Literature: Shutter Island

We gotta get off this rock, Chuck.

Shutter Island is a 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and The Given Day and a writer on The Wire.

In 1954, US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule are assigned to investigate the disappearance of multiple murderess Rachel Solando, who is a patient at Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental hospital for the most violent of the criminally insane. It is revealed that Andrew Laeddis, the man responsible for Daniels's wife's death, is incarcerated there as well.

As the marshals investigate further, they begin to uncover hints that Ashecliffe Hospital may be home to a living nightmare of Nazi-esque experimentation on unwilling patients.

But of course, all is not as it seems...

The novel was adapted into a movie by Martin Scorsese in 2010, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule, and Ben Kingsley as Dr. Cawley.

Perhaps one of the most heavily symbolic novels/films in years, to the extent that it will screw with your mind HARD.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Arc Words: "Why you all wet, Baby?"
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Teddy automatically assumes that the German doctor working in the asylum is some kind of Josef Mengele, continuing his experiments on American soil. Teddy's paranoia about Germans turns out to have a comprehensible source — he was present at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. After the Allied soldiers saw what had been done to the prisoners, they put all the guards up against a wall and summarily executed them (an actual event).
  • Ambiguous Ending: The ending of the novel is unclear as to which "reality" is true. It is unclear whether he has truly regressed, or if he wishes to "die" (at the very least, lose his ability for conscious thought, through lobotomy) in order to avoid living with the knowledge that his wife murdered their children and he is her murderer. The ending of the film is less ambiguous, and indicates that Teddy has made a conscious choice.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Said by the captain of the boat at the beginning of the film.
  • Badass Boast:
    Teddy Daniels: We're federal marshals on a federal facility. That's the authorization of God Himself. We don't answer to you. We don't explain to you. We can choose to shoot you in the dick, boy, and there's not a court in the country that would even hear the case... So open up the fucking gate.
  • Bedlam House: A very good example of a subversion, as the horrific experiments are all part of the protagonist's delusions. The story plays with the audience, as it is because of familiarity with the trope that one so readily accepts Daniels's version of reality as truth.
    • The background of the story is a bureaucratic conflict to avoid the institution becoming this. Ben Kingsley is a Reasonable Authority Figure who wants to help Andrew Laeddis/Teddy Daniels overcome his condition, but Max von Sydow and Stacy Keach's characters both believe he's beyond hope and requires lobotomy. The ending implies that Teddy decided to Take a Third Option.
  • The Fifties: A very grim portrayal of the time period, bordering on Crapsack World. Cold War, McCarthyism, fresh memories of Nazi atrocities, rampant crime and general paranoia form the zeitgeist.
  • Framing Device: The novel is presented as Dr. Sheehan's desire to set the record straight at last.
  • Go Among Mad People: It's set in a mental hospital.
  • It's Personal: Teddy takes on the case specifically because of its link to his wife.
  • Lighthouse Point: The lighthouse at the end of the island, that the staff says contains the septic system, but others say contains a lobotomy lab. It's actually an office.
  • Locked Room Mystery: How did Rachel Solando escape? "It's as if she evaporated straight through the walls."
  • Meaningful Name: Toward the end of the book, Dr. Cawley remarks on the irony of how Teddy even in his intent to hide the truth from himself, gave his primary psychiatrist the name "Chuck Aule". Say it five times fast.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Dolores suggests doing this with their drowned children's bodies, just before Andrew shoots her for killing them.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Teddy's first name is actually "Edward", but everyone calls him Teddy. This helps hide the fact that his 'name' is actually an anagram for Andrew Laeddis.
  • Only Sane Man: Subverted. Teddy believes he is one. He is wrong.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Teddy blows up Dr. Crawley's beloved car in order to create a diversion.
  • Room 101: Teddy assumes the lighthouse is one.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Teddy's got nightmares and perhaps a drinking problem because of his WWII experience. Specifically for liberating the Dachau concentration camp and participating in a real-life massacre of Nazi officers as a result of Go Mad from the Revelation on seeing the bodies of the victims, that the Allied authorities subsequently covered up.
  • The Shrink: In Teddy's eyes, the psychiatrists are the evil version of this trope. In reality, they are only trying to help him overcome his madness.

The movie contains examples of

  • Anti-Villain / Hero Antagonist: Dr. Cawley. He seems really sad and regretful when he has to admit his own defeat.
  • Bad Dreams: Teddy has several dreams hinting at his Dark and Troubled Past. Mostly involving his daughter telling him he should have saved their family.
  • Berserk Button: Reminding Teddy that he is Andrew Laeddis causes him to become physically violent towards other patients.
  • Big "NO!": DiCaprio's character gets a pretty good one.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Subverted. Teddy Daniels is on Shutter Island not only for a missing person's case. but to find Andrew Laeddis, the man responsible for Daniels's wife's death.
  • Catapult Nightmare: A few.
  • The Conspiracy: Teddy believes there is one in Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital starting with the disappearance of Rachel Solando and going further down to them involving Nazi experiments of the human mind. Subverted, this is only a fake reality Andrew Laeddis has made up for himself and that his doctors are trying to prove isn't real.
  • Despair Event Horizon: see Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Determinator: Teddy Daniels is very determined to find answers on Shutter Island. This trope is actually Deconstructed because it's actually Andrew Laeddis refusing to accept reality.
  • Driven to Madness: Subverted. They're actually trying to cure his madness. Played straight in that what happened to his wife and children really did make him crack before the start of the story.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Cruelly Subverted. As of the end of the film, Dr. Cawley has gotten Teddy/Andrew to snap out of his madness twice. Neither time stuck. The movie ending somewhat suggests that Andrew is really cured, but is so guilt ridden at what he had done that he pretends to have regressed back to the Teddy Daniels fantasy so they will lobotomize him, and his last line in particular implies that he knows.
  • Eye Scream:
    • 'If I sink my teeth into your eye right now do you think you can stop me before I blind you?'
    • The description of a lobotomy, which is very strongly implied to be the lead character's fate. A real lobotomy doesn't actually damage the eyeball, as this is gently pushed sideways to clear a path to the orbital fissures at the rear of the eye-socket. Still extremely creepy.
  • Failure-to-Save Murder: Andrew feels he let his children die because he didn't get help for his wife earlier, and as a result has nightmares of his daughter telling him he should have saved all of them.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "You can't just choose to be sane."
    • Also how Andrew (then believing himself to be Teddy) utilized matches to see in Ward C, after having told Sheehan (as Chuck) that Laeddis was a fire bug. This is arguable, as obviously he had to use something to see in the nearly-pitch-black ward, but it's heavily inferrable based on how much attention the movie pays to Andrew lighting each match.
    • In addition, Teddy told his partner that his wife was killed by smoke from a fire. A constant habit of his is smoking. Another arguable point, as it is the fifties, and smoking was encouraged at the time.
    • Smoke from a fire could have also been referring to the smoke from his gun, as shown when he hallucinates shooting it. Some films from that time period have similar lines
    • Chuck has a hard time taking off his gun when they first enter the facility. Any lawman would be able to take it off as quickly as Teddy.
    • Early in the film, Teddy decides to quit the investigation early on due to Cawley refusing the meet his requests, saying he will file a report of the investigation, but at this point he stammers, because he's not quite certain who it is he reports to. Chuck has to finish the sentence for him
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Most assuredly not always present, but still packs a wallop at the ending, with the "peaceful" shot of the lighthouse. The previous scene makes clear what will happen to Laeddis there.
  • Herr Doctor: Played with. Dr. Naehring is undeniably German (although played by a legendary Swede), but his accent is much lighter than required by the trope.
  • Homage: The film is absolutely crawling with them, in particular Alfred Hitchcock/Vertigo.
  • I Know You Are In There Somewhere Fight: Nearly the entire film is one, on the part of Kingsley's character. He fails. Or does he?
  • I Know You Know I Know: A somewhat meta-example; any sufficiently Genre Savvy viewer should be able to spot the obvious twist a mile away, but the way the film plays out makes one constantly question whether or not that's just what the filmmakers want you to expect.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Along with the dead children at Dachau, Rachel Solando killed her three children by drowning them and by extension, so did Dolores.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "Why are you all wet, baby?"
    • "I gotta get off this rock, Chuck."
  • Lobotomy: During the course of US Marshall Teddy Daniels's investigation into the titular mental institution, the procedure is mentioned as one method used to "cure" violent inmates that have proven otherwise unable to be helped. After a few PlotTwists and meetings with Andrew Laeddis and Rachel it is held as a threat against Daniels in his attempts to escape the island. Finally, after The Reveal, The whole plot is revealed as an elaborate set-up to give Daniels, who is actually Laeddis committed to the asylum after killing his wife because she murdered their children in her own insanity, one last chance to cure himself. He experiences My God, What Have I Done? and chooses to maintain the fantasy, knowing that it will mean death or worse, and undergo the procedure.
  • Manly Tears: Teddy sheds these a lot, to the point of being The Woobie.
  • Mr. Exposition: Dr. Cawley's wordy explanation of what was really going on.
  • Mr. Imagination: Teddy Daniels thinks he's in an investigation solving the case of a lost patient while seeking revenge against Andrew Laeddis for killing his wife. He actually is Andrew Laeddis and is a patient at Shutter Island.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Warden.
    • Although considering that by the point in the movie where we first meet the warden was when Andrew was coming off the Chlorazapine and obviously hallucinating, we don't really know if that conversation actually happened or was simply a part of Andrew's delusion.
    • Not to mention he could just be venting his frustrations with the guy he's talking to, who is the most violent and dangerous patient he's ever had to deal with.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Teddy violently does this to a patient in Ward C. He also gave one to George Noyce because he called him Laeddis, and Dr. Cawley tells Andrew he's the most violent patient they have.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: As we later learn, Laeddis' delusions led him to completely misunderstand what George Noyce was talking about.
    "It's about you and Laeddis. That's all it's ever been about", implying that "it" was about Daniels vs. Laeddis
    As opposed to: "It's about you. And, Laeddis, that's all it's ever been about", implying that Daniels is Laeddis and everything was focused around him.
  • Post-Historical Trauma: The film actually deconstructs Film Noir of The Fifties by dealing with the subtext of post-war trauma and wider social tragedy that came out of WWII. Andrew/Teddy was a soldier in the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp and participated in a real life massacre of surrendering Nazi soldiers, a crime that, Truth in Television, was suppressed by the Allied Authorities until being de-classified decades later.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Downplayed in a scene where we swiftly see a prison inmate using his blood to write something on the cell wall.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: It turns out Teddy Daniels and the investigation is a fake persona created by Andrew Laeddis to hide the truth that he murdered his mentally ill wife after she murdered their children. As a patient, Laeddis has been living a fake reality to run away from the truth. In the end, he continues to act delusional and decides that he would rather be lobotomized, in his words, "die a good man" rather than continue to "live as a monster".
  • Significant Anagram: Four of them, hence the "Rule of Four." Edward Daniels/Andrew Laeddis, and Rachel Solando/Dolores Chanal.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: A whole swarm of rats on the cliffside, which seem curious but not at all hostile.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Chuck lampshades that Teddy being called for an investigation to the island where George Noyce (a past acquaintance) is being held sounds too much like a Contrived Coincidence. Chuck who is actually Dr. Sheehan is trying to expose Andrew's made up reality.
  • There Are No Therapists: Completely, utterly inverted. The whole island is orchestrating a therapy session to play along with the main character's delusions to see if he can resolve his own internal conflicts without help. They are trying to simulate a There Are No Therapists scenario.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Carried over from the novel. Teddy spends the whole movie chasing after Andrew Laeddis, the man who killed his wife. Near the end it's revealed that he is Laeddis, and invented the Teddy Daniels persona so that he wouldn't have to deal with the guilt of shooting his wife after she drowned their children in a lake. He's been a patient at the hospital for the last two years.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Why do we keep spoiling Daniels's insanity, guys?
    • To be fair, any movie set in a mental institution is pretty much guaranteed to screw with its hero's head, so not much of a spoiler for the Genre Savvy.
  • Twist Ending: A truly nasty one, too.
  • U.S. Marshal: Two U.S. Marshals, Edward "Teddy" Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, travel Shutter Island, as part of an investigation into the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando.
  • Verbal Business Card: "My name is EDWARD DANIELS!!"(twice). Later: "My name is Andrew Laeddis, and I murdered my wife in the spring of 'fifty-two."
  • Weapon Stomp: Done very nastily. The Nazi reaching for the gun had blown his cheek off in a suicide attempt and was lying on the floor bleeding out. He reached for his dropped gun to try again, only to have the protagonist step on it and drag it away.)
  • Wham Line:
    • "You don't have a partner, Daniels. You came alone."
    • "Your name is Andrew Laeddis. The sixty-seventh patient at Ashecliffe? He's you, Andrew."
    • "Your children, Andrew, your children!"
    • "Honey?... Where are the kids?" "They're at school." "...It's Saturday. School's not open on Saturday." "My school is."
  • Windmill Crusader: The main character.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech:
    Teddy: Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or die as a good man?
  • You Are What You Hate: Teddy Daniels doesn't sympathize for the patients because in most cases they've committed murder. In reality, he killed his wife and confesses he is a monster who would rather die a good man in the final scene.