Shutter Island Movie Analysis

Shutter Island Movie Analysis

When we talk about psychological thriller movies, Shutter Island is one name that usually pops up. It is an extremely complex thriller that must be watched a couple of times to fully understand. 

Shutter Island (2010)  is the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio.  Based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name, the film received mostly positive reviews from critics and was also one of the most successful movies of the year.

— Spoiler alert!   —

The movie begins with a ferry boat ride to Shutter Island, an island that holds a mental asylum for the criminally insane. Teddy, played by Leonardo Dicaprio believes he is a government Marshall looking for a missing patient named Rachel Solando, with the assistance of his accomplice Chuck. In reality, Ted is Andrew Laeddis, a war veteran, who was exposed to the most gruesome aspects of the already horrific war. In addition to that, he kills his wife who has murdered their three children. Whereas Chuck is Andrews’ therapist. 

Teddy and Chuck meet Dr. John Cawley, played by Ben Kingsley, lead psychiatrist of the facility, who explains a bit about the facility and psychiatry. Dr. Cawley says that there is a war going on in the island, with one faction who believes in surgical techniques like lobotomies to treat patients, where another side says that the new psychotropic drugs are the way to treat people.

Over the course of time Teddy begins to feel sick, which is accompanied by migraines and flashbacks from his experiences as a U.S. Army soldier and dreams of his deceased wife and kids.

Although the term PTSD (post-traumatic shock syndrome) isn’t used, Andrew played by DiCaprio shows numerous handsome symptoms. There are a series of dream sequences interspersed, flashbacks about Teddy’s time in WWII as a soldier, and Teddy often has internal conversations with himself in which his dead wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), talks to him and gives him advice.

Andrew appears to have a fight between his conscious state, “Teddy”, and his unconscious state, “Andrew.” He is aware that his wife Dolores killed their children and that he murdered her out of rage. However, his defense mechanism drags him back to his self-made reality. In this way, Shutter Island can be seen as the perfect case of Freud’s theory of psychosis.

In the movie, Teddy also represents a person with a super ego-personality who tries to act with a good set of morals in every situation. From the moment he enters Shutter Island his sole motive is to find Rachel. Even though he keeps finding less evidence, he tries harder to solve the mystery of the missing person. This allows him to keep making up new reasons to live as Teddy Daniels, and not confront his truth. 

Teddy, while doing his “investigation” of the disappearance of the prisoner feels that the management by the Federal facility are obstructing his investigations as he is unable to access the records of employees and patients. He particularly wants to find out what goes on in the ward that’s reserved for the most serious offenders. In one point where both the marshalls are taking shelter from heavy rain, Teddy tells Chuck about his wife’s death and his theory about Shutter Island that it’s actually a place where dreadful mental experiments are done to transform patients into assassins. As he begins to peel away the layers of deceit, it becomes obvious that not all is as it seems.

In the last part of the movie, Dr. Cawley tells Andrew that the events of the past several days have been designed to break Andrew’s conspiracy-laden insanity by allowing him to play out the role of Teddy Daniels. He also says that all the hospital staff as part of the test, including Lester Sheehan posing as Chuck Aule and a nurse posing as Rachel Solando, the missing prisoner. Whereas Andrew’s migraines were withdrawal symptoms from his medication. 

At the end of the movie when we see Teddy come to his senses he remains in his alter reality, not being able to live with himself as a murderer. This is a clear case where his superego is still in effect. 

Shutter Island is a perfect movie for you to watch if you tilt towards the psychological thriller genre. 

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