Shutter Island and The Shock Doctrine: Connecting the Dots

I saw Shutter Island yesterday with a friend, and at the end we were sorting out the various parts of the plot to make sure that both versions were equally plausible, as in good Scorsese fashion, where by tradition fiction and reality, subconscious and performance inevitably blur.  The two stories being that Edward is either really the US Marshall with the mission to investigate the criminal asylum where Lewaddis, the man who set his house and wife on fire is held, or that he is a fool in denial of the fact that Lewaddis and himself are actually the same person.
As I saw the film I kept thinking of Naomi Klein’s political theory book, The Shock Doctrine, which claims that the project of wrecking an economy as motive to activate a politics of privatization and wholesale of public assets, is actually a practice that started in psychiatric hospitals, when electroshock and lobotomies were common medical practices in mental hospitals.  The famous ‘Chicago Boys,’ the Milton Freedman acolytes who engineered the various economic crises in question in the subsequent decades, learned their trade from psychiatry.  They succeeded, according to Klein, in generating the kind of panic and terror that broke people resistance and gave political advocates of privatization a blank slate.
It is interesting to me that a director like Scorsese would pick up Klein’s message in some roundabout way and create the concrete images that bring the message home for the next generation, which visually oriented and whose collective consciousness responds to cinema that way.
My friend and I enjoyed the movie even though we realize that the ambivalence of the plot might baffle some spectators.  To us, that ambivalence is a bonus not just because it is the hallmark of Scorsese, but rather because it reflects the confusion present in reality itself, the fact that if human experiments intended to control your brain are happening next door, it could very well be that will never, for sure, know. 
Leonardo di Caprio, whom I hadn’t seen since Titanic (I miss a lot of movies), was in the part, I felt, his rugged charm improved with maturity.
I am a writer and an activist and a professor, and I blog about movies and other topics at
http://polyplanet.blogspot.com
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serenagaia • March 22, 2010


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