Recall your last treasure hunt. Remember whether you were filled with an exhilaration of the pursuit, whether you were immersed in the exposure of clues and footprints, whether piecing together the precise whereabouts of the bounty was more important than actually capturing it. If such memories are analogous to yours, Martin Scorsese has a film for you.

“Shutter Island”

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Paramount

This film is “Shutter Island,” neither thriller nor adventure but a mystery mired in a thick, eerie fog. The titular island is home to 66 criminally insane individuals, one of whom, a woman who drowned her children, has somehow escaped from her cell. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, “Revolutionary Road”) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, “Where the Wild Things Are”) are deployed to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance.

Scorsese once said, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” If he really believes that, then he clearly intended “Shutter Island” to be experienced by an audience of detectives. What’s in the frame is a wafting cloud of pipe smoke, the tall back of a chair with an unknown occupant. What’s out is a firm connection between events past and present. Yet the clues are there; the question is whether the viewer’s eye is discerning enough to spot them.

The revelation to which those clues lead borders on preposterous, and the conclusion’s absurdity makes those hints and signs all the more priceless to the film’s entertainment value. To spoil their appearances, excruciatingly tempting as it is, would be far more unfair than revealing the finale. Only trust that they exist, and they are awesome.

The audience’s entertainment is wrought from the hunt because the film’s ultimate delivery — the big, conclusive chunk of information that renders all preceding events possible — is disappointing enough to ruin the experience if the audience allows it to do so. What’s worse, the film runs for a superfluous final act even after the disclosure of the big twist. All the tension and unease is unleashed in one truculent moment and somehow the film rolls to the finish line with no air in its tires.

And oh, that big twist. By now many people know that “Shutter Island” has a twist. Jerks and buttheads the world over have been revealing the big plot twist on the ever-precarious Internet. The victims of this cruelty need not despair; in fact, he or she will probably enjoy “Shutter Island” a great deal more than someone entering the theater with no such knowledge.

A viewer who already knows what’s coming can appreciate the aural and visual intricacies with which Scorsese dots the frame. One who is ignorant to the conclusion, merely waiting for the payoff, will only frown and complain that they sat through all those absurdities and dream sequences and dream-within-dream-within-dream sequences for such an impossible resolution.

In one such absurdity, Daniels and Aule seek shelter from a ferocious hurricane inside a cramped, stony mausoleum. As long as we’re in here, Daniels offers, here’s a list of reasons why we’re on this island. Here’s an informant nobody has mentioned yet. How interesting, Aule responds. Allow me to leap headfirst to conclusions with the wind and orchestra accelerating around the growing paranoia beneath our fedoras, and we shall proceed under such enormous assumptions. Toward the end of the film, a character literally wheels out a chalkboard and explains the connection of this thing to that thing.

One of the most elementary ingredients in filmmaking aesthetic is called matching on action. If a character is shown raising an apple to his mouth, the next shot will show him taking a bite, and the shot after that will be the apple in his hand lowering to his waist. The conclusive action to which the shot cuts must match the shot that preceded it — directionally, spatially, temporally. Matching on action preserves a film’s sequential continuity. To ignore this rule — to skip the bite — would prove immensely disconcerting to the audience.

Naturally, Scorsese doesn’t just disregard this law, he aggressively violates it. Throughout the film, Daniels will hear a noise and his head will already be turned when the shot cuts, or his wife will approach him with arms outstretched and suddenly they’re already locked in an embrace. It’s unnerving, it’s clearly purposeful, and it makes the audience look around and wonder if anyone else saw it. In a movie about a missing crazy person on an island full of crazy people, Scorsese makes the viewer feel like the crazy one.

“Shutter Island” is wholly arresting. Its artistry succeeds on a level that contemporary horror films can only achieve in their dreams. And though its surprise is undeniably disappointing, the manic path that leads to its conclusion is only further thrilling evidence of Scorsese’s mastery.

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