Shutter Island Movie Interpretation
If you’re looking for some Shutter Island analysis, then you’ve come to the right place. While this hit Martin Scorsese film lacks the symbolism of a Barton Fink or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, it does feature some fine performances, beautiful cinematography, and a conclusion that still has viewers talking. Keep reading to have Shutter Island explained, but keep an eye out for spoilers along the way.
Shutter Island Analysis
Before we get to the Shutter Island analysis, let’s take a brief look at the plot:
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a U.S. Marshal in the year 1954. Along with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy is heading to a mental institute on an isolated island to investigate the disappearance of a patient. The head of the center, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), tells Teddy that he will have the full cooperation of both patients and staff, but it quickly becomes obvious to the lawman that everyone is keeping secrets. While fighting headaches, flashbacks to WWII, and visions of his murdered wife, Teddy must try to penetrate the layers of lies at the institution and uncover a long-hidden secret.
Shutter Island Ending
Much debate has been stirred up about the Shutter Island ending, and this section is dedicated to trying to get to the bottom of things and present an easy-to-understand Shutter Island explanation. But first things first, let’s take a look at what happens during the final minutes of the film. Those who haven’t seen the film should note that spoilers are coming.
After reaching the lighthouse, Teddy runs into Dr. Cawley, who informs him that he’s actually a former U.S. Marshal named Andrew Laeddis. For the past two years, he’s been a patient at Ashecliffe. He was put there after he returned home one day to find his mentally unbalanced wife had drowned their two children. He then proceeded to kill his wife. His belief that his wife was murdered and he was still looking for her killer were simply ways for his mind to cope with the trauma.
While he has realized the truth of the matter during treatment, Andrew (aka Teddy) has always regressed back to a fantasy state, hurting a number of employees and patients in the process. Because of his violent behavior, a lobotomy has been ordered. In a desperate attempt to save him, his psychiatrist decided to try a radical role-playing experiment to make Andrew realize the truth. His psychiatrist, Dr. Sheehan, is revealed to be the man he believed was his partner, Chuck Aule.
Andrew becomes violent, but eventually breaks down and accepts the truth. Flashing back to the death of his wife and children, Andrew faints. Later, Andrew and Dr. Sheehan speak outside, and the psychiatrist thinks that his patient may have finally come to terms with what happened. But then Andrew calls him “Chuck,” which leaves Sheehan no choice but to send Andrew off for a lobotomy. As he calmly goes with the orderlies, Andrew asks Sheehan if it would be better to “live as a monster, or die as a good man.”
Now here’s my attempt to impart a little Shutter Island meaning, courtesy of three different theories:
- Teddy is Andrew – Teddy really is Andrew Laeddis, and he really did murder his wife. His fantasy about his wife dying in a fire is simply a way to avoid taking responsibility for what really happened. But while he initially realizes the truth about what has been going on, he sadly reverts to his delusional state and much undergo a lobotomy.
- Andrew is Cured – The role-playing experiment worked, and Andrew comes to realize what he’s done. Unfortunately, he cannot live with the idea that he killed his own wife, so he decides to feign regression in order to undergo the lobotomy and forget about the horrible events from his past. He would rather die a good man than live as a monster.
- Teddy is Teddy – There really was a massive cover-up and conspiracy on the island, and Teddy realizes that he will never be able to break free. No matter what he does or says, the men responsible will always find a way to make him look crazy. For this reason, he opts to escape the only way possible: by having a lobotomy and “dying” a good man.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little Shutter Island movie interpretation, and be sure to weigh in with your own opinions in our comments section. While most of the movie is pretty cut-and-dried, that rascally ‘ol Scorsese included just enough to keep cinephiles guessing.