This 2010 Psychological Thriller stars Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Teddy Daniels, and Mark Ruffalo (character: Chuck Aule). As they are a part of The United States Marshall Service, they are assigned to look at the recent disappearance of a woman at the mental asylum called Ashecliffe on Shutter Island. When Teddy Daniels finds clues in the investigation, the hospital refuses his access to their documents; but this is not all, the communication service is cut off from the mainland after a storm, leaving them stranded on the island and several criminals escaping. As a WW2 veteran, Teddy Daniels is traumatised by his war experience, the storm triggers his memory loss and results in him doubting everything including his sanity…
The film trailer was intriguing to me because I was extremely interested in how the film would turn out after seeing the brief glimpses of scenes taken from the film.
(See “Shutter Island” film trailer below.)
I instantly wanted to begin watching the film and see what would happen to Teddy Daniels and if the introduction to the film was what I expected it to be like. That’s where I have decided to do a textual analysis on the opening title credits for the film “Shutter Island”.
The opening title sequence begins with a black screen with the similar technique as used in the title sequence of the film “Se7en”, of scratches being shown onscreen; but it’s important to note that the scratches appear onscreen much slower in “Shutter Island” than in “Se7en” where they jump back and forth. This suggests that a characteristic of a film in the thriller genre will have scratches to signify themes of confinement and imprisonment, which may be expressed later in the film.
The editing then includes a fade in from the black screen with scratches, to the shot of a creepy looking corridor; in which the music score begins to play slightly louder, and blink in time with the setting of the first shot. But we don’t get to see this in much detail as our attention is diverted to the sudden flicker of bold red typography in the lower quadrant, (as displayed below).
The thriller genre is established as the typography, revealing the credits, is red, which signifies danger and blood; making us connect these to the conventions of the genre. But at this stage, the typography has switched to the left hand side of the screen as there’s a cut from the first shot to the next. I feel like the Director has chosen to do this to throw the viewer off and adds confusement to the opening credits.
Also the use of superimposition that uncovers the shot of a spiralling staircase, is shot using a crane to achieve the high birds eye view. This puts the viewer in position of them feeling as if they are falling down the stairs. But also, as there’s a 360 degree pan, we are disorientated and it moves so quickly that we are left in a trance/illusion. This further reinforces the idea that we don’t gain enough information about each scene, leaving us on the edge of our seats to find out what’s going to happen next.
Then there’s another superimposition editing technique to a wide shot of a dark room, with a door revealing very little light. This again makes the viewer feel on edge, because I know that the rule of thirds is a technique in which the subject/point of focus is placed not in the middle, but in this case for “Shutter Island”, the door/light is centre framed. I think that the Director has chosen to do so intentionally, to give a distorted look as we feel like something is going to jump around the corner.
The use of low key lighting further reinforces the film is in the thriller genre as the settings of dark rooms/corridors create quite an omnious tone, from the fact that we can’t see very clearly; adding mystery and anticipation to the sequence. Moreover, the eerie music increases in volume from drums being lightly played, to now loud thumps; signifying our heartbeats which are increasing because we are becoming more and more nervous when watching the opening credits.
There’s then a fade to black, leading in to a close up shot of a person’s hand pushing down on the concrete floor, giving the impression that this particular person is struggling or in pain. The identity of this person is kept hidden, all we can see is the movement of their hand and the flicker of the typography moving fast onscreen. There’s a change in colour of the typography as it’s no longer red it’s now white; giving the impression that the character is innocent, but is in a life threatening situation which they may or may not survive…
Next is a quick cut to a long shot of a gate; this begins to zoom in, closing in on the gate making the viewer question what is going to be behind it. Also the non diegetic sounds of music, increases as the shot of the gate appears, implying that something bad is going to happen.
I believe that because there are officer standing at the gate, (as noted from their clothing of police uniforms and hats), it presents a prison-like theme, where bad people have been sent. Which this shot can be implied as eyeline match, where as a viewer we are in the same position of the camera moving in; making us feel like we are walking in to the gate of the prison.; connecting us into the film. Adding to this, is the fade to black indicates something bad is going to happen behind the gate, inside of the prison.
This then reveals a close up shot of a red chair at first, that twists to reveal the room filled with fire and flames; signifying danger as a recurring theme throughout the opening credits. So the protagonist in the film “Shutter Island” will be in danger, fearing for their life. Which the sharp suspense music, intensifies the scene and heightens our interest in the outcome, if the protagonist will survive.
There’s then a dissolve edit to unveil another close up shot, but this time of a foot that drags a black gun across the floor; hinting at the theme of crime due to guns being associated as a convention of that genre. So the film may be a hybrid of a thriller-crime… In which I feel like the protagonist may be in danger where the gun is needed but the antagonist has the gun; hence why the gun is dragged slowly away.
A dissolve edit fades to a black screen with falling snow, highlighting the contrast between the two juxtaposing colours that represent the theme good vs evil; as well the editing style becoming more slow. I can interpret the colour white having positive connotations of innocence and purity, and the colour black resembling darkness and death. Which can hint at the battle between the protagonist (good) and the antagonist (evil).
There’s another fade to the shot of a dark room with props including handcuffs and chains; I can infer this is like a torture room in a prison. This reinforces that the title sequence is of that belonging to the thriller genre due to the medium/wide shot of the room portraying the theme of confinement.
At 0:44 there’s another example of superimposition, highlighting the idea of someone being trapped behind bars and can’t escape. Then at 0:45-0:48 there’s a pitch black screen with white typography flickering in the lower quadrant. But as a viewer, we are interrupted to this blank space in which we can’t see anything by a match being lit, filling the dark room with lightness. To me, this gives the impression that the evilness will be overcome by the protagonist and will be happy/good ending.
However, our hopes are cut short due to the jump cut instantly after we see the match and the person’s hand; indicating that there may not be a happy ending and the protagonist won’t survive. The non diegetic music score has become more dramatic at 0:49 to resemble the fact that anything can happen at any point in this sequence and also in the film.
At this point our interests are at high as we are so intrigued to find out what will happen next, but again we can only see a black screen then suddenly a long shot of an isolated island. Although we are given information to the location of the film, we lack knowledge of whereabouts this actually is; suggesting that those trapped on the island are unfortunate as there’s no escape.
All through this shot, scratches can be seen onscreen, which continues to the next shot of a black screen. Therefore, the scratches can suggest that the feelings and emotions of pain will be expressed throughout the film; representing a morbid aspect to “Shutter Island”.
However, the scratches suddenly stop when the red, bold typography appears on the black screen. Which I feel that as it gets closer to the screen, it seems like it jumps onto the person watching it, instantly grabbing the viewers attention and drawing us into the film. As well as, the colour choice of the red on black creates visual tension as the colours stand out against one another, signifying danger and death as recurring themes throughout the film.