Shelter Island is not a movie about the place but about two people who made a connection. Jimmy Olinkiewicz found Harold Olson one day, and a unique friendship was born. Jimmy is a very basic hardworking guy with a Long Island accent who does anything and everything, and he sees some potential in Harold. Harold is obsessed with painting and will frequently listen to one song hundreds of times for 48 hours straight until he finishes a painting. Jimmy seems like a very normal, average guy, and Harold does not seem very normal. But what is normal? And what is art? Is what Harold does great art? Is art important? Is Harold important? These are the kinds of questions that come up when watching this unpretentious little film.
Jimmy and Harold are two very unpretentious guys. Jimmy is just an average guy who runs a gas station and a construction business and an antique collectables business, all while taking care of his son who has autism. My Mind, a short film by Alex Olinkiewicz about his problems with Asperger’s syndrome is included in the DVD and has generated 1,300,000 hits on YouTube. Probably some of Jimmy’s compassion comes from Jimmy wanting to help someone like his son but much later in life. Jimmy is 16 and Harold is probably in his 50’s, but who knows. Harold probably is autistic and a savant of some type. Harold bicycles everywhere, lifts weights and eats sparingly, which is probably why he is bone-thin. Harold is clearly hyperactive. He also sees things in his dreams that are translated into his paintings. Harold has no knowledge or training about art but clearly has natural talent. Harold doesn’t know why he does what he does except to try to please people. Jimmy collects all kinds of junk and sells it on EBay. Some times Jimmy gets huge returns. Maybe Jimmy is hoping for huge returns on Harold. Jimmy with his boundless energy and good will enlists a successful artist near by.
David Rankin is another sweet guy who loves what Harold is doing. Harold is a lost soul and a simple man who everyone feels sorry for and wishes well. Jimmy worries about a woman who Harold has been giving money to, because he doesn’t have a very good understanding of the value of money. Jimmy is a very practical man who understands the value of money, but he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on safe and established companies that tanked in the stock market. David and Jimmy come up with a plan to get Harold an exhibition of his art in New York City. Before his show, Harold gets to see his first real museum when they go to the Guggenheim. Harold has never seen real art before. People compare Harold to Basquiat or Pollack, and Harold doesn’t know what that means. One of Harold’s works is painted on the back of old carpet and is huge. They can barely get it in the industrial elevator.
Harold doesn’t know what to make of the big city, but his focus is so narrow that it doesn’t faze him much. Someone made him an art name different than his real name by using his middle name as his last name, so now he’s Harald Marius instead of Harold Olson. It does sound fancier. It’s all a whirlwind and a Cinderella story. This can’t possibly have a happy ending. This unassuming and almost nonchalant movie has turned into something almost perfect. The sweetness and compassion that comes so unpretentiously from Jimmy has been infectious. Harald Marius’s show is a complete success. The art world welcomes him. Harold, who usually talks a mile a minute, is at a loss for words. He wandered through life without a plan or a real understanding of what to do. He was driven by a lonely obsession and a guileless spirit. He seems like a candidate to be a forgotten man that Jimmy worries his son Alex might become when he is gone.
Harold found shelter on Shelter Island and a new life. Jimmy’s son is becoming a popular writer on the effects of his disease. One couldn’t have hoped for a better ending.