Sunday, July 16, 2017

Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a dark thriller directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  It follows Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Marshal Chuck Aule as they visit Shutter Island located off the coast of Maine to search for a patient who escaped from the asylum for the criminally insane that is located on the island.

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DiCaprio is a great actor in my opinion, and he pulls off a very challenging and emotional performance extremely well, in my opinion.  There really isn't much that I can say about this movie without spoiling anything, so I will just let you know that I fully recommend this film and go into it without knowing much of anything.  Beware that there is a lot of swearing and if that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the movie for you.

Spoilers ahead!

So Teddy Daniels slowly learns that things on the island are not quite right and begins to suspect that something sinister is going on--experiments on humans or the like.  He gets really paranoid that he has been trapped on the island because he is catching onto the criminal activity the doctors are engaging in and will not be allowed to leave via the ferry.

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Teddy's theory is very convincing and eventually he meets a female doctor who is hiding in a cave on the far side of the island who explains all the complex ways that doctors might have drugged him via cigarettes, coffee, and the food he's been eating.  I must admit that I was beginning to believe in what this doctor was saying and was worried that Teddy wouldn't be able to escape the island.

The tables flip once again at the very end of the film however, when it is revealed that Teddy is actually a patient on the island (patient 67, the unaccounted member of the asylum Teddy found a reference to in another inmate's room) who has concocted a very elaborate delusion about how he is a federal marshal who has been sent to the island in order to deny his guilt.

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His guilt comes from not getting his mentally ill wife help when she needed it, and allowing her issues to escalate to a point where she drowned their three children and Teddy eventually had to kill her to stop her from doing further harm.

The doctors of the island tell Teddy that they hoped letting him work through his delusion about being a marshal by having full control of the island would help him come to grips with reality, but if he relapses into delusion again, they will have no choice but to give him a trans-orbital lobotomy to basically numb his mind and keep him placid.

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At the end of the film, two things are unclear and left a little ambiguous:

a) was Teddy truly deluding himself because he had killed his wife or
b) were the doctors of the island actually drugging him and making him believe he was crazy

if Teddy really was deluding himself (which in my opinion is more likely) then

a) at the end of the movie when Teddy has a conversation with Chuck (his doctor undercover) does he actually relapse into delusion or
b) does he just pretend to be deluded again in order to receive the trans-orbital lobotomy and not have to live with what he had done to his wife

The tricky part about this movie is that there are strong cases to be made for each of these options and things are kept really ambiguous.  There are huge twists and turns throughout this film, and just when you think that you've grasped the huge twist that the doctors are really trying to drug him, you get hit with the second twist that they aren't drugging him, he's actually delusional.

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I read the book that this movie was adapted from, and I can certify that the film is a very faithful adaptation.  The book goes into a little more detail about the codes that the missing patient Teddy went to investigate left, but I don't think that it was missing in the movie.  Even with the omitted parts, the film worked well.

One theory I really like about Shutter Island is that scenes that involve water represent reality and scenes that involve fire represent Teddy's delusions.

At the beginning of the movie, Teddy and his partner are on the ferry to Shutter Island and Teddy is very seasick.  This represents that Teddy is hateful towards reality and it makes him sick, just as it makes him sick to think about the reality that he killed his wife and indirectly caused his children to die.

A hurricane hits the island during the first part of Teddy's experience on the island and anywhere Teddy goes he is forced to confront the rain and the water.  Similarly, the whole scenario set up by the doctors of the island in which Teddy has run of the island is meant to force him to confront reality.

At the end of the movie, Teddy has to jump back into the ocean in order to swim to the lighthouse where he finally learns the truth from the doctors.  At this point, Teddy is ready to face the truth and reality and dives right into the water.

The reality is that Teddy's wife drowned their three children, which is why water came to be so symbolic for a horrible reality in Teddy's life.

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So if water represents reality, then fire represents Teddy's delusions.  One of his recurring hallucinations is of his wife dying in a building fire which he says was set by an arsonist.  The truth is later revealed to be that his mentally unstable wife set the building on fire herself in a suicide attempt, but Teddy is unwilling to accept this idea of his wife not being perfect and develops an elaborate explanation for how she couldn't have done it.

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In the second act of the movie, Teddy meets the woman doctor in the cave who tells him how she thinks the doctors might be drugging him in order to keep him on the island and prevent  him from exposing their criminal activity.  In the reading of the film that Teddy really is delusional, this whole scene is a complete hallucination and the woman doesn't exist at all.  The way that Teddy found the woman in the hallucination was via a campfire she had burning, and they sat around that fire the entirety of their conversation.

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Teddy confronts an inmate named George Noyce who tries to tell him the truth about what is going on, but Teddy denies everything he says.  Teddy and George talk in the dark cells of Ward C using only the light of matches that Teddy keeps lighting.  George warns Teddy that his "match is about to go out", which really means that his delusion is about to be interrupted and stopped, which is true since Teddy learns the truth from the doctors shortly after this encounter.

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There is so much complexity and depth to this movie and it makes it a really enjoyable film to watch and try and decipher.  What do you think?  Was Teddy right about the evil doctors, or was he truly delusional?  I think that he was delusional, however it would be a crazy twist if it ended up being that he was completely fooled by the doctors.  At the end, did Teddy fully consent to getting a trans-orbital lobotomy, or did he actually dip back into delusion once again?  My instincts tell me that he knew what he was doing when he told Chuck that he wanted to "die as a good man" rather than go on living with the knowledge of what he did to his wife.

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If the last thing I mentioned is the case, what do you think of Teddy as a character?  Is this a noble action for him to take, or is he taking the easy way out and not dealing with the suffering he's caused?  I would say that willingly numbing your mind so you forget your past wrongs is not very brave and I think it dishonors his wife's and children's memory.

I could talk for hours and hours about this film, and maybe I'll have a Palantir Podcast about this movie soon.  Till then, let me know your thoughts!


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