Nerdgasm: ‘Shutter’ crap

In Columns, Opinion

Warning: this column will be spoiler-y for those of you who haven’t seen “Shutter Island” yet. So please don’t read this and then send me furious e-mails telling me I’m a horrible person because I ruined a movie for you. It’s not ruining movies that makes me a horrible person, it’s the arson.

I’m just saying, there’s a difference.

Warning II: Electric Boogaloo: I’m serious. I’m going to be talking about one of the main plot points in “Shutter Island.” Stop reading now if you’re one of those people who goes into a homicidal rage if someone gives away the ending to something.

Warning the Third: Here be spoilers, ye be warned.

“Shutter Island” has been a huge success for director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. I don’t mean to drop a metaphorical deuce on their success – wait, no, sorry. I totally do.

The movie has all the trappings of a good thriller/atmospheric-horror/talking picture: it has an engaging plot, interesting (likeable is admittedly a bit of a stretch) characters, spooky settings, blah blah blah. And then we get to the end.

Over the years, psychology has become a sort of a dues ex machina for screenwriters; a “Get Out of Jail Free” card when they write themselves into a corner.

It’s easy to see why. Whereas society has a pretty good grasp on some areas of study, psychology remains a largely uncharted territory. Furthermore, while demons and vampires can be dismissed as imaginary creatures, the idea that one’s own mind – which is supposed to help rather than hinder – can turn against us is, frankly, terrifying.

Or at least it would be, if at this point the idea wasn’t so cliché and overused.

“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” is basically a book that gives information about every recognized mental illness. It’s also a buffet of plot devices for screenwriters.

Problem: Your main character is being pursued by an insane serial killer who is also targeting everyone that said main character knows and loves. The time has come to unmask the identity of the serial killer, and if it’s not shocking enough then some high-powered Hollywood executive is going to rape your dog. WHAT DO YOU DO?

Solution: The main character did it. He/she has Multiple Personalities Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder if you want to be hip and with the times). Now sit back, relax and enjoy some margaritas.

Problem: You wrote a full-length script and are reading through it again only to realize that it’s not interesting/convoluted enough. WHAT DO YOU DO?

Solution: Give the main character amnesia; make the plot about him/her figuring out the plot. Remember: everyone loves amnesia! Amnesia is to Hollywood suspense films what apple pie is to America.

Problem: Your script is not weird enough. You must add more weird shit. WHAT DO YOU DO?

Solution: Make one of the characters (preferably the antagonist, but feel free to make it the protagonist if you’re feeling sassy) schizophrenic. Only when you’re doing research about the disease, don’t look at any valid medical sources. Rather, use soap operas and older horror movies. No one will know the difference!

I’m picking on “Shutter Island” because it’s the most recent example of a long history of Hollywood using stereotypes about the mentally ill to mend plot holes. Well, that and because “Shutter” manages to take all three clichés and smelt them together to form an ending that can only be described as similar to pulling a delicious chocolate cake out of the refrigerator only to have someone set you on fire.

Most films depicting mental illness will also rely on the insta-cure to make everything all better after it’s revealed that one of the characters is insane. “Shutter Island” is no exception.

Here’s the dangerous thing about Hollywood and mental illness: while it’s common sense to think that what’s being portrayed on the screen is make-believe, it’s not always the case – especially when you’re dealing with a subject that many people aren’t comfortable talking about for fear of being judged.

This in turn can lead to someone who, upon encountering someone who is seriously mentally ill, will tell them to “snap out of it.” This in turn may lead to a mentally ill person not getting the treatment that he or she requires.

TL;DR: Hollywood needs to do a better job of portraying the mentally ill. Also, what’s the deal with airline food?

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  • suzy venuta

    Great point!!!!

    As someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, I did a research essay just on what you were talking about, the medias portrayal of Dissociative identity disorder.

    Thank you for reminding people that what they see in movies, TV etc…in many cases is not what this condition is like for those of us with this much misunderstood disorder.

    It is much appreciated

    Suzy Venuta


  • Harold A. Maio

    stereotypes about the mentally ill

    “the” mentally ill is the basest of stereotype.

    Harold A. Maio

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