Monday, June 14, 2010


Quite a few years ago, I picked up the book Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I had already read Mystic River, and I rather enjoyed that book, so I thought I'd try another one of his books. Shutter Island fascinated me--its plot is thick and twisted, and it is a psychological thriller that left me so deep in its grip when it ended that I had to re-read the book just to make sure I got it all. (This is the same effect that the movie The Prestige had on me--I had to re-watch the end of the movie several times to make sure I understood what had just happened.)

One of the thoughts I had after finishing to book was that it could be turned into a great movie. And so, when I heard that other people must have agreed with me because a movie was indeed being made, I was excited about it. I did have a few reservations because I knew it would be difficult for a movie to replicate everything that happens in Shutter Island--especially since so much of the story puts the reader in Teddy's (the main character's) head. In a movie, it's difficult to get that seclusion of point of view. The story isn't told in the first person, but it is definitely Teddy's story.

This past weekend, I received Shutter Island the movie from Netflix, and on Saturday, I took the afternoon off to watch the two-and-a-half hour film.

About half an hour in, I started getting bored. I played on my iPad, got a little work done, did some light chores--all while watching the movie. I think part of the problem is that I knew the ending. Watching that movie while knowing the ending is a bit like watching The Sixth Sense while knowing the ending. It becomes far less interesting when you know exactly what's happening.

I was so disappointed in my inability to get into the movie, that I can't even comment on whether the movie was actually good or not. I'd have to ask someone who's never read the book to watch it for me and tell me whether it's a good movie. Two things fascinate me about my boredom with the movie Shutter Island:

  1. I have re-read the book Shutter Island several times without ever getting bored with it--even though I know the ending.
  2. I loved the movie Mystic River (as well as the book), which is also dependent on the viewer not knowing the ending.
That leaves me thinking that perhaps the Shutter Island movie just wasn't done as well or that perhaps for the Shutter Island storyline to succeed, the viewer/reader needs to be further in Teddy's head than a movie could take us. Whatever the case, I was disappointed by the movie.

If any of you have seen the movie but not read the book, I'd be interested to hear what you think of the movie. Also, if you've both read the book and seen the movie, I'd be interested in hearing if you had a similar experience.

Happy reading!


brandon curtis said...

I think that knowing a twist ending beforehand does more to diminish the experience of watching it unfold than a more straightforward whodunnit as evidenced by your wildly different reactions to this and "Mystic River"-- you always have a murder and a culprit, but you don't always get to say "it's an autistic kid's dream like St. Elsewhere" or what have you. I guess there's a more tangible comfort in a procedural and there's also a point where the shocking ceases to be shocking. With an ending like "Shutter Island"'s you may only get the one time for it to work.

As for re-reading a book and not feeling like it has less of an impact, and how it relates to the movie working or not, the structure and organization of words has a way of making us feel, as we read them, that not even a great visual storyteller can come close to capturing.

As for me, I like the ending and I didn't read the book. I like to think Teddy had himself lobotomized on purpose. I also would've been just fine with the idea of another dedicated law enforcement type with nightmare inducing baggage who wasn't just insane.

You might find this interesting:

Jessie Sams said...


Thank you for the comment and the link. I'm glad to hear that other people were able to enjoy the film, though I still feel that the enjoyment was partially due to the element of surprise (which you mentioned in your comment). Had I watched the movie first, maybe I wouldn't have been as disappointed with it as I was. Regardless, I think I would still have enjoyed the book even if I had seen the movie before reading the book; you put it well when you mentioned that written storytelling has a way of making us feel beyond what visual storytelling can (in most cases). If you do ever read the book, I'd like to hear your thoughts on comparing the two.

Anonymous said...

Let me just say I have watched the movie like 4 times and I just don't get bored. NEVER READ the book!! I love the intensity of the film, The music and the mystery of wondering what the heck is going on. To me it is on my list of one of my favorite movies now.
I tried to get others to watch it with me but they fell short of getting what the real meaning is behind the film. The films is driven by Teddy investigating trying to find Latis (spelling) which is in actuality himself. So he is basically searching for himself.
I just don't get bored by this movie. I would love to read the book. I am sure it is wonderful also.
YES Teddy did have himself lobotomized on purpose that is why the last line was " Is it better to live like a monster or die like a hero"!!

He just could not live with who he really was.

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