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 =

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shutter Island analysis - part 3: The warden's name is Deladis; Teddy isn't 'Andrew'


Above left: Teddy (on left) and Ashecliffe's warden. Above right: The cast list in the ending credits for Shutter Island, indicates that the warden character is not assigned a first or last name (see inside the tan rectangle - click image to enlarge).

As indicated in the above right screencap, which is a shot from the ending credits of Shutter Island, the warden character (played by Ted Levine) is not assigned a first or last name. However, note that another anagram of 'Edward Daniels' (besides 'Andrew Laeddis') is 'Warden Laeddis'. Therefore, we are tempted to consider that the warden's (real) last name is Laeddis (and that there's some kind of foolery going on in the movie with regard to the name Laeddis). However, Dr. Cawley would not have taken the risk of using the warden's actual last name for Teddy's 'pretend' surname, because Teddy would, at some point, see the warden's name on the badge he wears (note that in the above left screencap, the warden is wearing a badge).

In a March 2010 interview about Shutter Isand with Mick Brown of The Telegraph, the film's director, Martin Scorsese, said, "I discovered [certain films] in the 1950s. There was a small theatre on Second Avenue [in New York] that would show third, fourth or fifth-run movies. Isle of the Dead was the one...There's no way you could aspire to come close to what those films did. They came out of a certain time and place. There's no way we can recapture that. But we can make references. We shouldn't be afraid to make a homage; but it had to be serious, not ironic."[a] Scorsese is here acknowledging that one of the films made reference to in Shutter Island, is Isle of the Dead.

The 1945 movie Isle of the Dead was re-released in 1953, and Shutter Island is set in 1954. One anagram of "Isle of the Dead" is "the foe Deladis." Also, an anagram of 'Laeddis' is 'Deladis'. The Scottish surname Deladis means "at the port" in Scottish Gaelic. This name meaning fits with the setting of Shutter Island (Boston Harbor), and the name also fits with the warden being a foe of Teddy. Based on the foregoing, we see that the warden's last name is Deladis.

We thus see that there is, in fact, foolery (directed at Teddy) going on in the movie with regard to the name Laeddis: Dr. Cawley is lying to Teddy when he tells Teddy that his real name is Andrew Laeddis. The truth is that Teddy has been 'set up' by Dr. Cawley, Warden Deladis, Dr. Sheehan, and, no doubt, other people at the institute, and he is being lied to. Teddy's real name is Edward Daniels.

Comparison of the manner in which Teddy and his 'partner' hand their guns over to the prison staff, upon 'arrival' at Shutter Island, is one of the chief giveaways in the movie that not only is the man posing as Chuck not a U.S. Marshal, but also, that this particular arrival scenario is part of the role play being done on Teddy. Top left and right: When asked for his gun, Teddy smoothly withdraws it and its holster from his belt clip using his right hand only. Middle left: Teddy then hands the gun and holster to a prison staff member using his left hand, with the barrel pointing at himself, for safety of the others. Middle right: As opposed to Teddy, 'Chuck' (Dr. Sheehan) fumbles for his holster using both hands. Above left: The deputy warden looks on in exasperation as Sheehan fumbles. Above right: Sheehan hands the gun to prison staff with his right hand, and with the barrel pointed to his left (to approximately where Teddy is standing) instead of toward himself.

The actual scenario of Shutter Island is that a U.S. Marshal named Edward Daniels is sent to Ashecliffe, under the pretext of investigating a missing patient, with the intention of one or more persons in the Marshal's service (at the direction of someone higher up), being to make Edward (Teddy) disappear, since he has important knowledge concerning the Dachau liberation reprisals - knowledge that one or more parties would rather be kept under wraps: It was not only American soldiers, who killed and wounded German camp guards and German prisoners of war during the reprisals; imprisoned Jews also participated in the killings. Subsequent to this, American men who had been soldiers at Dachau were systematically declared 'crazy' and sent to insane asylums, so that their knowledge of what truly took place at Dachau would be hidden from the public. As Shutter Island's representation of this latter fact, Teddy is deemed by the service to be mentally unstable as the ostensible reason for handing him over to Dr. Cawley. It is someone in the Marshal service itself who gives Cawley all the inside information on Teddy, such as on his wife and kids, that Cawley needs in order to conduct the role play. All along, Teddy is destined to remain on the island, either continuing to believe he is a killer named Andrew Laeddis, or ending up getting lobotomized. It is no doubt the Marshal service itself that has Teddy's family killed (again, under instructions from someone higher up), since there would be suspicion that Teddy has told his wife about the important information that he possesses concerning Dachau; killing Teddy's kids is also necessary, so that there are no 'loose ends'.

Teddy is under the influence of one or more psychoactive (i.e., mind-altering) drugs during the role play, and is being induced into a dream-like state at certain points. The psychoactive drugs are given to Teddy under the pretext, of their being pills to help relieve his migraine headaches. Cawley knows about Teddy's history of migraines from the inside information provided to him; in fact, this is one of the reasons the Shutter Island location is chosen by those wishing to make Teddy disappear: The conditions conducive to mold growth are present on the island (dampness combined with old buildings), and certain fungi in some molds can induce migraine headaches in those susceptible to them. One or more of these particular molds must be present, in some of the institute's building materials, and thus, their fungi are present in the air, where they can be inhaled. The 'medicine' Dr. Cawley gives Teddy must include something containing a substance called ergot, which was first used in the treatment of acute migraine in 1926,[b] and has been known to induce mania and hallucinations. This is why Teddy exhibits periodic manifestations of mania while on the island, for example, when he lashes out at Dr. Cawley for not turning over institution records; and, Teddy is hallucinating - he experiences waking 'visions' of the Dachau liberation reprisals. While Cawly is trying to convince Teddy that his real name is Andrew Laeddis, and that he is a patient at Ashecliffe, Cawley lies to Teddy by stating that his migraines were a symptom of being off his psychiatric medication.

Above left: At the beginning of the movie-ending conversation between Teddy and Dr. Sheehan, Sheehan clumsily withdraws a cigarette from a pack with his mouth, indicating that he has only been pretending to be a smoker all along in order to go along with Teddy, who is a smoker. Above right: That Teddy appears to have regressed is signified by Sheehan throwing a glance at Cawley, who is nearby with the orderlies. However, the reality is that by this point, Teddy has realized that all along, the staff have tried to convince him that he is a killer, whereas he knows he is not. Teddy is here only pretending to go along with the role play, when he tells 'Chuck' they need to get off the island. Sheehan speaks with honest surprise when he calls Teddy "Teddy" as he volunteers himself to be lobotomized, and thus, it is an indication that Teddy's real name is Teddy (i.e., Edward). When Teddy asks which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man, what he means is that he knows he is a good man and that being lobotomized will effectively be his death (essentially, the complete alteration of his personality), and that he'd rather subject himself to this than continue to be 'treated' as Andrew Laeddis, a killer.

a. Brown, Mick (March 7, 2010). "Martin Scorsese interview for Shutter Island." The Telegraph, 'film makers on film' section. Web. URL =
b. Tfelt-Hansen P., Saxena P.R., Dahlöf C., Pascual J., Láinez M., Henry P., Diener H., Schoenen J., Ferrari M.D., Goadsby P.J., Ergotamine in the acute treatment of migraine: a review and European consensus, Brain, 2000 Jan; 123(Pt 1): 9-18. [Abstract]; cited in Wooltorton, Eric, Risk of stroke, gangrene from ergot drug interactions, National Institutes of Health, Health and Drug Alerts, CMAJ. 2003 Apr 15; 168(8): 1015. [Article]

1) In certain instances it has been determined that the creators of some of the productions analyzed on this blog, and/or the creators of source material(s) used in the making of these productions, may be making negative statements about certain segments of society in their productions. These statements should be taken as expressing the opinions of no one other than the creators.

2) This blog is not associated with any of the studios, creators, authors, publishers, directors, actors, musicians, writers, editors, crew, staff, agents, or any other persons or entities involved at any stage in the making of any of the media productions or source materials that are analyzed, mentioned, or referenced herein.

3) In keeping with the policies of the filmmakers, authors, studios, writers, publishers, and musicians, that have created the productions (and their source materials) that are analyzed, mentioned, or referenced on this blog, any similarity of the characters in these films or source materials to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


All images on this blog are used solely for non-commercial purposes of analysis, review, and critique.

All Wikipedia content on this blog, and any edits made to it, are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

Marcus Aurelius's Meditations - from Wikisource (except where otherwise noted); portions from Wikisource used on this blog are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

Saint Augustine's Confessions and City of God from Wikisource (except where otherwise noted); portions from Wikisource used on this blog are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

Saint Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica from the 'Logos Virtual Library' website (except where otherwise noted), compiled and edited by Darren L. Slider; believed to be in public domain.