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Literature / Shutter Island

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"We gotta get off this rock, Chuck."

Shutter Island is a 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane.

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...

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

Adapted into a movie in 2010.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Arc Number: In the story, 13 is claimed to be the harbinger of bad luck. As schizophrenics live in a state of fear, it's considered a significant number for them. Despite the buildup about tying into the illusions of schizophrenics, 13 is only used as the length of a few character's names.
  • 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-like Mad Doctor, 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 then he killed her. 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: An 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. Dr. Cawley is a Reasonable Authority Figure who wants to help Andrew Laeddis/Teddy Daniels overcome his condition, but Dr. Naehring and the hospital board believe he's beyond hope and requires lobotomy. The ending implies that Teddy decided to Take a Third Option.
  • Dead Guy Junior: A really disturbing, twisted inversion. Laeddis takes his alias, Teddy Daniels, from the names of his murdered sons Edward and Daniel, and the mysterious missing Rachel Solano's name comes from his dead daughter Rachel.
  • The '50s: 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.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Dolores Chanal's untreated psychosis and subsequent murder of her children was directly inspired by the story of Andrea Yates. The protagonist's name, Andrew, is even similar to Andrea.
  • 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.