Shutter Island explained: behind the meaning of the movie - Auralcrave (2022)

This article reveals the plot and the detailed explanation of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island explaining its meaning and storyline. It is therefore recommended to read it after watching the movie in order not to ruin your viewing experience.

Shutter Island is one of those movie you realize you are facing something essential for The Seventh Art after the first twelve minutes. The very first opening shots of the movie – a ship slowly navigating in the fog and landing on an island as well as a detective on board with a strong seasickness meeting his new colleague – can let you breathe the air of great Cinema. On the island we find a gigantic and spooky mental asylum where the two detectives have to carry out an investigation against the backdrop of a significant loss in the sick detective’s past. The atmosphere is perfect, starting from lights and colours to a beautiful non-original soundtrack hand-selected by Robbie Robertson.

Martin Scorsese makes you realize straight away that the movie is more than just a psychological thriller/noir set in the ’50s, that it’s not just an island with a mental hospital and that you are about to witness more than just an investigation. Although you fail to notice it on the first viewing these opening movie scenes lead the spectator to a journey into a human mind destroyed by madness and hiding a terrible secret.

Shutter Island (2010) - Welcome to Shutter Island

(Video) تحليل و مراجعة و شرح نهاية Shutter Island

You can’t truly understand the magnitude of this movie and script by Laeta Kalogridis (showrunner of Altered Carbon) based on the 2003 homonymous novel by Dennis Lehane until you watch it for the second time and you grasp the significance of all the strange behaviours of the characters surrounding our protagonist Edward Daniels (an excellent Leonardo Di Caprio) and you realize that it would have sufficed a little extra attention to discover the truth about this movie during the first half an hour. Because there is a trick somewhere and you can see it: it’s a farce, a game, a therapy; and Dr. Cawley’s conversation (Ben Kingsley) with Daniels/Di Caprio at the thirtieth minute, explaining his revolutionary working method with asylum patients which is based on giving them confidence and on totally supporting them in their path to self-awareness about the crimes committed in the hope of getting them healed and prevent the inhuman punishment of lobotomy, makes that clear. That exact moment when we start connecting the dots we realize the solution to the mystery may not be related to the recent disappearance of the missing patient Rachel Solando but there is something much bigger that leads to Daniels instead: the trouble is we just don’t pay attention, too distracted by the cinematic mechanism, falling into Scorsese’s, Kalogridis’ and Lehane’s trap during the remaining 105 minutes of the movie and losing ourselves in that island with no escape which is the terrifying representation of a disturbed mind.

Let’s arrange the following key elements in chronological order. Andrew Laeddis is not an evil person but rather a loser whose bad decisions have taken everything away from him: after the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp Leaddis fails to overcome the trauma caused by the horrors of the death camp and he returns to civilian life as a special agent turning to alcohol to drown out his sorrows. His wife Dolores suffers from a mental illness and she has set fire to their home but he wouldn’t listen to reason: he refuses any medical treatment and they move to a lake house with their three children. And then one day coming back home he finds his wife wet from head to toe in a state of confusion and when he finally asks her where the kids are she replys with a vague “at school”. Unfortunately it’s Saturday and his wife just drowned their little children in the lake. In a brief moment of lucidity Dolores begs Andrew to set her free but he kills her with a shot in the stomach. Although this heartbreaking scene is the prelude of events to come it is placed in the pre-ending of the movie. From that moment on Laeddis suffers a devastating collapse that leads him to create a new fictional identity as Edward Daniels (anagram of Andrew Laeddis), a widower and childless special agent whose wife has died in a house fire caused by a pyromaniac actually named Andrew Laeddis. It’s easy to understand the phenomenon of dissociation taking place in the protagonist’s mind to conceal the feeling of guilt that is eating him up: Andrew Laeddis is considered as the monster responsible for the death of his beloved wife – the beautiful scene of the meeting with the mental projection of the “pyromaniac” Laeddis, alias Elias Koteas, resembling Robert De Niro in Frankenstein by Kenneth Branagh – who continues to haunt him in hallucinations and dreams.

Shutter Island - Rêve, avec Laeddis le pyromane

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Dreams are like traumas. Thanks to the great Max Von Sydow – probably a former Nazi scientist – we discover the key to understanding the movie: traum (“dream” in German) has the same origin of trauma (“wound”), and Shutter Island is a film about traumas, soul wounds and dreams. Confined to ward C at Ashecliffe mental hospital due to his behaviour – he is the most violent patient of the island – Laddies/Daniels’ persistent mental breakdowns encourage him to escape reality: after meeting with another patient, George Noyce, his mind elaborates an absurd theory according to which – we remind you that he thinks he is a special agent visiting the asylum for an investigation – he would be involved in a conspiracy organized by the Institute’s doctors performing brutal brain experiments on patients – who would ever believe them if they are insane? – to take advantage of that in the Cold War.

There is no doubt that such traumatic events in Laeddis’ life – the war, the discovery of the extermination camp, the death of his beloved wife and children – contribute in some way to the creation of a “parallel world” all within his mind, therefore Dr. Cawley – in the movie’s backstory – makes a last desperate attempt to bring him to his senses before the drastic procedure of the lobotomy and he indulges Laeddis’ delirium – the asylum’s patient number 67 – staging an impressive role play according to which he is a real agent visiting the asylum – and the psychiatrist performs the role of his fellow investigator – in search of a patient vanished into thin air as well as the murderer of his wife and the evidence of a fictional conspiracy.

The missing woman and war widow Rachel Solando – an anagram of Dolores Chanal, the maiden name of Laeddis’s wife – would have been hospitalized after having brutally murdered her children and having completely dissociated herself from the fact, and there is no doubt this is another of Laeddis’ mental projections capable of erasing the memory of his wife’s actions.

Shutter Island - Dream of Dolores

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A note found in Solando’s room which says “The law of 4. Who is the 67?” is the key to solving the mystery: the law of the 4 is the multiple personality mechanism developed by the protagonist (Laeddis/Daniels, Chanal/Solando) whereas the 67 is the missing patient, alias Laeddis. Everything else – including the non-existent Dr. Solando engaged in unspecified mental experiments – is nothing but a broken mind’s hallucination. Throughout the film we are witnessing a non-investigation in which it becomes clear that the object of the research will be something shocking.

“You’re not really looking. […] You want to be fooled” the great Michael Caine says in The Prestige by Christopher Nolan and that is exactly what happens to Shutter Island viewers – an excellent example of a visual sleights of hand in a movie – who would like to believe in his conspiracy theory throughout the entire non-investigation of the patient/agent Laeddis/Daniels in spite of how everything around him is clearly shouting the opposite. The key strength of the movie is leading the spectator to believe in certain things while the movie itself clearly shows a faux reality. There is no happy ending: regaining consciousness after the revelation in the lighthouse scene Laeddis pretends – as you can tell from Di Caprio’s acting – to have relapsed into a dissociative disorder mechanism so he gives him up spontaneously to the asylum’s guards for the lobotomy asking to his psychiatrist which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man.

Shutter Island (8/8) Movie CLIP - Live as a Monster or Die as a Good Man (2010) HD

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A terrible story that the director stages with impeccable and poignant sharpness – a textbook sequence of dreams and hallucinations: this great movie is wrongly considered as a defective product of Scorsese’s filmography because it englobes the director’s obsessions all rolled into one and pushed beyond his comfort zone. The protagonist, for example, is one of his beloved losers not too different from Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin – they look pretty similar, indeed – the horrors of war have created a monster (Taxi Driver); the atmosphere you feel is that of a small great tragedy whose protagonist is destined to pay dearly for his mistakes (Goodfellas, Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street) but everything happens in a completely oneiric and surreal atmosphere which is somewhat unusual for the director – if we exclude the hidden gem After Hours with a totally different mood and the rather inferior Cape Fear – yet deeply indebted to his beloved noir of the 1940s – especially Cat People (1942).

A movie that anyone who claims to love cinema should watch several times: the first to be fooled, the second to realize that it makes sense, and the others to enjoy a cinema experience making us capable of feeling good and bad at the same time.

Article translated from here by Sara D’Ettorre

FAQs

What is the main message of Shutter Island? ›

Shutter Island explores the themes of love, grief and mental illness and does so in an entirely riveting fashion. As a viewer, you are at the edge of your seat and as lost as the hero, but you are also exhausted having experienced a variety of emotions through the course of the film.

What does the end of Shutter Island movie meaning? ›

Only Teddy is not a real person but a delusion created by inmate Andrew Laeddis. The ending of “Shutter Island” reveals that DiCaprio's character is a patient himself, committed to the Shutter Island facility after murdering his wife (Michelle Williams) because she went insane and killed their children.

Was Andrew faking it at the end of Shutter Island? ›

For some, this is to be seen as no more than the rambling of a madman. Others, however, take it as meaning that Andrew's only faking his relapse. His unusual treatment's made him aware of the terrible thing he's done: guilt has therefore engulfed him, and he's deliberately getting himself lobotomised to escape it.

What is the shocking truth about Shutter Island? ›

It turns out that Andrew is actually an inmate at Ashecliffe, and that the film's events up until this point — Cawley's allowing Andrew to play the role of Teddy — were designed to cure his insanity that stemmed from murdering his depressed wife after she drowned their children at their lake house.

Did Teddy get lobotomized? ›

Teddy Daniels would never have gone with them willingly, proving once again that he chose to go along with the lobotomy by choice and was of sound mind at the time.

Was Teddy sane at the end of Shutter Island? ›

Yes, he is. All you saw before the lighthouse scene was a role play by his psychiatrist. Teddy's real name was Andrew Laeddis, and he was the 67th patients, the most dangerous patient in the facility.

Is Teddy actually Andrew? ›

As revealed in the lighthouse, Teddy (DiCaprio) is actually Andrew. In reality, it was his wife, Dolores (who was herself a depressed woman) that murdered their three children by drowning them. She had earlier set fire to their apartment in the city.

What mental illness does Teddy have in Shutter Island? ›

However, in a radical twist, we find that Teddy is himself a patient at the asylum. He suffers from Delusional Disorder, creating a false world to escape the dark reality of his past. Shutter Island is one of the many films that present the ethical considerations of psychological treatment to a mainstream audience.

What happened to the kids in Shutter Island? ›

In 1954, U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule travel to Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, Boston Harbor to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, who drowned her three children. The staff, led by psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley, appear uncooperative.

Who actually killed the kids in Shutter Island? ›

Cawley explains that Teddy is in fact Andrew Laeddis, the most dangerous patient in Ward C. Teddy/Andrew was incarcerated on the island after he murdered his manic depressive wife Dolores, who drowned their three children.

Who is the villain in Shutter Island? ›

What happens in the end of Shutter Island? There's a huge plot twist: Teddy isn't actually Teddy, nor is he a U.S. Marshal. Teddy is Andrew Laeddis, a demented killer and a patient in the mental hospital he's “investigating.” His psychiatrist has encouraged Andrew to act out his delusions.

Who is the man in the cell in Shutter Island? ›

DiCaprio's character is actually Andrew Laeddis (a.k.a. patient 67), a disturbed inmate of Shutter Island who the doctors are trying to rehabilitate.

Who was the lady in the cave in Shutter Island? ›

Inside the fire-lit cave, Teddy finds a middle-aged woman wielding a knife. He asks her to put down the knife and quickly assumes that she is the "real" Rachel Solando. Rachel explains that she used to work at Ashecliffe as a doctor before being admitted as a patient.

Who is the creepy woman in Shutter Island? ›

The invisible glass woman, Mrs. Kearns, shows up again at the 97-minute mark in Shutter Island. She laughs when Teddy is asked about his "partner," because she knows that Chuck is actually Dr. Sheehan, which is revealed approximately 15 minutes later in the film.

Is Shutter Island a true story? ›

Unfortunately, "Shutter Island" isn't based on a true story, and author Dennis Lehane came up with the mystery of his own accord — however, that doesn't mean there aren't elements of truth thrown in for good measure. It's widely known that Lehane based the titular island of the story on Long Island in Boston Harbor.

Are lobotomies still performed? ›

Lobotomies are no longer performed and have largely been replaced by medications. Some other types of psychosurgeries are performed in very rare circumstances to treat conditions such as severe depression or OCD that doesn't respond to other treatments. These surgeries are considered last resorts.

Who is George Noyce to Teddy? ›

Jackie Earle Haley's character, George Noyce, is a guy who knew Teddy/Andrew in the asylum. Noyce was a “repeat offender” who ended up back on Shutter Island and fed Andrew conspiracy theories for his fantasy. One day Noyce called “Teddy” by his real name, Laeddis, causing a psychotic outburst where Andrew beat him up.

What does lobotomized mean in Shutter Island? ›

It is about the fact that if he continues to believe he is this good man he will be lobotomised and effectively "die" believing in this. He will not die in a literal sense until later, but he will do so in the belief he was a good man.

What was wrong with Dolores in Shutter Island? ›

Andrew Laeddis was a U.S Marshal and was married to Dolores who he loved very much. They had three kids. Dolores was insane, manic-depressive and suicidal. People tried to tell Andrew that he needed to get help for his wife.

Is Shutter Island a hallucination? ›

Shutter Island is a film that shows so many evidences of hallucination experienced by the main character, Teddy Daniels. Teddy Daniels had bad experiences in the past which lead him to change his identity in order to forget his past.

Who has schizophrenia in Shutter Island? ›

The researcher found one of the novel that described a character who has dark experience related with schizophrenic symptoms in the Shutter Island novel. This novel written by Dennis Lehane and published in 2003. This novel told about a man named Teddy Daniel alias Andrew Laeddis.

What parts of Shutter Island are real? ›

While Shutter Island and the hospital depicted in the film are both fictitious, they are based in some truth. Islands throughout the Boston Harbor have been home to many social welfare institutions over the years. These include quarantine stations, prisons, almshouses, and hospitals.

What is the climax of Shutter Island? ›

"Shutter Island" has a twisty climax.

In the final act of the film, Teddy discovers that he himself is a mental patient on Shutter Island, and his real name is Andrew Laeddis. His physician Dr. Sheehan (Mark Ruffalo) played his fictional case partner "Chuck" while trying to help him understand the reality of his past.

Is Teddy actually Andrew? ›

As revealed in the lighthouse, Teddy (DiCaprio) is actually Andrew. In reality, it was his wife, Dolores (who was herself a depressed woman) that murdered their three children by drowning them. She had earlier set fire to their apartment in the city.

Is Shutter Island based on a true story? ›

While Shutter Island and the hospital depicted in the film are both fictitious, they are based in some truth. Islands throughout the Boston Harbor have been home to many social welfare institutions over the years. These include quarantine stations, prisons, almshouses, and hospitals.

What is the symbolism of the lighthouse in Shutter Island? ›

' By this, he establishes that he believes the lighthouse, or the truth about himself, is what is making the island evil. The lighthouse is separated from the mainland by water and heavily guarded, this is symbolic in the way that he doesn't want to find out the truth. That the truth of his reality is holding him back.

What happened to the kids in Shutter Island? ›

In 1954, U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule travel to Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, Boston Harbor to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, who drowned her three children. The staff, led by psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley, appear uncooperative.

What does lobotomized mean in Shutter Island? ›

It is about the fact that if he continues to believe he is this good man he will be lobotomised and effectively "die" believing in this. He will not die in a literal sense until later, but he will do so in the belief he was a good man.

What mental illness does Teddy have in Shutter Island? ›

However, in a radical twist, we find that Teddy is himself a patient at the asylum. He suffers from Delusional Disorder, creating a false world to escape the dark reality of his past. Shutter Island is one of the many films that present the ethical considerations of psychological treatment to a mainstream audience.

Who is the man in the cell in Shutter Island? ›

DiCaprio's character is actually Andrew Laeddis (a.k.a. patient 67), a disturbed inmate of Shutter Island who the doctors are trying to rehabilitate.

Does Shutter Island have two endings? ›

It's a movie about an isolated psychiatric hospital; they can only have two possible twist endings, that the asylum has been taken over by the patients, or The Other One.

Who is the creepy woman in Shutter Island? ›

The invisible glass woman, Mrs. Kearns, shows up again at the 97-minute mark in Shutter Island. She laughs when Teddy is asked about his "partner," because she knows that Chuck is actually Dr. Sheehan, which is revealed approximately 15 minutes later in the film.

Why did Teddy go to the lighthouse? ›

Teddy returns to the hospital in search of Chuck - but Dr. Cawley insists that Chuck does not exist and that Teddy arrived on the island alone. A now paranoid Teddy sets fire to Cawley's car and uses the diversion to flee to the lighthouse as his hallucinations worsen.

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