Meaning of movie “Shutter Island” (plot and ending explained)

Meaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained) Films

Spoiler alert! If you have not seen the movie Shutter Island, stop reading now and watch it. It is a great movie. Once you have seen it, come back and read on.
I was really surprised by the meaning of the movie Shutter Island. I had not expected it to be so dark and depressing. The ending was really shocking to me. I had never thought about what would happen if someone were actually sent to that island for treatment. It makes me wonder how accurate the portrayal of mental illness in that movie is. Is this what mental hospitals are like? Or is Martin Scorsese just being creative?

“Watching” and “seeing” a movie are two different things. Shutter Island (2009) by Martin Scorsese is one of those must-see films. And this means peering into the smallest details and listening to the intonations of the characters, following the facial expressions and gestures of the characters. These nuances are extremely important for understanding the picture. Moreover, watching Leonardo DiCaprio as Marshal Teddy Daniels and Mark Ruffalo as his partner Chuck Oul is a pleasure.

What is the movie “Shutter Island” about

America in the mid 1950s. Two marshals are sent to Shutter Island to a hospital for mentally ill criminals. Chuck Owal immediately makes it clear to the viewer that the matter is serious, saying “we will not be sent to the poor fellows who hear voices and chase butterflies.” In the very first minutes of the film, we learn about the personal tragedy of his boss, Teddy. He says that his wife died – she suffocated when the apartment was burning downstairs. At the same time, he can barely stand on his feet – seasickness. And one more thing – Chuck calls Teddy a “legend man”.

What do the viewers get to know about the island? The fact that it is almost impregnable – rocks and a cliff to the very water. The jetty is the only way to and from the island. Well, they also love here, according to the remark of Chuck, who is sailing here for the first (?) time, to “shoot cigarettes”.

The scene of the meeting of the marshals with the guards is also interesting. The guys from the island somehow intensely peer at the arrivals and tighten their grip on their weapons. Why would? This question also interests Teddy. “Now, Marshal, everything is on edge,” Deputy Chief McPherson answers him.Meaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

Before entering the hospital, the marshals are asked to hand over their weapons. Chuck, who has been walking around with a dog tag for four years, can barely manage his holster. Isn’t it strange? No more strange than the fact that the partners get to know each other on the way to the island. They seemed to be pulled out of one reality and abruptly placed in another.

If you look at the picture very carefully, then from the very first minutes you can replace minor oddities that will not allow you to perceive the story with the arrival of the lawyers on the island as reliable. This is how Scorsese immerses the viewer in the story and its perception. The first moments are very important for this.

As the characters walk through the grounds of the hospital, the patients wave to Teddy, and the staff can’t hide their smirks. On the island, marshals must investigate the escape of serial killer Rachel Solando. Do you still remember the impregnability of the island and the only way to and from it?

Head physician Cowley reveals that Rachel killed three of her children by drowning them in the lake behind the house. The woman was sure that she lived at home, and the doctors were peddlers, postmen and milkmen. To create the illusion that the children are alive, she, according to the doctor, came up with her own world. Simply put, she fled from the cruel reality into the world of illusions, locking her consciousness there. As he does so, Coley watches Daniels’ reaction to his story.

Teddy Daniels begins an investigation and some things make him puzzled – well, in addition to the mysterious disappearance of a patient from a closed ward. It seems to him that the doctors, the clinic staff, and his partner are behaving strangely, and also the memorized speech of some patients, as if they are reading a role. And the guards are not trying to look for the escaped Rachel. In addition, the marshal comes to the conclusion that he is being stuffed with some drugs. How else to explain the headache and hallucinations. In them, he sees swirling ash and his wife with a burnt back, saying it’s time to let her go.

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The protagonist begins to suspect that the lair of the intruders who set it all up is in a secret laboratory at the lighthouse.Meaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

Such an episode is also interesting – during a hurricane, patients start a riot, and Teddy, using the elements, takes his partner to a secluded place. There, he explains to him that he is looking for the pyromaniac Andrew Laddis, the culprit in the death of his wife Dolores, in Ashcliffe Asylum. The search for Laddis is the marshal’s true goal. But is this “fire-crazed” person in reality? The portrait of the pyromaniac described by Teddy – a scar across his face – is like a distorted perception of his own face, which we see in the opening scene of the film. Scorsese hints that Leddis is the alter ego of the marshal himself.

So the element of fire appears in the picture, replacing the element of water and opposite to it. Teddy seems to seek salvation in her, wants to be cleansed by fire.

Meaning of movie “Shutter Island”

“Shutter Island” is interesting in that almost everything that happens on the screen is a role-playing game invented by the doctors of Ashcliff Hospital to awaken consciousness in patient number 67 – Andrew Laddis. The true state of things is revealed only in the last minutes of screen time.

So, Andrew, a World War II veteran, lived with his mentally ill wife, Dolores, and three children. Andrew realized that Dolores was unwell, he confesses this to the doctors in one of the final scenes, pleads guilty to not paying attention to her state of mind in time.

Andrew himself had no less problems – post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction to alcohol – all this did not let him understand how sick Dolores really was.

The terrible truth came to light only on the day when, returning home, Andrew found his children dead. Unable to cope with his despair, Andrew kills his own wife, whom, according to him, he loved so much (but, however, could not help her cope with her mental breakdown).Meaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

Grief from the loss of a family and heavy guilt are so unbearable for Andrew that he creates a new identity for himself – Marshal Teddy Daniels, and once in the Ashcliff hospital, invents a sophisticated conspiracy theory, according to which he was deceived into this place under the guise of an investigation.

In reality, Ashcliffe’s doctors are trying to help him. Chief physician Cowley and Laddis’ attending physician Lester Sheen believe that with the help of competent therapy, insanity can be cured without resorting to surgical methods. There are, however, opponents of their theory – Warden and Dr. Neyring, who believe that a dangerous patient should be subjected to a lobotomy.

The treatment of Laddis under the supervision of Lester Sheen proceeds with varying success – he then returns to reality, then again goes into his detective fantasies. And then Cowley and Shin decide on the last step: they arrange a role-playing game with the participation of the entire hospital staff, the purpose of which is to clearly show Laddis the illogicality of his detective fiction and force him to reject his own nonsense.

Evidence for Laddy’s insanity

At the first viewing of the film, some details may escape attention, but if you review Shutter Island, already knowing the essence of the plot and the ending, you can see that the authors from the very beginning suggested the right decision to us. I will list what I managed to notice, and you can supplement the list with your own observations.

In the very first frames, we see that the cabin on the ship, in which Teddy is located, is hung with chains and shackles. Why are they needed here? Obviously, a dangerous patient, Andrew Laddis, was previously bound with these chains, but he was released before the start of the experiment.

Teddy and Chuck arrive on the island

When Teddy and Chuck land on the island, the guards are extremely wary – and not surprising, because the guards know that they are dealing with an unstable mentally ill person who, according to doctors, has already harmed others. And in the future, you can notice more than once that the guards tense up every time they see Teddy – they are ready to grab him at any moment if he gives the slightest sign of insanity.

On the way to the hospital, Teddy notices that the area’s fencing is energized. “How did you figure that out?” asks Chuck (aka Lester Sheen). “I’ve seen this before,” Teddy says, without specifying where he might have seen it. Later it will become clear that Teddy Andrew has already spent two years in the Ashcliff hospital and, of course, knows that her fence is energized.

Source of Teddy’s hallucinationsMeaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

The “real” Rachel Solando (actually a figment of Andrew’s imagination) tells Teddy that they are trying to drug him, that even the cigarettes he is offered contain hallucinogens. But in reality it’s quite the opposite. When Teddy gets to the lighthouse, Dr. Cowley explains to him that the tremors and hallucinations – what Teddy believed were the result of taking psychotropic substances – are actually only the result of the refusal of drugs that patient Andrew Laddis took for two years at Ashcliffe Hospital.

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These drugs did not cause, but suppressed painful hallucinations. But for the purity of the experiment, the doctors Coley and Shin decided to temporarily stop giving drugs to Laddis – the result of which were nightmares, visions and trembling throughout the body.

George Noyes and his relationship with Andrew

In his detective fantasies, Teddy Daniels claims to have met Noise when he began investigating the history of Ashecliffe Hospital. Indeed, Noise recognizes Teddy when he comes to the third building. But the real state of affairs is explained by Dr. Cowley at the end of the film.

Noise and Laddis met already in the hospital, and the former contributed to the development of a conspiracy theory, which the latter later used in his accusations against doctors. However, when Noise called Laddis by his real name, he broke down and beat his friend. It was this event that led Worden and Dr. Neiring to demand a lobotomy for Laddis, and Dr. Cowley and Lester Sheen to give him one last chance in the form of a role-playing game.

Attitude of staff and patients towards role playMeaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

During the interrogation that Teddy Daniels arranges for the staff, you can see how frivolous they are about what is happening. One of the nurses starts to joke, and the others laugh at Teddy and the “interrogation” because they know that one of the patients is standing in front of them. Only thanks to the intervention of Dr. Sheen (whom Teddy considers his partner Chuck) is it possible to restore order at least for a while.

When Teddy interrogates Mrs. Kearns and the conversation turns to Dr. Sheen, both the patient and the doctor are embarrassed as she has to talk about who is sitting across from her at the table. That’s why she asks “Chuck” to bring her water, and he readily complies with the request to avoid an awkward moment.

Mrs. Kearns texts Teddy “Run” as she knows he is not being watched too closely right now and has the option to leave the hospital. When Teddy notices that Mrs. Kearns is speaking as if by memorized words, he is absolutely right – the staff and the most sane patients were instructed about their roles in the upcoming game.

Staff and patients treat the experiment differently. So, the frightening-looking elderly woman who presses her finger to her lips when she sees Teddy at the beginning of the film is apparently glad to be able to take part in the game – her gesture means that she was asked to be silent and she will be silent so as not to spoil Andrew’s pleasure to be in the role marshal.

Other patients cannot help laughing (in the scene when Teddy is talking to Dr. Cowley, returning from the third building, patients can be seen in the background, who chuckle at Teddy, while the staff orders them to “do not look in his direction”) . Dr. Neiring treats Teddy with undisguised irritation and sarcasm, not ready to take part in Dr. Cowley’s experiment.

Finally, not hiding at all, one of the security officers, who picked him up after a night in the cave, is talking to Teddy. He talks to Teddy as if condescendingly, making it clear that he is only one of his wards, nothing more. And when, at the end of the conversation, Teddy remarks: “You don’t know me!”, The officer replies: “I know you very well.” And no wonder, because Andrew spent two years under the roof of Ashcliffe.

Explain the ending of “Shutter island”Meaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

One of the key scenes of the film is the appearance of Teddy Daniels at the lighthouse. As he believed, a secret laboratory is hidden here, in which Coley and company perform terrible experiments on people. Armed with a gun, he makes his way to the lighthouse, where he finds nothing like his suspicions.

The lighthouse is completely empty and half-abandoned, and the more absurd looks looking around Andrew-Teddy with a gun at the ready. Here Dr. Cowley is already waiting for him and finally explains the essence of the experiment. It was important to Coley and Lester Sheen that Andrew get to the truth on his own, without anyone else’s help. The doctors wanted the patient to fully live his role from beginning to end, finally solving the riddle, the answer to which is himself. They hoped that only in this way Andrew would be cured and he could avoid the lobotomy.

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Their hopes were indeed justified. Realizing the absurdity of his assumptions about the island and the hospital staff, Andrew remembered the reason why he came to Ashcliff. All the pain and guilt fell on his shoulders again. In addition, Dr. Cowley said that this is not Andrew’s first return to reality. Finally, the decisive moment arrives.

Dr. Shin strikes up a conversation with Andrew, wanting to find out if he has finally accepted reality or not. At this point, Andrew is completely lucid, but the guilt is so unbearable that he makes a conscious decision to go for a lobotomy. This becomes clear from his parting words to Dr. Shin:

Which would be worse: To live as a monster, or to die as a good man?”

For himself, Andrew Laddis makes a choice: he wants to die a good man. And, already fully aware of who he really is – Dr. Cowley’s therapy still worked! He pretends to still think he’s Teddy Daniels.

Dr. Shin nods doomedly to his colleagues standing at a distance – the experiment failed, he will have to go to extreme measures. However, Andrew’s phrase may make it clear to Lester Sheen that he agreed to the lobotomy voluntarily. But the doctor does not dare to contradict the patient in his desire.

In the last frames, we see Andrew getting up and walking towards the doctors, who will now take him to the operation. He is well aware of what he is doing, but does not want to continue his life as a monster who could not save his wife and children from death.

Explain the film “Shutter island”Meaning of movie "Shutter Island" (plot and ending explained)

One would think that there is no special, deep meaning in what is happening for the viewer, that the film is just an exciting attraction and a puzzle. But in fact, there is a pretty powerful idea here. And there are a few more details about this.

The filmmakers, including the author of the original novel, made the hero a war veteran for a reason. Fake flashbacks with evidence of Nazi atrocities are not accidental here either. The hero could transform his sense of guilt into anything, but he projected it onto the events in the concentration camp, which, albeit in other scenery, took place in real history.

About hydrogen bombs and other weapons that threaten to destroy all of humanity, two characters speak at once: a female patient at the beginning of the film and prisoner Billings. The latter generally does it with rage, trying to shout to Teddy. Yes, and the marshal himself thinks that monstrous experiments are taking place on the island, similar to the experiments of the Nazis – he is echoed by the imaginary doctor Solando.

Now let’s remember that most viewers didn’t notice the key frame at the beginning of the film – the hand of the interrogated patient with an imaginary glass. From the first time, many other clues were not noticed, although some were given almost head-on. Teddy and I just didn’t want to pay attention to them.

The real fascism in history, threatening to destroy all of humanity and in the end almost did it, also began both clearly and, as it were, imperceptibly to the rest of the world. More precisely, many simply preferred not to notice it. The entire German people, to say nothing of others, pretended to the very end that nothing terrible was happening. The guilt complex appeared only after the defeat of Hitler. But this guilt is quickly forgotten, transforming into something else.

The film seems to come from somewhere deep, but it warns: if you do not accept the hard, but obvious facts, the end can be terrible. And this is true both for a single individual and for the whole of humanity.

Movies like “Shutter island”

Inception (2010)

The film “Inception” is a spy adventure in the realistic world of dreams of the hero who lost his wife, performed by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Mind Games (A Beautiful Mind, 2001)

A Beautiful Mind is a melodramatic thriller based on the true life of the great mathematician John Nash, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club is an adaptation of the cult book by Chuck Palahniuk starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

Remember (Memento, 2000)

The hero, suffering from a rare form of amnesia, remembering only the last fifteen minutes of his life, is trying to find his wife’s killer.

The Machinist (2003)

Hallucinations and reality are intertwined in the life of a man who has not slept for a whole year and literally turns into a living skeleton.

Where Dreams May Come (1998)

A loving husband and an exemplary family man, dies in a car accident and ends up in paradise. His wife commits suicide and goes to hell. But the hero can not accept this …

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