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The Psychological Wonderment Called: Shutter Island

Updated on June 21, 2014


Although I originally watched Shutter Island with an apathetic attitude because I thought I knew what was going to happen, the movie’s twisted plot left me with chills of amazement. Completely in awe of the writer’s imagination, I would definitely give this film two thumbs up. Even before the first scene was in view, my attention was captured by the eerie music that set the stage for a confusing yet intriguing experience.

Writer Dennis Lehane creates a spooky abandoned Civil War fort, turned hospital for the criminally insane, as the central location of the story. Taking place on a disturbingly creepy island, during a hurricane no less, the viewer is drawn into the film with the promise of an unusual mystery that needs solving by U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels. But as the movie continues through the suspicious case, one not only begins to doubt the sanity of the marshal, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, but it also leaves one pondering the very fragility of their own sanity.

Having to watch the film a few times to take in the essence of Shutter Island and DiCaprio’s character, it became terrifyingly obvious that one’s own mind is the most dangerous place of all. With this being stated as the movie’s main purpose, we witness Dr. Crawley, played by Ben Kingsley, gradually trying to convince Teddy of his lunacy, and we desperately hope that he will not fall victim to the supposed evil doctor’s sinister plan. Even though we really want to believe that the doctor is trying to trap Teddy and cover up a horrible scandal, we later find out that the dreams and flashbacks Teddy has been experiencing were not just memories; in fact, they were reactions to the absence of his medication that he had been on for the past two years. Teddy’s mind had decided it could not handle the truth that was real life; instead, it took control, creating a secondary world where he could be the hero and not the cause of all the events that led up to his becoming a patient at Shutter Island’s Institution.

How did you like Shutter Island?

4 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of Shutter Island

When the movie begins, we enter the life that Teddy has created for himself, not realizing that he and the viewers are the only ones not clued in on reality. He takes a case on Shutter Island, where his wife’s murderer, Andrew Laeddis, is located, to find a missing female inmate, Rachel Solando, who was sentenced to live there for drowning her three children. As he continues onward with his rather bizarre investigation, Teddy finds little clues like who is #67. Unbeknownst to his consciousness, those clues were purposely left to be found with the hope that he would investigate further to find out the truth. The truth is later revealed, even though Teddy doesn’t want to admit it, that missing inmate number 67 is Andrew Laeddis. It is not made clear whether he or Doctor Crawley left the clues behind; either way, they were left to try to get through to the truth that Teddy kept locked away deep in his subconscious.

His illusions of his deceased wife Dolores, played by Michelle Williams, continue to tell him throughout the film that her killer is on that island; that he can’t leave until he finishes the case. I believe his illusions are actually his subconscious battling his conscious. On one hand, he wants to come back to reality; that’s why he’s searching for Andrew Laeddis, but when he breaks into the lighthouse, where supposed awful surgeries and conspiracies are taking place, his hallucination of his wife tries to get him to leave. I believe this is his mind kicking into full gear and telling him to run so he won’t have to face the truth. Deep down, he knows if he were to stay in that lighthouse, where his psychiatrist is trying to get through to him, he would be brought back into the real world that he has been so determined to deny.

While in the lighthouse, Teddy stands face to face with his psychiatrist and Doctor Crawley, who begin to paint the picture of his actual life. Although he tries to fight it, Teddy starts to recall who he is and what brought him to this point in his life. He remembers that he is truly Andrew Laeddis . . . his wife’s murderer, and Rachel Solando, who never actually existed, was a replacement for his wife that had drowned their three children. Teddy did not want to fathom the idea that his wife could kill their children, and he did not want to live with the fact that he could have done something about it sooner but didn’t. So, his mind took over, creating a whole secondary world, making reality non-existent. In fact, Doctor Crawley had set up the whole “missing inmate” investigation as an extreme roll play to get Teddy/Andrew to come back to reality, but it only worked when the doctor forcefully asked Andrew if he would knowingly deny that his children ever existed. When looking at the photo of his deceased little girl, I believe Andrew’s subconscious became so emotionally overwhelmed that he could not realistically deny the love he had for his babies. In fact, the love he had for his children was so real and deep that it broke through the charade his mind had created . . . thus forcing him back into the real world.

What's Your Opinion:

What do you think of Shutter Island, the film?

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In my opinion, the filmmakers did a wonderful job of showing just how powerful and psychotic our subconscious and conscious can truly be. For Andrew, all he wanted was to forget the pain of his loss and how he had ignored his wife’s mental illness that led to her drowning their children and that led him to killing her. So his mind took control creating a world where: his children never existed; someone else had murdered his wife; and where at the end of the day, he could be the hero uncovering the wicked goings on at the Shutter Island Institute. In the world his mind fashioned, he didn’t have to feel the pain of losing his three young babies or wife, and he didn’t have to believe that he was the cause of or could have stopped their death.

After being brought back to sanity, Andrew was made aware of his episodes of insanity and violence. Knowing that he would be lobotomized if he were to return to his created illusions, he had to decide whether he should allow his mind to continue to gain control and wreak havoc or if he should just bring it all to an end, no longer hurting those around him and permanently getting rid of his emotional pain of having to live with what he has done. So when his psychiatrist returned the next morning to check on his mental status, Andrew pretended to relapse, making the choice to no longer allow his demented mind to gain control of him. As the guards came to take him away, Andrew turned to his partner/psychiatrist, asking him a complex question: Would it be better to live as a monster or die as a good man? Then, Andrew quietly and voluntarily walks away to be lobotomized, knowing he would finally be free from the dangerous control of his own mind.

Shutter Island Trailer


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    • Michelle Ascani profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Ascani 

      4 years ago from Deep in the Heart of Texas

      It will definitely keep you thinking and wondering what's going on.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      Great review. I'm glad I read this because it's my first time to hear of this movie. Leo di Caprio is a fantastic actor, and I will definitely look up Shutter Island. Thank you for this hub:).

    • jeremycolombo profile image


      4 years ago

      I fell asleep toward the end of the movie the first time I watched it. I woke up with the ending credits rolling. :-) I finally watched it again and it definitely kept me guessing. Thank you for posting this and for breaking it down so well!

    • Michelle Ascani profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Ascani 

      4 years ago from Deep in the Heart of Texas

      It is my understand that he was delusional during the film, but at the end, he was brought back to reality. Once he was back in reality, he decided to no longer be stuck in the prison of his own mind, so he pretended to slip back into his fantasy. This way the doctor would have to perform the labodomy. My reason for this belief is due to his closing statement to his partner/therapist. "Is it better to live as a monster or die as a good man?" Earlier in the film they had had a discussion about that, and I believe it was his way of telling his therapist that he was ready to put an end to all of it and no longer live as a monster. Very thought provoking movie indeed. Inception is as well!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I thought that this movie was very haunting and thought provoking but excellent. I left the theatre somewhat bewildered. What was the truth and what was delusional? Still trying to figure it out.

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 

      7 years ago from Louisiana, USA

      My uncle told me this movie was good. I was on the fence about it. But after reading this review, i think i will check this film out. thanks for the review. voted useful.


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