In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs premiered on February 14,  a calculated move on the part of Orion Pictures to give folks plenty of time to watch it (both in the theater and on video), so when it came time for Oscar nominations, people would already have a favorite movie burned into their brain. It paid off in spades—Silence went on to become one of only 3 films in history to win all 5 major Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).

Fast-forward 19 years… almost to the day. Welcome to Shutter Island.

It’s 1954, and U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are on their way to an island fortress off the coast of Boston that makes Alcatraz look like Disneyland on a sunny day. It houses a hospital/prison for the criminally insane, lorded over by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). And it’s downright creepy.

The Marshals are there to investigate the disappearance (from a locked room) of a female inmate who drowned her three children.

Man, if it were only that easy.

Being 1954, there are all kinds of spooky, foreboding undertones– involving everything from PTSD (before it officially even existed) to A-bomb fears to lobotomies. Plus Daniels is also dealing with the recent death of his wife at the hands of a pyromaniac who set their apartment building on fire. Baggage, anyone?

In typical fashion, the more secrets our heroes uncover, the more What-On-God’s-Green-Earth questions arise. In atypical fashion, though, director Martin Scorsese uses those questions as an opportunity to take you on a mind-trip that will keep your head spinning long after you leave the theater.

Oscar-worthy performances abound, including mesmerizing (if brief) turns from Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, and Michelle Williams. Ruffalo and Kingsley have never disappointed before, and their track records remain intact. Make no mistake, though– this is DiCaprio’s movie, and he runs away with it. His astounding performance of Teddy Daniels, a man haunted by visions of the holocaust (his WWII company liberated Dachau), crippled by the loss of his wife, and driven further than he ever anticipated to find answers on Shutter Island, helps to create a character that outshines even his own stellar performances in The Aviator and Revolutionary Road.

It’s obvious (though downright silly) to call this the best movie of the year so far, even with a rather ploddish (is that a word?) final act. The real test will be in how well it’s remembered by the Academy when the nominations are announced in eleven months…

…which, coincidentally enough, will probably the amount of time it takes to finally get Shutter Island out of your head.

4/5 stars