I Have to Get This Off My Chest

Split Rock Lighthouse construction

Image via Wikipedia

This brief post will address something about the film Shutter Island that has been driving me nuts.  I just have to let it go.  And for conservatives out there, the post will end with a little something for you, too…a lesson of sorts that can be loosely taken from Shutter Island.

First let me say that I liked Shutter Island.  I tend to like period pieces set in the 1950s, films set on windswept stormy islands, and stories involving asylums and Shutter Island had all three!  But this was no Lilith and Leonardo DiCaprio was more Warren Beatty than Peter Fonda.  Nevertheless, I like Leonardo DiCaprio.  He’s a better actor than Warren Beatty — who isn’t? — and the film offers a genuinely “playful” storyline, in a dark sort of way.  (Degree of difficulty alert for conservatives:  This is a thinking man’s version of Who’s on First.  It could get complicated.)

Visually Shutter Island lives up to the standards of cinema today and the story is fairly tight, although I think there are too many psychodramatic flash backs to Dachau and Teddy’s murdered family and wife, which for the most part fall flat, but perhaps that’s a matter of taste.  (They make films too damn long these days.)

I can believe crazy ex-Nazis and paranoid scientists, nurses, and orderlies experimenting on crazy people on a super secret sanitarium on an island in Boston Harbor, but not when that island looks more like the coast of Maine than Peddocks Island, which is in fact in Boston Harbor.  But that’s a minor issue. 

What drove me nuts is this:  Look at that lighthouse!

A Lighthouse or just another hallucination?

Who would build a lighthouse there?  Seriously.  I am having a great time watching this film and then they do this to me. 

The film comfortably gets my agreement and pulls me in.  Dangerous experiments on an isolated island that is a day-and-half ferry ride out from Boston in Boston Harbor that no one, not even the yachting set, knows about?  Well, ok…I can buy that and all is good…then this:  That lighthouse!

A teenie-tiny little lighthouse set on a rock in a cove surrounded by cliffs.  Really?  Come on, people. 

Why not build the lighthouse on the cliffs?  You might not even need the tower!

Here in Minnesota we know a thing or two about lighthouses even though we only have lakes.  One lake in particular is a big one, in fact we cannot claim it to be our own.  Lake Superior.  On lake superior we have a rather smart and practical light house…built on a cliff.   

Take a look at Split Rock Lighthouse.  Built on a cliff 90 feet above the lake, it is practical and saved a lot of expense and effort.

Split Rock Light House. Lake Superior. Minnesota.

The idea behind a lighthouse is getting a signal out to sea for navigation and such.  The Shutter Island lighthouse will be casting two-thirds of its beam into the rocks and pines surrounding it.  It might have made more sense to build on the cliff, correct?

I know Shutter Island is only a film and it is a film packed with hallucinations and delusions, but I like my insanity to exist within a somewhat concrete and stable world.  I enjoy the convincing juxtaposition, like the surgical steel ice pick making a shiny bloodless cameo toward the end of the film. 

Now my notes to my many conservative readers. 

Well first let’s talk about where you build a lighthouse.  Your hero Reagan talked a great deal about America being the shining city on the hill.  Remember?  Sounds a lot like a lighthouse.  Perhaps that’s what he had in mind.  Here’s my advice:  Let’s not start building that shining city on the hill by digging a hole first.  Look at the lighthouse from Shutter Island again.  A lot of the light it casts will be seen by no one.  More importantly, perhaps, get just one big storm to churn up the water in that rocky cove and your lighthouse is gone.  Rubble.

But I want to pick on you conservatives a bit more directly and push you a little.  What is Leonardo DiCaprio’s last line and the last line in the film?  It is this:  “Which would be worse, to live as a monster or die as a good man?”


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