Tuesday, March 9, 2010

86) Shutter Island (2010) and 87) The Ninth Configuration

86) Shutter Island (2010) Dir: Martin Scorsese Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: March 5, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

87) The Ninth Configuration (1980) Dir: William Peter Blatty Date Released: February 1980 Date Seen: March 5, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

It's very hard for me to imagine falling in love with either Shutter Island or The Ninth Configuration. I'm not talking about the distinction between being able to admire or to fiercely cozy up with psychodramas that disguise themselves as gothic horror stories. What I mean is: pulling off the crucial third act in this type of drama is especially crucial. You can have all the pieces of the puzzle assembled correctly up until this point but if they're laid down too zealously or not forcefully enough, its too easy to emotionally check out. That happened to me with both films and it's mostly because of third act narrative difficulties.

In the case of Shutter Island, there's a desperation to Scorsese's storytelling that is too vigorous in its need to deliver the story's tweesty payoff. Scenes, like the conversation about the nature of monsters or the "true nature" of the protag, force the viewer into the same corner that Leonardo Dicaprio's protagonist is forced into. They try to clonk us on the heads with overt metaphors that are too plodding to stick, too obtuse to be worth much of a damn. Likewise, the tragic revelation at the heart of Dicaprio's character just didn't grab me like it was meant to. It was too needy, too schematic to really draw me in. I appreciate Scorsese's vigor and it certainly shows that the film is most definitely not a work-for-hire project, but that same zeal can be rather off-putting. Still, I love the very last scene, which brought me back to my previous admiration for the intensity Scorsese invests in all of his (better) films.

I had the opposite problem with The Ninth Configuration, specifically that the last act loosened its grip too much for me. Again, this is a function of where the film's narrative goes, specifically outside of the asylum's walls and into a world without any rules except "The strong prey on the weak." That pat truism is shoved down the viewer's throat during the bar scene confrontation at the end and while that scene is necessary for the growth of Stacy Keach's character, it's a hard sell considering how broad the point is relative to the delicate interplay between Keach and the inmates up until that point. The story up until that point is very touch-and-go, very of the moment as it's about Keach listening to the inmates, finding out who they are and what he can find out about them. By the end, once a trajectory is assumed, the story's airy, tragic sense of humor evaporates. I wish there was more to my reaction to these films, because I think they're both rather striking. But that last act....god, that last act.

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