Shutter Island and the use of World War II

17 August 2009 at 13:47 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Coming attractions have taken on a greater importance now that I have a blog to maintain. With a limited number of new movies to comment upon, trailers provide a source for speculation about what’s next in cinema. Saturday, I attended the very entertaining film The Hurt Locker, and the following trailer screened much to my delight:

Shutter Island is a horror buff’s dream-come-true: Martin Scorcese directing a thriller with a kick-ass cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, and Emily Mortimer! Casting and directing aside, the concept looks intriguing with questions of psychosis providing opportunities for surrealist hallucination sequences.

Reading further into the production, I also discovered that the film contains flashbacks of World War II concentration camps. Of course, drawing upon the holocaust is nothing new to film generally and the horror genre specifically, and often times, such references are problematic. We need only watch the national news to see how easily Nazism can be thrown around as a political scare-tactic. Something similar can happen in horror films whereby the Holocaust becomes short-hand for pure evil, rather than something to be reflected upon or questioned. This seems to be the case with The Unborn:

The Unborn features flashbacks of Nazi experiments performed by Dr. Mengele on twins in a story about a girl haunted by her twin who died in utero. While I’ve yet to see the film, I find it difficult to grasp how a contemporary story of posession can be aligned with Nazi experimentation. This additional information feels superfluous to the plot and thus cheap and exploitive.

Another recent film brought to my attention by my friend Kristen refers more specifically to World War II with its premise of Nazi soldier zombies:

Dead Snow, a Norwegian production, clearly grapples with issues surrounding national identity and generation. The middle-aged local man critiques the excesses of the vacationing youth by explaining the region’s history in relation to World War II. This narrative could go both ways for me. On the one hand, the representation of the World War II generation as self-sacrificing and the current one as ungrateful seems overly simplistic and a bit conservative; on the other hand, I like the capitalist critique at work. Either way, Dead Snow should provide great fodder for critique!

It remains to be seen exactly how Shutter Island will utilize the war in its narrative, and the trailer gives very few hints. The setting of the mental hospital does suggest, though, that trauma will play an important role in character and plot development. I am hopeful that Shutter Island will utilize memories of war to comment upon the oppressiveness of other institutions.

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2 Comments

  1. Annie Petersen said,

    Like you, I’m also super psyched for Shutter Island — in part because I’m an unabashed Scorsese fan, but also because the film signals his return to dealing with horror and the abject, which he’s generally steered clear of since the Cape Fear remake in the early ’90s. As much as I love the tight narrative plotting and performances of The Departed, I really think Scorsese is at his best (and most original) when dealing with the abject/horrorific — whether that be the entire character of Jake La Motta, the knife in the body in the trunk in Goodfellas, or the entire third act of Casino.

    • c8ic8 said,

      Well put, Annie! I completely agree!

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