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“Shutter Island” by Martin Scorsese Essay

The film chosen for this case study is “Shutter Island”. Shutter Island, released in February 2010, is a psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese. The film is based on the 2003 novel, also titled Shutter Island, which was written by Dennis Lehane. The theories I will be relating to this subject analysis will come from Kelly’s, Gestalt’s, and Freud’s theories.

The story is set in Boston in 1954. The main character is Teddy Daniels will be the subject in this case study. Edward Daniels nicknamed Teddy is a U.S Marshal and war veteran, who we are led to believe was left heartbroken when the love of his life, his wife Dolores was killed in a fire in their apartment started by a man named Andrew Laeddis. Teddy is haunted by the memories of his wife as well as graphic World War 2 visions that inhabit his dreams on a regular basis. Little can be known about Teddy’s life prior to his wife’s death other than that he is a reformed alcoholic who refuses to touch a drink.

When he is first introduced to us it is the year 1954 and Teddy and his partner are investigating the unexplained disappearance of a patient in Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island located in Boston. Teddy has extreme trust issues and later in the movie becomes paranoid that everyone is trying to cover-up the truth about what is really happening on the island. This is Teddy’s identity from his own viewpoint, which is later revealed to all be a delusion in his own mind. Teddy Daniels whose real name is Andrew Laeddis is actually a patient at the asylum, admitted after murdering his wife two years ago; his supposed partner all along was his doctor, who was attempting to cure him of his insanity. The theories I will be relating to this subject analysis will come from Kelly’s, Gestalt’s, and Freud’s theories.

From a psychoanalytic Perspective little information can be analyzed of Teddy based on his childhood, but there are other elements of Sigmund Freud’s theories about the unconscious that we can relate to. While he is living in his fantasy life as an investigator on the island, his unconscious thoughts often appear in his dreams. He sees his wife come to him begging him to give up on his quest for Andrew because he will not like what he finds out and she doesn’t want him to get hurt. He also dreams of Rachel Solando coming to him with her children’s bloody bodies, asking him to assist her in disposing of them. As he holds the children’s bodies they come alive asking why he didn’t save them. This perfectly illustrates the psychoanalytic theory that dreams have two levels of content.

The manifesting content is that Teddy thinks the dreams come from the fact that he is missing his wife and just can’t accept her death and let her go and that the morbid feeling of the island is getting to him causing him to have nightmares of the insane woman he is investigating. It is later clear that the content of the dreams reveal the hidden meaning of his experiences. In other words, there was no Rachel Solando. Teddy created her as a reflection of himself because Dolores was manic-depressive who drowned their children in a lake one day when he wasn’t home. When he returned and realized the tragic happenings there was nothing he could do, hence the nightmares of the children inquiring as to why he couldn’t save them. In his dreams she often walks to him soaking wet to which he asks her “Why are you all wet, baby?” (Shutter Island).

This phrase seems to haunt him because those are the first words he said to her when he came home that day she went crazy. Teddy feels personally responsible for their death because at the time he was an alcoholic and while he loved his wife, he refused to see her for who she really was and ended up killing her after discovering the children. In the dreams she tells him to give up because he is unable to cope with knowing the truth. This leads on to how Teddy distorts his reality to protect himself against his unbearable pain and guilt through the use of defense mechanisms. All of the memories of what really happened to Dolores and the children become repressed and replaced with false illusions that his wife was wrongfully murdered and he re-created himself as a hero in order to cope.

In accordance with this mechanism he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, which the disturbing memories indirectly begin to reveal themselves in his dreams. Dr. Sheehan who in his mind was his partner used Kelly’s theory of re-construction by role playing, in which he decided to go along with Teddy (Andrew)’s delusions in an attempt to bring his mind back to the real world and thus save him from a brain lobotomy, which was forced to be their last resort.

When the truth is first revealed Teddy’s initial reaction is to resort to the defense mechanism of denial. He refuses to accept that what they claim is what really happened and is insistent upon the fact that they have been dosing him with drugs in order to brainwash him and keep him from discovering the truth about the horrible human experiments that have been taking place at the hospital. Projection is also used when he accuses the Doctor’s of making up this story about what happened to him in order to protect their selves. These are both attempts to rid his mind of the anxiety of the stimuli that he is unable to accept has any association with what happened in his life. Even before the truth is revealed, Teddy still believes that he is a hero and shows anxiety while investigating the island.

When the hospital’s main psychologist makes a comment about Teddy refraining from alcohol and Teddy responds with a witty attack the doctor notes his “excellent use of defense mechanisms” (Shutter Island). This may relate to his implicit memory because although Teddy at first does not have any suspicions about the realism of his own identity he seems to think that everyone else is out to get him which serves as unconscious memories influencing conscious behavior causing him to constantly be on defense about the intentions and actions of the people around him. When Teddy finally comes out of his stage of denial and accepts the truth, the doctors fear that he will relapse and revert back into his delusional state. It was stated that this had happened before with their other attempts to cure him. Teddy fakes falling back into that stage in order to save himself his dignity, he reveals his intentions by saying “which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die a good man?” (Shutter Island). This lets us know that Dr. Sheehan’s cure proved effective, but Teddy would rather not live in that state of misery or try to move on with his life knowing the truth.

Teddy’s behavior in accordance with his personality can also be looked at in terms of cognitive theories. Gestalt psychology suggests that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts which suggests that it was many different things together that shapes Teddy’s current persona and why he re-acted the way he did to the situation. The major moment that had the most influence on Teddy’s life was when he decided to kill his wife because she drowned their children. There was never any mention of any previous mental impairment prior to the incident. Using Kurt Lewin’s Field Theory it can be deducted that Teddy’s behavior was “determined by complex interactions among a person’s internal psychological structure, the forces of the external environment, and the structural relationships between the person and the environment” (Friedman & Schustack 221).

When he arrives home to discover his wife with her clothes all wet and his children’s bodies floating dead in the lake the concept of contemporaneous causation leads him to kill her. This is because at the moment the behavior occurred Teddy was focused internally on his pain and sadness that his children were gone as well as his anger towards Dolores for doing such a horrifying thing. Therefore when she comes up to him and tries to hug and comfort him/her actions can be looked at as the external stimuli. All of these things put together can be linked to Teddy’s choice of action in the strong situation. Teddy’s explanatory style led him to interpret his wife’s tragic actions as his own fault because he felt that his alcoholism distorted his ability to recognize Dolores’s mental illness. Instead of seeing her as manic-depressive he saw her as beautiful & non-violent, therefore unrecognizing of her dark side and unable to save his children.

He could have called the police and reported his wife, but makes the decision to continue the violence, since he perceives her actions in his mind as unforgiveable. It could also be said that his problem with alcohol lowered his emotion knowledge, making him blind to recognizing his wife’s emotions. George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory can also be used to explain Teddy’s behavior as he is “investigating on the island”. Throughout the role-playing process Teddy is putting together pieces of the puzzle in an attempt to understand exactly what is happening on Shutter Island and constructing his own version of reality. In his mind from what he is observing he concludes that there is some sort of conspiracy going on and the hospital must be using psychotropic medication to control the minds of its patients. He interprets his strange dreams as side effects of the drugs that he believes they must somehow be slipping to him. George Kelly would explain this as Teddy acting as his own scientist. In attempt to bring Teddy back from his fantasy world the doctors at Ashecliffe Hospital stage a cognitive intervention in order to eventually
teach Teddy to “change his thought process” and accept the reality of the events he actually went through.

Teddy Daniels also known as Andrew Laeddis is an extremely intriguing character to study in terms of personality. Before his marriage to Dolores he probably could have been analyzed for completely different attributes; however the events in his life served as strong situational factors to shape the person he had turned into. Before it is realized that he is actually one of the criminally insane prisoners, Teddy could be described as smart, witty and independent. He stands up for himself even when he suspects that the majority of the island is involved with the conspiracy. After realizing the truth behind all of his actions it is clear that his life is relatable to many of Freud’s theories which are all used to aid him in “distorting reality to protect him against pain or threatening impulses arising from the id” (Friedman & Schustack 77).

It is also very interesting that in his alternate reality he views himself as a good, innocent person who is looking to set bad things right. This could come from his unconscious knowledge that he committed a violent crime and wants to take all of the blame off himself by portraying himself as a hero. The warden of Ashecliffe Hospital makes an interesting point of reference to the dark side of Teddy’s personality and human nature in general by telling him “You’re as violent as they come. I know because I am as violent as they come. Don’t embarrass yourself by denying your own blood lust, son. Don’t embarrass me. If the constraints of society were removed, and I was all that stood between you and a meal, you’d crack my skull with a rock and eat my meaty parts” (Shutter Island). Teddy killed his wife because he felt that after what she had done, it was the right thing to do and his alternate personality serves as a cover-up because he “should” feel guilty that the type of violence isn’t acceptable, no matter what Dolores had.

Overall the film both contributes and reduces the stigmatization of mental illness. On two occasions in the film the patient is passively referred to as paranoid schizophrenic. This is a common misunderstanding with Dissociative Identity Disorder, for a long time people have been mislabeling it as schizophrenia. As a psychology student it was great watching this film and picking it an apart and being able to recognize the mislabeling of Teddy’s mental state. On the other hand, it was clearly displayed in the film that persons suffering with this disorder can still have a relatively normal functioning life and they can still socially interact. This is not usually seen when a person with this disorder is fictionally portrayed. In conclusion, this psychological thriller in some ways does and in other ways does not portray Dissociative Identity Disorder accurately but it is nonetheless a great movie.

Cite
Scorsese, M. (Director). Dicaprio, L. (Actor). (2010). Shutter Island [Motion picture]. Paramount Pictures.
Shutter Island (2010, February 19). The Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1130884/

Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2008). Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research (4th Edition). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Shutter Island (film)- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutter_Island_(film)

Movie Quotes for Shutter Island- Movie Planet. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from http://www.moviesplanet.com/movies/19305/shutter-island/quotes


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