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Shutter Island Movie Review

“Shutter Island” is a movie that is not only dedicated to delivering flawless scenery and a storyline about a mental institution locked away with a deep, dark secret away from civilization, but instead, the majority of the film is actually a character study with Teddy Daniels as the main subject. Teddy Daniels has a troubled past that is reflected in flash backs and dream sequences. Teddy Daniels is now a U.S Marshall, but prior to that, he was a veteran of war, where he saw some of the most brutally horrific and mind-scarring scenes imaginable, the kind of things that could poison a man’s mind and leave him haunted by them for life.

Teddy is also a “retired alcoholic” as one of the doctor’s at Ashecliffe Hospital reveals stating that it is plainly obvious that he used to drink. The subject of alcoholism is later elaborated on in a flashback scene where his late wife asks him why he drinks.

It appears that Teddy is not only haunted by the toils of war or his alcoholism, but also by the fact that a man who set fire to his home killed his wife and children. In short, Teddy’s life has been fuelled by mentally scarring events, that somehow lead him to Ashecliffe Hospital, in what he believes to be “fate” when he learns that the man who killed his family is actually a patient at the hospital; Andrew Laediss. Before long, Teddy soon learns of the corruption on the island.

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Peculiar experiments are being carried out.

These are later revealed to be lobotomies, which are used in order to settle the criminally insane for good. When Teddy uncovers the “truth”, he tries to leave the island to no avail. This is when the twist starts to become evident. Teddy Daniels is not a U.S marshal at all, he is actually a patient at Ashecliffe Hospital, and he has been for several years. Mentally scarred by the issues in his life, which are revealed not only to be the toils of war, but also the fact that his wife also went insane and drowned their children, it was Daniels, actually revealed to be called Andrew Laediss, who killed his wife out of revenge. Throughout the film, Teddy suffers headaches. These headaches are actually from his withdrawals from his medication which he suffers when he creates his alternate personality and gives everyone “roles to play,” something that is also referenced earlier on in the film. Teddy Daniels is criminally insane and he is permanently haunted by his past. He creates personalities for everyone at the hospital and he goes about his life pretending he is someone else as a method of “escapism” from reality. His story is incredible and the truth is actually hinted at throughout the film which will leave viewers simply needing to watch the film a second time because the hints are impossible to ignore once the twist is revealed. Needless to say. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the character to perfection and Teddy Daniels, still to this day, is undeniably one of the most in-depth, detailed and most developed film characters of the 2010 decade thus far.

  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Edward “Teddy” Daniels
  • Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule
  • Ben Kingsley as Dr. John Cawley
  • Max von Sydow as Dr. Jeremiah Naehring
  • Michelle Williams as Dolores Chanal
  • Emily Mortimer as Rachel Solando
  • Patricia Clarkson as Dr. Rachel Solando
  • Jackie Earle Haley as George Noyce
  • Ted Levine as Warden
  • John Carroll Lynch as Deputy Warden McPherson
  • Elias Koteas as Andrew Laeddis
  • Jill Larson as Old Manacled Woman
  • Ken Cheeseman as Doctor 1
  • Ruby Jerins as Little Girl
  • Robin Bartlett as Bridget Kearns
  • Christopher Denham as Peter Breene
  • Matthew Cowles as Ferry Boat Captain

The ending of shutter Island seems ambiguous but to me it was pretty clear-cut. Teddy wakes up to the reality that he is actually Andrew Laedis, though he is warned by Dr. Cawley and Dr. Sheehan that he has regresses into his fantasy world before. However, Andrew is smart. When Dr. Sheehan sits with him on the steps that next morning, Andrew knows that the doctors and Warden are observing his behavior. The thing is, his guilt and pain are still so heavy that he knows he cannot live with them. Rather than live with the knowledge of his pain, he chooses to pretend that he is still Teddy Daniels and let them lobotomize him, so that he can finally be free of his burden. That’s what the line to Dr. Sheehan about “living as a monster, or dying as a good man,’ means – Andrew would rather be mind-wiped as “Teddy Daniels” than live with the sins of Andrew Laeddis. Although little information is available to analyze Teddy based on his childhood he can be examined on many other elements of Sigmund Freud’s theories about the unconscious. 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 manifest 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 macabre 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 latent content of the dreams reveal the hidden meaning of his own experiences. In other words, there was no Rachel Solando. Teddy created her as a reflection of himself because Dolores was a 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?”. 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 from which the disturbing memories indirectly begin to reveal themselves in his dreams. Dr. Sheehan who in his mind was his partner reveals that for they had decided to try an elaborate role-playing experiment in which they went along with all of Teddy (Andrew)’s delusions in an attempt to bring his mind back to the real world and thus save him from a brain lobotomy (a form of psychosurgery) 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 gruesome 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 themselves. These are both attempts to rid his mind of the anxiety provoking stimuli that he is unable to accept has any association with what happened in his life.

Even before the truth is revealed while Teddy still believes that he is a hero we see this anxiety shining through during his investigation at Shutter 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”. 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 go back into repression. It was noted 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?”. 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 shocking truth. Teddy Daniels also known as Andrew Laeddis is an extremely interesting 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 would turn 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”. 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”. 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 done to deserve it.

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Shutter Island Movie Review. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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