Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller Shutter Island has left people shivering in their seats. In the film, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a mentally insane patient who lives in an alternate reality to forget about the death of his wife and children. He is unable to comprehend how the events of his past led up to his present life and struggles with searching for a missing patient (patient 67) who is really himself. We have seen this as a common trend in Scorsese films. In The Departed two spies are on the search for each other, which ends up being a catch-22. The same goes for Teddy Daniels except that he is searching for himself and thinks that the psychiatric facility on Shutter Island is a part of some government conspiracy. His partner “Chuck” is actually a hospital staff and Dr. Cawley and him have let Daniels play out his fantasy to see if he will recover on his own. Teddy Daniels is an anagram of his actual name Andrew Laddeis, and his search for the missing patient, Rachel Solando is an anagram from his late wife Dolores Chanal. His failure to complete the investigation spurs from his unstable state of mind and is shown through his migraines, waking visions, and disturbing dreams of his dead wife in his superficial world. Of course we don’t find all this out until the end of the film.
In the film, Daniels is haunted by his dead wife through vivid dreams. In one of his dreams, his wife is appears to him holding a bottle of alcohol muttering about his drinking problem. He responds with, “I killed a lot of people in the war.” The bottle disappears from her hand and he asks her if she is real. She says no and says, “She’s still here,” talking about Rachel Solando. The scene has a hazy background and a vintage camera filter, much like an experience from a dream. Colors are bright and ashes are falling. His wife brings up memories of the past and then reassures him that his made-up world is reality. When he goes to hug her she starts bleeding and is drenched in water. She tells him he needs to wake up and that he needs to face that she is long gone. Then she says, “But she is, and so is he.” Dun dun dun! She reveals to him that he needs to find “Laeddis” and then begs him to let her go. She turns into ash and disappears. Daniels looks down at his hands and all that’s left of her is water, which symbolizes the truth. The camera zooms out from his hands and he is standing in a fired-up apartment, showing that his insanity is growing stronger. This scene is important to the plot of the film because it represents his failure to recognize the past as short-lived and his resulting mental necessity to reconcile what he believes to have happened.
Throughout the film, we see many references to Laeddis’ illness and by second viewing it almost becomes obvious that the other characters are merely playing along with his fantasy. The facility guards get extremely edgy whenever Daniels is around because according to Dr. Cawley he is their “most dangerous patient.” This also explains why the guards are not thrilled to look for “Rachel Solando” down by the ocean rocks. Also during the scene when Teddy and Chuck interview the hospital staff, we notice how ridiculous the staff finds the interviews and their answers almost come off jokingly. One nurse says something about how “far from normal” their jobs are, but “Chuck” pushes them to answer the questions. In one scene, we see Daniels tense up when he interrogates Peter Breene. Breene goes off on how Rachel Solando killed her own children and how only an awful person could do that. Daniels’ migraines start acting up and he loses focus on the interrogation. Then there are the actual patients who know the real Daniels and know they are playing a game. One patient tells Daniels to “run” during the interview because she knows he can escape this game. Another patient does the “shush” motion to him when he first enters Shutter Island knowing that she is playing a game and has been instructed not to spoil it. But the one spoiler that stands out the most is when Daniels almost strangles a prisoner to death after being approached by him. Chuck and a guard take the man away and tells him that he cannot go along to the infirmary, while mumbling about how much trouble he is going to be in for “letting a patient strangle another patient.” Scorsese did a great job making his illness obvious through key phrases or certain behaviors.
Like that of Inception, many found the ending of Shutter Island to be ambiguous. Clearly, Daniels has awakened from his insanity to reality as Andrew Laeddis, but chooses to die as Teddy Daniels who he thinks is a “good man.” When Dr. Sheenan or “Chuck” sits down on the steps next to him, Laeddis is aware that the doctors are observing his behavior. He talks to Sheenan about their next plan of action and says, “I got to get off this rock, Chuck. Whatever is going on here it’s bad.” Sheenan looks disappointed and shakes his head no to the doctor watching over. Laeddis is a smart guy though and knows he cannot live with his guilt and pain. He asks Sheehan, “Which would be worse—to live as a monster, or die as a good man?” This is when Sheehan realizes that Laeddis has woken up and is no longer in a dream state. Daniels-Laeddis then gets up and walks toward the hospital staff for his final execution. Sheehan calls out, “Teddy,” but there is no response, showing that Teddy is long gone and that Andrew Laeddis has come to accept his fate. Ominous music and a dark, night scene of the island ends concludes the film.
Written by Cara Seo