Shutter Island review

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It is not often that a movie audience sees the plot unfold through the eyes of a traumatized, delusional patient in a mental hospital for the criminally insane, but “Shutter Island” forces us to do so. The movie has multiple subplots mixing the main character’s imagination with the reality of his situation. The main character himself has two identities – the one we see through most of the movie is Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The film opens with Daniels, a federal marshal, and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) traveling by ferry to Shutter Island, an island of the coast of Boston, to investigate the escape of Rachel Solando, one of the patients at the hospital. In this scene, Ted tells Chuck that he was married but his wife Dolores was killed due to a fire in their apartment. The suspense in the movie builds up right away as the men enter the island and are asked to surrender their firearms, and a patrol officer points out the three wards, mentioning that Ward C is where the most dangerous patients are kept.

Ted and Chuck are introduced to Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his assistant, Dr. Naehring, who both appear suspicious to Ted. The doctor informs them that Solando was transferred to the hospital after being convicted of drowning her three children, and that she constantly denied what she did by creating an imaginary world. When Ted hears this, he has a flashback of three dead children and of the Holocaust, where he and other American soldiers liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

As Ted and Chuck continue their investigation, they question other patients about Solando, but Ted also asks them if they have heard of a patient named Andrew Laedis. Ted later explains that Andrew Laedis was a maintenance worker in his apartment who set the fire that killed his wife. Throughout the investigation and the rest of the plot, Ted has recurrent flashbacks of his wife and imagines her coming to talk to him, and it is clear that he is traumatized. Ted also tells Chuck about George Noyce, another patient he once knew who told him of horrible brain experiments that the doctors were performing on the patients at the island. Ted suddenly becomes determined to find out if this is true and expose the truth to the world. Meanwhile, the doctor tells Ted and Chuck that Solando has been found. At this point, the movie deviates from this subplot and transitions into Ted’s complex and disturbed psyche. Ted goes into Ward C in search of Laedis, but finds Noyce, who tells him that the brain surgical experiments take place in the lighthouse, and that he thinks Laedis might be there.

In pursuit of the lighthouse, Ted finds a cave where he meets a woman who he thinks is the “real” Rachel Solando, who verifies Noyce’s statements about the experiments that take place on the island. The woman explains that she was in fact a psychiatrist named Ethel Barton who was working on the island, but the doctors fabricated her story to pronounce her insane, and she was hiding out of fear that she would be taken to the lighthouse. Barton warns Ted that he will never be able to leave the island, and that the hospital staff have been slipping him sedatives so that they can convince him that he is insane.

Meanwhile, Ted can’t find Chuck and suspects that the doctors might have taken him to the lighthouse. He wanders around the island and decides to go into the lighthouse, while seeing more haunting images of his wife’s ghost. In a panic, he sets fire to the doctor’s car. The end of the movie, which takes place in the lighthouse, reveals Ted’s true identity. The audience is led through a series of explanations from Dr. Cawley and Chuck, who also turns out to be a different character than the one introduced at the beginning of the film. The last scene also delves in detail to Ted’s actual past, bringing to light the disturbing truth behind Dolores’ death. The audience also learns that some characters such as Rachel Solando were products of his imagination.

Set in the 1950s, the movie deals with the post-war trauma that many soldiers would have experienced. It was, overall, well directed with a very unique plot, and the acting met my expectations. DiCaprio is perfect for both the roles he assumed, seamlessly transitioning from one to the other towards the end of the film, and Ben Kingsley acted convincingly as an apparently suspicious doctor. However, there were definitely parts of the film that were ambiguous. It was difficult to distinguish, for instance, whether the scene with the psychiatrist in the cave was part of the main character’s delusion.

The explanations in the final scene of the movie take place so rapidly that a viewer might not realize whether Cawley is deceiving “Ted” or telling him the truth. The suspense in the movie leading up the final scene can also greatly confuse viewers. After watching the film, it took me more than a few minutes to grasp which parts of the plot were from the actual character’s point of view and which scenes depicted the reality. Though some scenes were unclear, they were deliberately vague to force the audience to consider the line between fiction and reality, and to show the torment that a psychiatric patient might experience. Given the complexity of the plot, viewers would probably benefit from watching the film more than once to fully understand it.

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