Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shutter Island - Analysis of the Movie - part 1: Introduction and plot synopsis


[Image at left from the Wikipedia 'Shutter Island (film)' page; "Shutterislandposter",[a] licensed under fair use via Wikipedia.]

Welcome to the analysis of Shutter Island. Buttons at the bottom of each post enable navigation through the parts of the analysis.

Shutter Island is a 2010 American neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese. The film is based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name. A plot synopsis of the movie appears below.

In 1954, two U.S. Marshals — Edward "Teddy" Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule — travel to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island located in Boston Harbor. They are investigating the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando, who was incarcerated for drowning her three children. Their only clue is a note left by Solando: "The law of 4; who is 67?"

Above left: Teddy (on right) and Chuck travel to Shutter Island. Above right: The sole clue left by Solando as to her disappearance, reads: "The law of 4; who is 67?" (click image to enlarge).

Daniels and Aule find the staff confrontational; Dr. John Cawley, the lead psychiatrist, refuses to turn over records, and they learn that Solando's doctor, Dr. Lester Sheehan, had left on vacation after her disappearance. Though they are given access to the hospital, they are told that Ward C and the lighthouse are off limits. One patient, during interrogation, secretly writes "RUN" in Daniels' notepad. Daniels starts to have migraine headaches from the hospital's atmosphere, and experiences waking 'visions' of his involvement in the Dachau liberation reprisals and disturbing dreams of his wife, Dolores Chanal, who was killed in a fire set by Andrew Laeddis, a local arsonist. In one dream, Chanal tells Daniels that Solando is still on the island, as well as Laeddis, who also went missing months ago. Daniels later explains to Aule that locating Laeddis was an ulterior motive for taking the case.

Above left: Teddy has a waking vision of his involvement in the Dachau liberation reprisals. The Dachau liberation reprisals were a series of incidents in which German prisoners of war were killed at the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, during World War II. The killings occurred after the U.S. 45th Infantry Division entered the Dachau complex.[b] Above right: In one of Teddy's dreams, Dolores tells him that Rachel is still on Shutter Island.

During their investigation, Daniels and Aule find that Solando has been discovered by the staff with no explanation, prompting Daniels to break into Ward C. There, he meets George Noyce, a patient in solitary confinement. Noyce warns Daniels that the doctors are performing questionable experiments on the patients, and some are taken to the lighthouse to be lobotomized. Noyce also warns Daniels that everyone else on the island, including Aule, is playing in a game designed for Daniels. Daniels regroups with Aule, and the two of them head off to the lighthouse. While on their way to it, they become separated. Daniels sees a body on some rocks below a cliff, but by the time he climbs down, the body is gone. Daniels finds a cave in the cliff wall where a woman is hiding, claiming to be the real Solando. She says she was a former psychiatrist at the hospital until she discovered that its staff were performing experiments with psychotropic medication, in an attempt to develop mind control techniques. She tells Daniels that before she could report the experiments to authorities, she was committed as a patient. Without any sign of Aule, Daniels returns to the hospital, but Cawley now claims that Daniels arrived on the island alone.

Top left: Teddy converses with George Noyce. Top right: Teddy descends a cliff wall to investigate his sighting of a body on the rocks below. Above left: When Teddy goes to the spot where he thought the body was, it is gone. Above right: As Teddy climbs back up the cliff, he encounters this woman in a cave; she claims that she is the real Rachel Solando, and that she used to be a psychiatrist at Ashecliffe.

Daniels is convinced Aule has been taken to the lighthouse and breaks into it. There, he finds Cawley waiting for him. Cawley explains that Laeddis is actually Daniels himself, "[their] most dangerous patient", incarcerated in Ward C for murdering his manic depressive wife after she drowned their children, thus revealing that "Solando" is actually his deceased wife. Cawley says that "Edward Daniels" and "Rachel Solando" are anagrams of "Andrew Laeddis" and "Dolores Chanal" ("the law of 4"), and Laeddis is the 67th patient at Ashecliffe ("who is 67?"); furthermore, the little girl from Laeddis' recurring dreams is his daughter, Rachel. Cawley also says that the events of the last few days have been designed by the hospital to break Laeddis' conspiracy-laden insanity by allowing him to play out the role of Daniels; Dr. Sheehan posed as Aule. Cawley says that the migraines Laeddis suffered were a result of being off his medication. Laeddis is overwhelmed with memories and faints from the realization.

Dr. Cawley attempts to convince Teddy that "Edward Daniels" is an anagram of his real name, Andrew Laeddis, and that he is patient number 67 on Shutter Island.

Laeddis awakens back in the hospital, and is asked questions regarding his personality by Cawley and Sheehan, which he answers as Laeddis. Cawley notes they had achieved this state nine months prior to Laeddis' regression, and this is to be his last chance at rehabilitation. Later, as Laeddis relaxes on the hospital grounds with Sheehan, he refers to Sheehan as Chuck and tells him they need to leave the island. Seeing the signs of regression, Sheehan and Cawley (who has been observing from a distance) have Laeddis taken by the orderlies to the lighthouse. Laeddis lets himself be taken, but asks Sheehan "Which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?", potentially signifying that his regression is only an act.[c]

Top left: Dr. Sheehan (standing at left) and Dr. Cawley converse with Teddy. Top right: A little later, Teddy and Sheehan converse on the hospital grounds. Above left: Teddy leaves for the lighthouse with the orderlies. Above right: The lighthouse.

a. Poster for Shutter Island: The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Paramount Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.
b. Wikipedia, 'Dachau liberation reprisals'. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Wikipedia, 'Shutter Island (film)'. Web, n.d. URL =

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