Warning: SPOILERS abound. Do not read this if you haven't seen the movie and actually care about it being ruined for you.
I wanted to call this post Shutter Island the Problem with the Unreliable Narrator, but unfortunately, that in and of itself would be a spoiler, so, well.
I will begin by talking about why I think Shutter Island does, in deed, have an unreliable narrator. The unreliable narrator is a literary device used in stories by both Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie. "The Cask of Amontillado" springs to mind. In it, the narrator of the story tells us all kinds of stuff that ain't actually true, because he's a nut job who's justifying the fact he's about to murder Montreigor (or whatever his name is). It's a cool literary device, and one that until maybe ten years ago, was very rarely used in film.
All that changed with Fight Club. See, before Fight Club, you could be pretty sure that if you saw something on film, it actually happened. Fight Club, however, threw everyone for a loop when one of the main characters turned out to be a figment of the narrator's imagination. (It's worth mentioning that Fight Club was a book first, and also that it's not Chuck Palahniuk's best effort.) After Fight Club, movies with unreliable narrators abounded. It's a little tricky to call this an unreliable narrator. After all film is not really narrated. There can be voice overs and various techniques of that sort, but film is presented in such a way that it invites the idea that it is in fact impartial. After all, I am SEEING it. This, of course, makes the unreliable narrator conceit, in which one gets to the end of the movie and realizes that everything that happened didn't ACTUALLY happen even more powerful. But I SAW it, you think. What?
Okay, so there was Fight Club. There was The Sixth Sense. There was The Village. (Okay, there was like every M. Night Shyamalan movie ever made.) There was The Others. There was The Skeleton Key (to an extent). There was Memento (arguably a step up from Fight Club). There was Secret Window. The list is endless.
I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that this little nifty plot twist has been DONE TO DEATH. It was cool ten years ago. It's passe now. So I can't help but feel a little disappointed with Shutter Island. Because it was a really freaking good movie. So when I got to the end and the end was, "Actually he's crazy and nothing he said was true," I just felt...disappointed. I really expected something so much cooler.