Either way, avoid.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009, USA)

Werner Herzog has presided over what might loosely be termed ‘remakes’ before: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), his predictably odd re-imagining of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic actually seems to sit quite comfortably in amongst his other classics of the 1970s, and while Rescue Dawn (2007) could hardly be termed a replica of his earlier documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), their similarities do reflect the always fine line between fact and fiction that all of his best films carefully tread. This last point has always struck me as the major value of his work; as such, Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), for all of its merits, seemed only to be the second best documentary about the making of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), the first being the film itself and its self-reflexive examination of the director’s relation to his chosen artifice through the proxy of Kinski’s titular character.

If there is reason to be disappointed with his latest film, the mouth-numbingly wordily-titled The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, then it is for an absence of this sense of Herzogian ambiguity between fiction and fact; one might question why this usually picky auteur plumped for making what is a reasonably straightforward thriller in the first place, save for the possibility of working with Nicolas Cage, whose gloriously deranged central performance – bouncing around from scene to scene and from score to score – rivals virtually anything that the Bavarian director’s famously lunatic collaborative partnership with Klaus Kinski committed to celluloid.

That aside, there is very little of note; none of his famous eye for establishing an extreme sense of location, whether through visuals or diegetic sound, surely a waste considering both the architectural specificity and the unparalleled musical tradition of the city of New Orleans. Indeed, as lensed by long-time DP Peter Zeitlinger, the film looks much like a bog-standard cable TV police drama. Neither does there seem to be much in the way of an overarching theme, unlike in Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant (1992) which was much more obviously steeped in a strongly Catholic sense of sin, foregiveness and redemption. Herzog himself has said the film is about “the bliss of evil”; the bliss certainly shines through in the film’s sheer enjoyability, but the near-slapstick tone detracts from the idea that its protagonist is genuinely evil, particularly when one remembers just how bad Harvey Keitel was in the earlier film.

As a standard crime drama, the film is hard to fault thanks to a tight and at times highly amusing script from veteran scribe William M. Finkelstein, save for some horribly shoehorned-in clunkiness towards the end about a childhood spoon. As one might expect from a Herzog film, the emphasis is very much placed on just the one central character, putting what is one of Cage’s career-best performances in the full spotlight but at the cost of marginalizing an under-used supporting cast. Eva Mendes has little more to do than Isabelle Adjani did Nosferatu; as if we needed reminding, Herzog’s is worldview is unmistakeably male-centric.

Except maybe it isn’t. Outside of the narrative there are some genuinely odd moments, all seeming to involve animals. Iguanas are filmed in extreme close-up while Johnny Adams sings Release Me on the soundtrack, a camera views the scene of a car crash as if through an alligator’s eyes, a family dog seems to cause characters more trouble than one might suspect, and the film ends with a shot of its main character being dwarfed by a background of sharks swimming in an aquarium tank. What is the relevance? Perhaps, when all is said and done, Herzog cares little for this silly world of cops, drug dealers and hookers; it would seem to be an opinion which shared by these animals, indifferent and largely undisturbed by the petty goings-on of the human world. Maybe this is why Bad Lieutenant feels hardly like Werner Herzog’s film at all; it just is not in the world he is interested in. Regardless, it is an amiable-enough piece of popcorn entertainment and, along with Kick Ass (2010), a welcome reminder of just how much fun Nicolas Cage can be.

Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughan, 2009, USA/ UK)

“With no power comes no responsibility” seems to encapsulate pretty well the irreverence of this sometimes-gleefully entertaining adaptation of Mark Millar’s graphic novel deconstruction of the superhero genre. Aaron Johnson is likeably naive as Dave, a shy high school geek who creates an alter-ego of a would-be crime-fighter Kick Ass, kitted out in a garish green and yellow spandex bodysuit and much too optimistic about his chances of taking on New York’s criminal fraternity. He also didn’t count on encountering Big Daddy (an extraordinarily morose Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl, a father-daughter vigilante duo armed to the teeth and seeking revenge on major crime lord Frank D’Amico, nor very modern problem of becoming an overnight Youtube celebrity.

Matthew Vaughan keeps everything within the realms of the cartoon-like, with bad, bad villains meeting their comeuppance and good guys striving to get the girl, although the occasionally Miike Takashi-like levels of ultra-violence and the inappropriately foul utterances of the pre-pubescent Hit Girl suggest this films precedents are more in exploitation cinema rather than Marvel adaptations. The old difficulty of adapting from a graphic novel source resurfaces: in trying to recreate the source’s feeling of a fully-formed world, the first half has to set up three different story strands, and switching between these leaves the narrative initially a little stop-start. However, they converge come the eventual denouement, resulting in a more coherent and satisfying watch than Zack Snyder’s muddled Watchmen (2009). A bigger-budget sequel inevitably beckons, but it will lose this film’s easy lo-fi charm.

The Kreutzer Sonata (Bernard Rose, 2008, USA)

Mostly famous for having made effectively creepy slasher Candyman (1992), British director Bernard Rose’s career since has seen him tackle the life of Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (1994), as well as twice adapt Tolstoy for the screen – a lavish Anna Karenina (1997) followed by the contrastingly low-key Ivansxtc (2000) – so it seems only logical that he eventually turn his attention to The Kreutzer Sonata, the Russian’s famously notorious tribute to the eponymous work by the German composer. Artistic notoriety, though, seldom lasts long, and though one can argue that many of the overriding themes of the novella happily abide, if there is a major flaw with Rose’s film then it is that at its foundations the original story simply fails to shock today in the same way it did on its publication over a century ago.

As with Ivansxtc, which transposed The Death of Ivan Ilych from Tsarist Russia to modern-day Los Angeles, we are once again situated in affluent Beverly Hills, this time around in the spacious mansion of Edgar Hudson, director of his family’s charitable foundation and whose life is divided somewhere between apparently pious philanthropy and schmoozing with the city’s socialite set. As the film opens, though, he lies distraught on his bed having committed an as-yet unspecified act, apparently inspired by a performance of the Beethoven sonata, and which has caused him to recollect the history of his relationship with pianist Abby, who also just happens to be his wife.

Through flashbacks we see how their relationship came about: they meet at a cocktail party: he single and on the prowl, she attached but unmistakeably interested. He succeeds in seducing her away from her then-partner, and the two become involved romantically, leading to her eventually falling pregnant. The demands of childbearing force her to abandon her burgeoning career as a concert pianist for which she begins to harbour resentments, straining the couple’s relationship and leading to Edgar proposing hosting of a charity piano recital to appease her. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata is chosen, a duet with which she begins to rehearse with violinist Aiden, who an increasingly paranoid and frantic Edgar suspects she is conducting an extra-marital affair with.

This exposition offers, stripped of the setting and more minor details of Tolstoy’s novella , offers up one its main themes: the apparent incompatibility between monogamy and long-term sexual fulfillment. Through a series of increasingly bizarre internal monologues, we hear Edgar’s obsessive commentary on the rise and fall of the couple’s relationship: from their early lust-filled encounters – shown in surprisingly graphic detail – through to his more-and-more paranoid ruminations on her perceived dissatisfaction and possible infidelities. Given the circumstances of their initial coming together, these thoughts are understandable, and in one of the film’s more perceptive moments, we see Edgar appear to observe his wife giving Aiden the very same look of desire that she gave him all those years before. No sign, though, of the theme of sexual abstinence, central to Tolstoy’s writing of the novella, but apparently incompatible with Rose’s story. Its absence is noticeable, and renders hollow much of what remains.

As with adapting, say, a Kafka or a Nabokov, the key issue with Tolstoy is in trying to evoke the original tone, and Rose’s film seems torn between this demand and that of telling the story, to the point where it at times feels like two separate films. The first is the more straightforward passive observational film charting the couple’s courtship, played at a steady pace and naturalistically acted, which takes us through the essential storyline. Like Ivansxtc, the eschewing of film for use of DV cameras does an effective job of capturing the intimacies and details in almost fly-on-the-wall documentary fashion, though the overly shaky handheld work suggests a rather excitable fly. The easy charm of Danny Huston, who excels is this kind of role, and the coy sexiness of Elisabeth Röhm create a very watchable pairing.

Interleaved between these more laidback scenes, though, are moments of light farce, first-person narration placing us somewhere inside Edgar’s frayed mind through which echo the notes of that damned sonata, apparently sending him off somewhere near David Helfgott territory. Their presence successfully convey the sense of an unreliable narrator and provide both both oddly comic moments reminiscent of Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as darker insights into Edgar’s soul, or absence thereof. However, though on the whole blending into the storyline well, the dichotomy between these scenes and the more observational ones makes the film feel tonally uneven; funny in places, but not satisfying in its entirety.

Given the slew of films emerging from American independent cinema featuring highly superficial and almost wholly dislikeable characters whom we are apparently supposed to identify with – prime among them the characters in Jonathan Demme’s painfully irritating Rachel Getting Married (2008) – it is pleasing at least to see a film where repulsion is the desired reaction to the protagonist. Sure, Danny Huston’s Edgar is charming, but so too is he shown to be philistine and ultimately solipsistic, a man who sees in a worthy charity event only an opportunity to set a trap for his wife. Viewed by Los Angeles society as a benevolent do-gooder, as we penetrate his psyche he comes across increasingly as a selfish, misogynistic sleaze. This, though, is as much comment the film has to make about its character, who ends up just a little too two-dimensional.

In placing the film in modern-day USA, the film goes some of the way to replacing the mores of nineteenth century Russian society with twenty-first century American ones, but it does have the effect of making the denouement seem unnecessary – surely quickie divorce would be the simpler outcome in L.A.? Ultimately there isn’t enough in Rose’s film to replace what has been jettisoned from Tolstoy; in removing the thesis of sexual abstinence from this story of the unknowability of women, this tale of the fall of a charming misogynist falls a little flat.

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010, USA)

Those a little perplexed by the sheer pulpy excess of Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Departed (2006), should remember that, like Quentin Tarantino after him, the director’s famously encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema has long placed on equal par the genre picture and the art-house classic, a democracy in which Gun Crazy (1950) is as important an influence as Ossessione (1943). One ought not to forget either that Scorsese was a graduate of the Roger Corman film school, an early brush with exploitation which can be betrayed to varying extents in his output ever since Boxcar Bertha (1972) gave rise to Mean Streets (1973). The problem is, running to an overlong 138 minutes Shutter Island if anything needed to be a little more Corman and less Cimino.

The year is 1953, and we begin aboard a ferry carrying US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his newly-appointed investigative partner Chuck Aule, who together have been sent to the small titular island, home to the Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane, a forbidding place established from these early shots aboard the boat – the hold all clanking chains and handcuffs – to their arrival through the high-security electric-fenced perimeter of the hospital. On arrival, the hospital’s head psychiatrist, the charming, smooth-talking Dr. John Cawley, explains that it is his liberal-minded philosophy that these dangerous prisoners may be ‘cured’ of their mental traumas by allowing them to act out their anxieties rather than by punishing and medicating them; this awakens hostility from Teddy, who in a series of dreamlike flashbacks recalls not only his wife’s death in an arson house fire but also his presence as a soldier at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, dually haunted by the ghosts of a loved one and strangers he was unable to save from mechanised slaughter.


Ostensibly Teddy and Chuck’s mission is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of Ashecliff’s patients/inmates, Rachel Solando, who had been locked up for the brutal drowning of her three young children. But just how did she manage to escape from her locked cell, barred at the windows? Within the opening reels, this is the apparent central mystery, but slowly the detective story mutates as it transpires that Teddy has other, hidden reasons for coming to the island: not only has he reason to believe that his wife’s killer has been sent there, but he also suspects that the facility has been conducting mind experiments on its inmates. Thus, he is conflicted between two motivations: on the one hand avenging his wife’s death, and on the other crusading against what he sees as the appropriation of the Nazi thought experiments he fought against during the war.


This is only the piano terra of what quickly becomes a complicated Memento-like (2000) house of cards representing the fractured psychology of Marshal Daniels. Communicating to the ghost of his dead wife, who seems to be urging him on in his investigations, albeit then decaying into a pile of ash, he begins to question the trustworthiness of all around him – inmates, staff, even his own partner. Most of all, he is suspicious of Dr. Jeremiah Naehring, the German ex-pat colleague of Cawley’s who seems to suggest a link to the wartime experiences he is unable to forget. But can he believe even himself, led by ghosts of his own memories?


Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, whose comparably more sober Mystic River (2003) and Gone, Baby, Gone (2007) have also been filmed, Shutter Island is the kind of story which translates very well to the visual medium, and Scorsese employs a full gamut of camera techniques in order to send us hurtling around the menacing prison’s corridors and its surrounding windswept island in a whirlwind fashion. Hitchcock seems the key reference point in terms of storytelling, reflected most obviously in the Bernard Herrmann-esque score as well as visual nods to Vertigo (1957) and Psycho (1960), but one can’t help but think that Hitch might have trimmed the running time down by a reel or so; the drawn-out ending in particular makes the full 138 minutes feel just too long, and the sheer obviousness of the big plot twist makes it seem as if Scorsese is showing his cards more than a little too early.


The length issue is reflective of the film’s essence as a hybrid of detective story and psychological autopsy, and the film ends up feeling a strangely schizophrenic mish-mash of visual styles. The opening reels feel strangely old-fashioned, an homage to the classic post-war film noir tradition right down to the apparent use of very retro-looking back-projection placing the island ferry atop the ocean waves, and veteran DP Robert Richardson’s camera and lighting take ecstatic delight in showing the period mise en scene. And yet despite the hokey, over-expositionary dialogue, there is an unease about those early scenes, largely thanks to some odd jump-cut editing and subtle use of minor temporal discontinuities to set the viewer on alert that all is certainly not what it seems. The dream sequences, though, are pure Tarkovsky, undercranked and littered with symbols and associative elemental imagery, with a feeling of po-faced unease that occasionally threatens to turn into slapstick.


The pastiche of film noir tropes is unsurprising for the director whose films always seem so enamoured with cinema history, but the evocation of the Holocaust seems flippant, almost frivolous, to what is ultimately an insubstantial story, if an entertaining one. Of course, noir owed its existence to World War Two, not only as a reaction to its horrors but as a product of its resultant immigration to Hollywood of the likes of Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder, and it is certainly possible to use experience of it to great achieve great empathic effect – see how Nabokov subverted the apparent comedy of Pnin with the haunting tragedy of Buchenwald – yet here it feels like Scorsese is unable convincingly to work it in to the story, at least with the unresponsive DiCaprio as lead. Not that DiCaprio is bad – in fact he seems well suited to this period hokum – but for a film which about interior psychology his performance is simply too opaque.


For its problems, Shutter Island remains enjoyably entertaining, and a film unashamedly soaked in love for the history and traditions of cinema, and for the sheer craft of old-fashioned thriller filmcraft. Still, it is an obtuse, awkward work, and will surely baffle many more than it will delight, but this seems to be where its charm lies; file under ‘personal projects’ alongside The Aviator (2004) and Kundun (1997). Maybe this is where the true value of his work has resided all along.