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Film / Shutter Island

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The 2010 Film of the Book of Shutter Island. It was adapted by Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule, and Ben Kingsley as Dr. Cawley.

The movie contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Your wife drowning your kids would certainly count. And your guilty conscience takes the form of your daughter...
  • And You Were There: It's revealed towards the end that the 'Rachel Solando' Teddy was looking for (played by Emily Mortimer) is another nurse at the hospital.
  • Amnesiac Protagonist Catalyst: The police officer Teddy is Andrew Laeddis. But this is a downplayed case since everyone else was aware of it and was just playing along to try and cure him.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Cawley is able to break 'Teddy' by asking if the little girl who haunts him, Andrew's daughter Rachel, is not real.
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  • Asshole Victim: The concentration camp guards at Dachau, who the American soldiers gunned down en masse even after they had surrendered. Although it was kept classified for many years, this really happened.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Andrew's wife crosses into this territory after she drowns her children.
    • Several patients obviously fit the bill, most notably Peter Breen, Rachel Solando (at first), various patients at C Block, and Andrew Laeddis.
    • Implied with The Warden when he gives a little speech to Teddy about violence while giving him a lift. The Warden seems suspiciously amused, and insists he knows Teddy and that he's a violent as they come. Subverted when it turns out the warden's just messing with a troublesome patient.
  • Berserk Button: Reminding Teddy that he is Andrew Laeddis causes him to become physically violent towards the patients.
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  • Big "NO!": Teddy gets a pretty good one.
  • Blast Out: Subverted. At the end, Teddy shoots and apparently kills Dr Cawley, but when he turns the gun on Sheehan, the camera cuts back to Cawley, unshot and unharmed.
  • Bungled Suicide: The commandant of Dachau concentration camp in Daniels' flashback tried to shoot himself, but failed and took an hour to die. Daniels moved the gun away to prolong his suffering by preventing a second attempt.
  • 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: Teddy has a few thanks to his haunting nightmares.
  • Composite Character: Done in-universe example with Teddy's imaginary Andrew Laeddis. He takes his name and slaying of Dolores from the man Teddy actually is, while his arson is taken from Dolores.
  • 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.
  • Cutting Back to Reality: In the finale, Teddy manages to get his hands on the firearm that was confiscated from him at the start of the film and hold Dr. Cawley and Dr. Sheehan at gunpoint. Cawley makes it clear that shooting them is the only way Teddy is going to get off the island, so Teddy shoots him four times in the chest, splattering the board behind him in blood, then turns the gun in Sheehan's direction... and then we cut back to Cawley, who is completely unharmed. The gun is a toy and always has been: Teddy is actually a patient at the hospital - specifically the mysterious Andrew Laeddis that "Teddy" has been pursuing - and wouldn't be trusted with a real firearm even in the roleplay scenario that's been established for him.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Teddy embodies the noir hero with a troubled background. But we find out "Teddy" is a coping mechanism for Andrew who cannot hope to process his pain.
  • Death of a Child: Along with the dead children at Dachau, Rachel Solando killed her three children by drowning them and by extension, so did Dolores.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Andrew decides that he can no longer live with the truth of his actions and chooses lobotomy.
  • 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.
  • Downer Ending: Andrew is so guilt-ridden over what he has done to his wife and children that he chooses to be lobotomized by faking his regression. As a result, the roleplay therapy Dr. Cawley devised has been discredited.
  • 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.
  • Dr. Psych Patient: Inverted, in that it's the protagonist who turns out to be a delusional patient, not the people he meets at the asylum.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The ending revealed that everything about the film was a delusion of Laeddis.
  • Epiphany Therapy: 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 about 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.
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: As symbolism for the juxtaposition between delusion and reality. While Teddy is having delusions about who Andrew Laeddis is and how his wife died, fire is a prevalent theme. But reality, which is that his wife drowned their three children, becomes more apparent when you consider Teddy's discomfort with water.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "You can't just choose to be sane."
    • The warden says to Teddy: "You're as violent as they come."
    • Also, what George Noyce tells him: "You can't dig up the truth and kill Laeddis, you just can't."
    • Also, when Teddy finds Noyce with a large scar on his face and asks who did it to him. Noyce responds, " you did."
    • Listen very closely when Teddy lights a match while talking to George Noyce, and you can hear a child's scream.
    • While talking with Noyce, the camera repeatedly frames Teddy through the prison bars.
    • Also how Andrew (then believing himself to be Teddy) utilized matches to see in Ward C, 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.
    • The constant mention of fire is alluding to Teddy’s wife who burned their apartment down as mentioned in the book
    • Or it could be a sign of Teddy's delusions. One of the realities he so desperately wants to avoid is that his wife drowned their three children. Water is the opposite of fire in the same way that reality is the opposite of delusion. Each scene where fire shows up, "Teddy" is actively having delusions. When water shows up, he is more actively being forced to confront reality.
    • "Smoke from a fire" could have also been referring to the smoke from his gun, which is how he killed his wife, and 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.
    • Shortly after arriving on the island, Teddy decides to quit the investigation early on due to Cawley refusing to meet his requests, threatening to file a report of the investigation, but at this point he stammers, because he's not quite certain who it is he reports to, since he only was a marshal. Chuck has to finish the sentence for him, and since he knows about FBI, he goes for "Hoover's boys".
    • Teddy is quick to notice the facility has an electrified fence, and seems to instantly work out that Peter Breen can't handle the sound of a pencil scratching on paper. It's not just Teddy working these things out. It's Teddy remembering these things due to spending two years at Shutter Island.
    • Several members of the hospital staff are actually seen completely breaking character in-universe, in front of Teddy, yet the place already feels so weird that one doesn't pay attention. This includes, but is not limited to:
      • On the rocks, the guards are not even looking for Rachel, they just sit and wait for Teddy and Chuck to move along.
      • When they interrupt the Board of Overseers, Naehring and two doctors make fun of Teddy's recurring delusions.
      • When Teddy is interviewing the staff and forces one of them to admit he breached protocol to use the restroom, Chuck can be seen in the background glancing and nodding at one of orderlies, nonverbally assuring him that Teddy is stable.
      • When they enter Ward C, a guard just tells them it's a scary place, then runs away laughing.
    • The Rachel played by Emily Mortimer briefly thinks Teddy is her husband.
    • When Teddy explodes the car, he again sees his wife and the girl. Both aren't touched by the fire at all, foreshadowing how it wasn't fire that had hurt them.
    • When Dr. Cawley is first introduced, pay attention to how he speaks about how the mentally ill used to be treated. Before he says "drowned", he quickly glances at Teddy and slightly changes his tone. While this further underscores Dr. Cawley's distaste for what passed as mental health care in the past, it's also his way of testing Andrew. Dr. Cawley knows that Andrew's children were drowned, and thus even the mention of drowning might be enough to trigger 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.
    • The Bungled Suicide of the commandant at Dachu is shown only through fluttering papers in his office and a shot of him lying on the floor in a puddle of his own blood afterwards, too distant to show much detail.
  • The Fundamentalist: Dr. Naehring sees the patients as fundamentally dangerous, and prefers lobotomies to actual treatment. He justifies himself by saying that you must kill a ''monster'' when you see it.
  • Guilt Complex: Teddy is full of guilt for his actions in Dachau and the death of his wife even though it was not his fault. It's because 'Teddy' is a mask for Andrew feeling a Laser-Guided Karma for ignoring Dolores obvious insanity which led to her killing her children and Andrew giving Dolores a Mercy Kill.
  • 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.
  • Headache of Doom: Teddy Daniels suffers a mild headache not long after arriving at Ashecliff, apparently caused by dehydration from sea-sickness. However, the second day on the island ends with Daniels suffering a migraine so powerful that it causes him to collapse, and he has to be helped into bed. According to "Rachael Solando", this has actually been caused by the hospital staff drugging him in the hopes of faking a descent into madness and imprisoning him as a patient. The truth is much stranger: Daniels is actually Andrew Laeddis, a delusional patient at the hospital, and his headaches are withdrawal symptoms - the result of him being taken off antipsychotic medication.
  • Hero Antagonist: Dr. Cawley. He seems really sad and regretful when he has to admit his own defeat.
  • 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 Dr Cawley. He fails. Or does he?
  • I Know You Know I Know: A somewhat meta-example; any 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.
  • Insanity Establishment Scene: When the Nazi experimenter writes Andrew Laeddis on the board, revealing that Teddy and Andrew are the same person
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "Why are you all wet, baby?"
    • "I gotta get off this rock, Chuck."
  • Jump Scare: Quite a few in the movie.
  • It's All My Fault: Andrew blames himself for both murdering Dolores and the death of his children. Had he paid attention to his wife's madness and her pleas for help, his children wouldn't have drowned in the lake.
  • Literal Metaphor: While venturing through Ward C, Teddy encounters George Noyce, with a big scar across his face. When Teddy asks who did this to him, Noyce said "You did". Dr Cawley later explains that it was meant literally - "Teddy" beat up Noyce after he called him Laeddis.
  • 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 Plot Twists 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.
  • Mad Doctor: Averted with Dr. Cawley. In Teddy's world of delusions, Cawley and the rest of the asylum psychiatrists are amoral, evil doctors conducting psychological experiments on the patients in service of the OSS and military. In reality, Cawley is a humane doctor who is doing everything he can to treat Teddy and prevent him from being lobotomized.
  • Manly Tears: Teddy sheds these a lot, to the point of being The Woobie.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Although Teddy/Andrew's three children died, emphasis is placed on the death of the only daughter. He has dreams about her and it's her body he cradles in the scene. She appears to be the youngest too, merging this with Youngest Child Wins.
  • Mockspiracy: US Marshall Teddy Daniels investigates the disappearance of a patient from the remote mental clinic, Ashecliffe Hospital. As the investigation continues, he finds that the hospital staff are hiding something from him, and suspects that the head doctor is conducting horrible experiments on unwilling patients. In reality, "Teddy Daniels" is actually Andrew Laeddis, a patient at that same hospital. The only experiment happening is the doctors indulging Laeddis's delusions of investigating a conspiracy, in hopes that Laeddis would realize the truth and be cured after his fantasy played out to the end.
  • Moment of Lucidity: Dolores has an infintesimal flash of sanity after murdering her children where she begs Andrew to set her free.
  • Motive Decay: Teddy Daniels keeps changing the reasons for his investigation. Initially he arrived at Ashecliffe to investigate Rachel Solando's disappearance but then he tells Chuck that the real reason was another inmate who he holds responsible for the death of his wife. From there he becomes obsessed with a massive conspiracy at Ashecliffe to suppress and cover up the truth and plans to expose the operation to the public. This later gets explained as a symptom of his insanity, his lack of clarity impairs him to truly know his real self and his actual goals, so he has to constantly change and alter his circumstances.
  • 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.
  • Nightmare of Normality: By the end, Teddy is certain that the doctors are trying to brainwash him into thinking that he's always been a mental patient and his life as a heroic US Marshal was a delusion. And then it's completely inverted; he really is a mental patient and the doctors are trying to awaken him from his delusions.
  • 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.
  • Offing the Offspring: Andrew's wife, Dolores, killed their three children as a result of her psychosis. It forms a central part of Andrew's guilt complex and resulting delusions, as he very much blames himself for their deaths as he believes that he could have prevented the whole thing if he only had paid more attention to Dolores' deteriorating sanity and gotten her professional help in time.
  • The Ophelia: Dolores appears in Teddy's imaginations like this. Michelle Williams claims she took inspiration from The Haunting (1963) - where Eleanor is also an example of this.
  • 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.
  • Papa Wolf: Laeddis kills his wife after she goes Ax-Crazy and murders their children.
  • Past Experience Nightmare: Teddy has several dreams hinting at his Dark and Troubled Past. Mostly involving his daughter telling him he should have saved their family.
  • Post-Historical Trauma: The film actually deconstructs Film Noir of The '50s 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.
  • Prefers the Illusion: While it appears that the doctor's efforts at curing the main character of his massive defensive delusions have ultimately failed, the final line may imply that it didn't fail. Instead, he deliberately maintained the act in order to be lobotomized, and forget everything anyway.
  • Revealing Continuity Lapse: There are many of these, but most notably when interviewing patients one asks Agent Chuck for a glass of water, and in subsequent cuts the glass is there when Chuck is in frame but doesn't exist when he is not, showing Chuck isn't actually Chuck.
  • 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.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Teddy served in Europe during World War II and took part in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. The whole experience, especially the horrors he witnessed in Dachau took quite their toll on his psyche and drove him to become The Alcoholic for a while after he returned from service. What exactly happened during the liberation of Dachau are put a bit into question after The Reveal that Teddy is actually Andrew, but it is clear that whatever it was, it undeniably made quite the impression on Andrew, seeing how horrifying Nazi experiments form a central part of his delusion.
  • Shirtless Scene: Teddy and Chuck after they get caught out in the rain and have to change into patients' gear.
  • 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 pretends to have regressed as he decides that he would rather be lobotomized, in his words, "die a good man" rather than continue to "live as a monster".
  • Shown Their Work: The massacre of surrendering Nazi Soldiers by Americans at the Liberation of Dachau? It actually did happen. The incident was covered up by the military and it wasn't admitted officially till the 90s.
  • Significant Anagram: Four of them, hence the "Rule of Four." Edward Daniels/Andrew Laeddis, and Rachel Solando/Dolores Chanal.
  • Straw Nihilist: The Warden rants about his love of violence, and expresses his belief that there's no true morality, God simply put humans on the Earth to spread war and suffering. 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.
  • Surreal Horror: Most of Teddy's dreams.
  • 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?
  • Twist Ending: A truly nasty one, too. Teddy is a patient at Shutter Island. Rachel's backstory is partially his - after his wife drowned their three children, and he shot her in response.
  • 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."
    • "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.
  • Youngest Child Wins: The girl that Teddy keeps seeing visions of is his youngest daughter. He doesn't see much of the older sons in his dreams.


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