Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shutter Island Was Good Until...

*** Spoiler Alert!!!!***
***I literally give away the entire ending of Shutter Island, as well as major plots in other films such as Fight Club, Hide and Seek, The Secret Window, The Number 23, Identity, American Psycho, The Machinist etc etc***

Upon watching the film Shutter Island which was released earlier this year, I was thoroughly enjoying the visual work and acting jobs of Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, and Sir Ben Kingsley. In addition, as the plot strayed into the territory of there being a major conspiracy regarding the asylum institution and the practices going on there, it became really complex and interesting.

Eventually, at the crux of the film, I recognized that there were three different paths the plot could take for the end of the story:

1. Leo officially discovers what is really going on on Shutter Island, and must thereby escape the island to alert other federal officials. The only problem with this is figuring out if anyone wants to DO anything about the institution, or what happens to the patients after the real workings are exposed.

2. Leo gains evidence about the true workings of Shutter Island, but the authorities of the facility are in no way going to let him escape. They subsequently decide to make Leo believe that he is insane (when he really is not) or at least declare his insanity, and thereby force him to become a patient at the institution. Goings-on can therefore continue as they have been on Shutter Island, however shady they may be.

3. Leo finally discovers that he, in fact, has been insane all along and has created this fantasy world in his mind after a traumatic event in his own life, or because of an extra persona he has developed during his life and after his work in World War II.

Now... personally, I think the second option would have been the most interesting, as well as devious in nature
which would suit the overall ominous mood of this film.
But WHAT did they go with?
Oh of course, the third plot!
This is probably because of the idea that this is a really amazing "twist" for the story to take, but unfortunately, in terms of psychological thrillers, it's the MOST COMMON twist that is being used nowadays.

Don't believe me?
Think about the following movies (and my not-so-funny running narrative of them):

Fight Club - "Wait, Tyler Durden is just another personality I created?"
Hide and Seek - "You mean the man terrorizing my child is actually... ME?"
The Number 23 - "All the things that happened in this story were my own repressed, traumatic memories?"
The Secret Window - "The man who is claiming I stole his story is actually just my other, more violent side?"
Identity - "None of these other people exist, and it's really just my one personality killing all the others?"
American Psycho - "Um, did I actually commit any of these crimes or did my mind just make it up?"
The Machinist - "All this messed up stuff and my ridiculous weight-loss is just my mind repressing a traumatic memory that wants to surface itself?"

What do these movies have in common? The protagonist turns out to be (pardon the crass and politically incorrect term) "crazy" all along.
And I'm not going to lie, I REALLY enjoyed Fight Club and found it very original, but as I saw more and more "psychological thrillers" I became increasingly bored by this so-called twist at the end, simply because I had seen it so many times before.

This is the only problem I saw when watching Shutter Island. To be fair, I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless, and was surprised by the uncovering of facts regarding Michelle William's character, but I still retain the belief that there were other, possibly more interesting ways the plot could have concluded.

What does anyone else who saw this movie think? Do you like how it ended, or do you think the idea regarding conspiracy theory should have been examined further?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil: Criminal Portrayals in Film and our Senitments

*** Includes a rundown/analysis of the films Monster (2003) and Boy A (2997) ***

It seems as though in Hollywood, committing so-called "small" crimes is not as big of a concern as it is in real life. Or, more specifically, the realities of charges and paperwork are smoothed over and almost eliminated from films altogether: yes, it is to keep up the pace of the movie and aid to closure in the denouement of the fabricated story.

But how does that compare to our view of "harder" crimes, such as murder, or even portrayals of real-life criminals?

Small Crime:
This type of crime is what I would consider anything committed in an action movie, or comedy, with specific aiding to the protagonist to complete their goal. For example:

This could be stealing a car, running red lights, or all-around dangerous activity on the roads in order to engage in an important chase or get to a certain someone in time.
This could be dashing through airport security to see the girl you love one last time before she boards a plane to wherever she is going where you aren't.
This could be intruding in someone's desk or office for papers and other information you require about someone, a destination, their actions, your family, etc.
This could be causing extensive damage to public and/or private property during a brawl, heist, chase, etc.
But why is the person who commits these acts in action or comedy films never prosecuted?
Oh, because in the end they stopped the "bad guy," or uncovered some underground drug ring, or did it all in the name of love!

And that one good act is supposed to wipe clean the fact that they knowingly committed a felony or two, or ten? Apparently so. Nobody wants the hero to be put in jail after their righteous actions and winning of their love's heart or takedown of a shady character.
Or, conveniently the protagonist character will be involved in some sort of police service, and therefore able to find loopholes in all the red-tape or claim it was in for the sake of their case and demise of another criminal.

Hard Crime:
Our feelings towards characters in film who commit crimes such as assault and murder are more likely to confuse our sentiments towards them, however.

Sometimes, in the heat of an action film, some people need to be killed or beaten to a pulp (which I'm not sure if you know, is a SERIOUS case of physical assault), yet as I stated earlier, if it's the heroic lead committing these acts, of course it is considered alright; just a little bit of collateral damage along the way of solving the case, perhaps?

Of course, these sorts of acts can be forgiven in cases of being attacked yourself, and needing to resort to violence as a form of self defense. This, in turn, would be considered self-defense in a court of law as well, due to the traumatic event the individual faced.

When faced with a serious film depicting a real-life story, or even something inspired by true events, my personal feelings become a bit confusing as to what I should feel for the character.
It seems as though when you hear of these criminals in the news, they are portrayed as demons in our community, or people that should not ever be allowed back into society. In cinema, if they are acting as the antagonist of the story, they are still depicted in a similar manner.
In contrast, however, if this character is playing the protagonist, the view of them presented is more sympathetic, and we sometimes even feel for them.

Why would cinema try to portray these criminals in such a light? Is it to develop our views of society and understanding as to how murderers become the way they are? Is it to allow us to understand that some people can in fact become rehabilitated into society over extensive periods of time?

I'd like to believe that these are possible explanations. And it is true: these people we see in the media often have startling back-stories to their lives; though, sometimes, of course, they are in fact simply sociopathic members of society. It's hard to know though...

Monster (2003):
An example of such a film that portrays a real-life criminal is the movie Monster, with Charlize Theron. The film depicted the story of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute from Daytona Beach who became a serial killer.
(For more information, see the Wiki page here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aileen_Wuornos )

Throughout the film, we see Aileen faced with harsh circumstances and even harsher clients to
the point of rape. We don't feel remorse for the first man that Aileen kills, but her mindset towards all men being brutal misogynists soon spirals out of control. In addition, Theron's portrayal of the woman is such a strong performance of acting (she received the 2003 Academy Award for Best Actress in fact) that we begin to feel sympathy for Wuornos, and can understand why she committed these acts, despite being slightly abusive and misleading to her young partner, as played by Christina Ricci in the film. The fact remains, however, that to the outside world and the general public, Wuornos is still considered a serial killer and "Monster" -- such as the film's title. After seeing the film, though, do we feel a little sorry for her conviction on death row, or do we hold no remorse at all, like the world felt at the time of her conviction? I honestly don't know anymore!

Boy A (2007):
Another film that confounds my feelings is the film Boy A, which didn't exactly portray a fact-based story, but shared many similarities (and was perhaps inspired by?) the events surrounding the James Bulger murder in England in 1993.
(For more information, see the Wiki page here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Patrick_Bulger )

Although the film depicted a story of a sensitive nature, it was
well-received by critics, especially regarding young Andrew Garfield's portrayal of the protagonist, Jack (he in fact received the 2008 Best Actor BAFTA award for this role). The film depicts Jack as a young man being released from prison after being sentenced for the murder of a schoolmate at the young age of 10-years old. Garfield's portrayal of this man is such that he almost seems like he is still a child mentally, due to growing up in a juvenile centre and lacking many worldly experiences of growing up and interacting with the world. Due to his innocence, the audience automatically falls in love with the character, and can see a definite likability in him.
The flashbacks to the days leading up to the murder also illuminate the influence Jack's young, disturbed friend Philip had upon him. Philip was also convicted for this murder, but committed suicide prior to his release from prison. Was this because he didn't feel as though he would be accepted into society again, or perhaps he felt true remorse for his actions as a child?
Either way, Jack is forced to face his release alone, but takes a new name (the new name, being Jack), as to eliminate the possibility of being attacked. When the public learns of his true identity, they react negatively, such as was the fear, despite Jack knowing that he is not in fact the young killer he used to be.

These public reactions were real concerns when the boys convicted of James Bulger's murder were released in 2001. This got me to thinking, would I be concerned for public safety if I knew that
these boys were free in my neighborhood? Possibly, yes. In seeing Garfield's emotional, innocent portrayal of Jack, however, it becomes a little less concerning, as though due to their young age and lack of a real childhood, these boys could definitely become functioning members of society, as long as their past does not haunt them (which Jack's does, leading to the ultimate, heartbreaking conclusion of the film). Of course, it is also possible that under harsh conditions growing up and lack of adult role-models in their lives, the boys would become even more psychologically damaged, and therefore be unfit to be reinstated into society. The courts ruled, however, that they were, thus leading to the subsequent events in England of fear of the public.

But what were the boys really like upon release? Were they like Garfield displayed in the film? Sure, they got new names like in the film, but later, one was once again arrested. Did the media skew anything in relation to the boys? It's hard to know for sure... and therefore once again, confuses my sentiments regarding criminals and how I feel about them in cinema.

And now, I leave it to you. Does anyone else get bothered by the petty crimes and buildings blowing up in action movies or romantic comedies with no consequences for the characters? And what about portraying real-life criminals, either as grizzly antagonists or sympathetic protagonists?
Makes for a confuddled mindset regarding Hollywood and real life, that's for sure.