Warning: this column will be spoiler-y for those of you who havenâ€™t seen â€œShutter Islandâ€ yet. So please donâ€™t read this and then send me furious e-mails telling me Iâ€™m a horrible person because I ruined a movie for you. Itâ€™s not ruining movies that makes me a horrible person, itâ€™s the arson.
Iâ€™m just saying, thereâ€™s a difference.
Warning II: Electric Boogaloo: Iâ€™m serious. Iâ€™m going to be talking about one of the main plot points in â€œShutter Island.â€ Stop reading now if youâ€™re one of those people who goes into a homicidal rage if someone gives away the ending to something.
Warning the Third: Here be spoilers, ye be warned.
â€œShutter Islandâ€ has been a huge success for director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. I donâ€™t mean to drop a metaphorical deuce on their success â€“ wait, no, sorry. I totally do.
The movie has all the trappings of a good thriller/atmospheric-horror/talking picture: it has an engaging plot, interesting (likeable is admittedly a bit of a stretch) characters, spooky settings, blah blah blah. And then we get to the end.
Over the years, psychology has become a sort of a dues ex machina for screenwriters; a â€œGet Out of Jail Freeâ€ card when they write themselves into a corner.
Itâ€™s easy to see why. Whereas society has a pretty good grasp on some areas of study, psychology remains a largely uncharted territory. Furthermore, while demons and vampires can be dismissed as imaginary creatures, the idea that oneâ€™s own mind â€“ which is supposed to help rather than hinder â€“ can turn against us is, frankly, terrifying.
Or at least it would be, if at this point the idea wasnâ€™t so clichÃ© and overused.
“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” is basically a book that gives information about every recognized mental illness. Itâ€™s also a buffet of plot devices for screenwriters.
Problem: Your main character is being pursued by an insane serial killer who is also targeting everyone that said main character knows and loves. The time has come to unmask the identity of the serial killer, and if itâ€™s not shocking enough then some high-powered Hollywood executive is going to rape your dog. WHAT DO YOU DO?
Solution: The main character did it. He/she has Multiple Personalities Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder if you want to be hip and with the times). Now sit back, relax and enjoy some margaritas.
Problem: You wrote a full-length script and are reading through it again only to realize that itâ€™s not interesting/convoluted enough. WHAT DO YOU DO?
Solution: Give the main character amnesia; make the plot about him/her figuring out the plot. Remember: everyone loves amnesia! Amnesia is to Hollywood suspense films what apple pie is to America.
Problem: Your script is not weird enough. You must add more weird shit. WHAT DO YOU DO?
Solution: Make one of the characters (preferably the antagonist, but feel free to make it the protagonist if youâ€™re feeling sassy) schizophrenic. Only when youâ€™re doing research about the disease, donâ€™t look at any valid medical sources. Rather, use soap operas and older horror movies. No one will know the difference!
Iâ€™m picking on â€œShutter Islandâ€ because itâ€™s the most recent example of a long history of Hollywood using stereotypes about the mentally ill to mend plot holes. Well, that and because â€œShutterâ€ manages to take all three clichÃ©s and smelt them together to form an ending that can only be described as similar to pulling a delicious chocolate cake out of the refrigerator only to have someone set you on fire.
Most films depicting mental illness will also rely on the insta-cure to make everything all better after itâ€™s revealed that one of the characters is insane. â€œShutter Islandâ€ is no exception.
Hereâ€™s the dangerous thing about Hollywood and mental illness: while itâ€™s common sense to think that whatâ€™s being portrayed on the screen is make-believe, itâ€™s not always the case â€“ especially when youâ€™re dealing with a subject that many people arenâ€™t comfortable talking about for fear of being judged.
This in turn can lead to someone who, upon encountering someone who is seriously mentally ill, will tell them to â€œsnap out of it.â€ This in turn may lead to a mentally ill person not getting the treatment that he or she requires.
TL;DR: Hollywood needs to do a better job of portraying the mentally ill. Also, whatâ€™s the deal with airline food?