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From the Gothic to the Goth

Shutter Island
15, Nationwide The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
18, Nationwide.

10 March 2010

12:00 AM

10 March 2010

12:00 AM

Shutter Island
15, Nationwide

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
18, Nationwide.


Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is really rather outrageous. Thunder! Lightning! Crazies! Cliff drops! Creepy scientists! Nazis! It’s a madhouse thriller that plays like a wildly cranked-up B movie which, being Scorsese, must mean he intended it to play like a wildly cranked-up B movie. I can’t imagine he set out to make a deep, dark, intricately plotted mobster movie and this came out instead. What would he have said when he saw the final cut? Would he have slapped his head and exclaimed, ‘Bloody hell, where’s my mobster movie? This is a cranked-up B movie! I’m a schmuck!’? So, no, I think we can assume this is what Scorsese was aiming for, and? It’s not a serious film and it’s not even an especially suspenseful film but it is fun, in a Dr Caligari sort of way, and there is a surprise at the end that I just did not see coming, although you might. I’m just not that bright. Never have been; never will be. I accept this about myself now.

The story: set in 1954, this is about two US marshals —Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) — who are dispatched to a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a child murderess from the island’s fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane. My, the island is spooky, with its cliff drops and electrified fences and, of course, impending storm, which soon means lashing rain and howling winds, and the phones going down, and the ferry being unable to run, and so no escape. Well, would you believe it? Talk about bad luck. Here, all is not what it seems, or is it? Are the two main psychiatrists — Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow; both doing their silky malevolence shtick — the good guys? Or the bad guys? As Teddy and Chuck investigate, Scorsese plays it to the hilt with every Gothic horror and haunted house cliché you can think of. Meanwhile, Teddy has his own problems. As part of the American forces that liberated Dachau, he relives the death camp in his nightmares and hallucinations. I wonder: is it proper to use the holocaust in a theme-park, brain-teaser of a film like this? I don’t know the answer, am just putting the question out there, although will say it did jar with me. I will also say that, while I never believed in any of this nonsense for a minute, and didn’t believe in Teddy at all, it moves at a cracking pace and I was always keen to see how it would pan out. Will the twist come as a surprise to you? Maybe yes and maybe no. It’ll depend on how smart you are. (Not very, I’ve heard; get over it.)

And now, from the Gothic to the Goth, which is an awful link, but if The Spectator wants clever links it is going to have to employ someone cleverer and, probably, more expensive. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an adaptation of the best-selling book by the Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, which has sold a billion trillion copies thus far, and is what is known as a global sensation, which means it’s a sensation, globally. I read the book while on a wet holiday in Wales — are there any other kind (sigh)? — and it gave me a sense of purpose where otherwise I might have had none. Anyway, this mystery kicks off when Henrik Vanger, an octogenarian industrialist, hires Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist who has just lost a libel case under murky circumstances, to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet. Nearly 40 years earlier, Harriet vanished from a small island owned by the Vanger family, and Henrik has never gotten over it. The girl of the title isn’t Harriet, though, but the girl co-opted to help Blomkvist. This is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a 24-year-old pierced, tattooed computer hacker with a Goth wardrobe, a photographic memory, a violent temper and some serious intimacy issues. There’s a bit of a detour where her probation officer does something to her and she does something to him. I don’t want to give the game away but would advise you of the following: whenever the probation officer enters a scene make sure to LOOK AWAY! I’d forgotten, actually, how sadistically violent this story is.

Ms Rapace is totally wonderful as Lisbeth, absolutely inhabits her in all her surly glory, whereas Nyqvist has much less to do, if only because Blomkvist is just so irritatingly passive. Still, the film is certainly faithful to every detail of the novel’s intricate plot, which is fair enough, but does give it the feel of a plodding TV whodunit rather than a cinematic experience, and at 152 minutes it is far too long, just as 152 minutes is far too long for anything. It’s certainly too long for a holiday in Wales. Whatever, one film this week is about a woman mysteriously disappearing from an island, while the other…oh, yes. I see that now. Hey, I may even be smarter than I think!


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