by Samantha Shuma
This remainder of this article contains spoilers for Shutter Island, reader discretion advised.
U.S Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and partner Chuck Alue (Mark Ruffalo) arrive on an island housing Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental institution, to solve the case of a missing patient, Rachel Solando. Teddy has not only come to solve the case, but has landed in the institution in the hopes of exposing it’s unethical practices on it’s patients. As he digs deeper into the possible truth, Teddy starts to believe that the head doctor, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsly), hopes to turn him into a patient and keep him from sharing his findings. By the end, Teddy manages to get into where he believes the patients are taken to be lobotomized, a lighthouse on the far side of the island. It is there we discover the real truth, that Teddy, real name Andrew Laeddis, is a patient at Ashecliffe Hospital, who has just been through an elaborate role playing scenario, where the doctors hoped it would break him out of his psychosis.
Since the film is shown through Teddy’s perspective, we see what he believes is real. Following his clues, his suspicions, most viewers would never guess the ending. Small actions over the course of the film build our suspicions, not to disbelieve Teddy, but other characters around him. Teddy’s paranoia spreads into the heart of the viewer, as “aspirin” causes Teddy to experience vivid dreams and intense hallucinations. It is in these moments where reality is hidden from the audience, and misleads us into following the story’s imaginary narrative. The dream sequences are obvious to discern, as they take place in places off of the island and are often a conversation between Teddy and someone who has died or doesn’t exist. Through these sequences, the film is drawing on the audience’s idea of a dream sequence as a means of misdirection. By stating that the dream world of Teddy talking to his dead wife is taking place within Teddy’s mind influences our assumption that the investigation of Rachel Solando is real. This line of dream and reality is drawn so clearly in the film, that his hallucinations become unnoticeable or at least are not questioned as being imagined.
This analysis of Shutter Island techniques of misdirection is drawn from personal experience. Through an initial viewing, this belief of Teddy’s dire investigation felt real to the end. Always wanting to believe Teddy, anything that may have stuck out as odd never swayed my opinion. Even after the truth was revealed, I still did not want to believe Teddy was actually a patient at Ashecliffe Hospital. The film uses many strategies to shape the facts of the film. It is important to understand that not everyone will fall for the film’s tricks. To say that everyone will fall for it, or won’t ever notice the reveal early on is being too general. However, the belief that many film goers will believe Teddy through and through. The more movies you watch, the more you can make assumptions of how a movie will play out. Shutter Island shows itself as a drama, thriller, and a mystery. One would expect to see an exaggerated but interesting story along with endearing characters that will discover the culprit in the end. The film follows that expectation for a while, but ultimately pulls the curtain to show a completely different narrative.
Even when watching films, ideology has the potential to undermine a film’s message. What we believe can be so heavily embedded into our minds that we aren’t able to accept any truth outside of that. That is what Shutter Island is proving to us. Those who always believe a film will play out in a certain way are blinding themselves to new and contrary takes on a film’s reality and story. Although our thoughts on a film’s structure may not have any lasting effects, not understanding or flat out ignoring something that doesn’t follow with what you already believe is a dangerous thing. It limits one from experiencing the world entirely and being open to new ideas. Shutter Island shows the consequences of ignoring the truth for the sake of what we may think is actually going on. Our ideas and personal truths shape our reality, and in Teddy's case, hides reality completely.