U.S. Marshall Teddy, who is on Shutter Island with his partner Chuck in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the prisoners/patients from the mental institute, encounters the German psychiatrist Dr. Naehring and immediately argues with him.
Naehring accuses Teddy of being a man of violence and compliments him on his “defense mechanisms.” Teddy requests to inspect the staff files, but his request is rejected out of hand.
This is such a subtle moment (as is true throughout the film) that it’s easy to overlook it. But particularly in retrospect (having learned the film’s secret at its finale), we can understand this is the point that Teddy first deals with the principal adversary—his own imagined lunacy.
But even for first-time viewers who don’t yet realize his sanity is on the line, it still supplies the essential turning point by pretending to be about Teddy’s investigation and the doctors’ passive-aggressive refusal to comply.
First Plot Point:
While having to stay over on the island owing to a hurricane, Teddy dreams of his dead wife, who disintegrates into ashes in his arms (despite being sopping wet) (despite being sopping wet). She tells him, “Laeddis is here.”
Again, this is super-subtle (one of the subtlest First Plot Points I’ve seen that still remains effective), but it provides the shift that pushes Teddy out of the Normal World investigation in the First Act and into his own personal quest to find Laeddis—the man he believes is responsible for his wife’s death.
First Pinch Point:
While sheltering from the rain in a mausoleum, Teddy tells Chuck about his wife’s death and his notion that Shutter Island is truly a location where awful mental experiments are being conducted upon patients in order to transform them into “ghosts” killers.
Chuck argues by stating the Shutter Island people are onto Teddy’s investigation and they allowed him into the island for the sole goal of catching him and removing him as a threat.
Again, this works well on two levels: the surface level of Teddy’s research in which he feels the squeeze of the adversaries’ threat to his job and his life—and also the secret level, in which Chuck is insinuating a critical point about Teddy’s sanity.
When the electricity goes out the morning following the hurricane, Teddy and Chuck take advantage of the opportunity to sneak into Ward C, the hospital’s most dangerous ward. Laeddis is not to be found there, but a prisoner named Noyce.
On a variety of fronts, this alters the struggle. For starters, Teddy’s frantic match lighting symbolizes a huge shift in his mental condition (which he avoided lighting in the first half of the movie, presumably because of the connection to the arsonist Laeddis and the fire that killed his wife). As a bonus, it provides Teddy with new information about the lighthouse, enabling him to take action instead of reacting.
After Chuck’s body was found on the rocks, Teddy was convinced that he had fallen to his death. He makes his way to the bottom, but there is no sign of life there. As a result, he explores a cave and discovers the prisoner who went missing at the start.
Initially, she was a doctor on the island but was imprisoned for speaking out against the prison’s abuses. They’re going to try to put Teddy in a psychiatric ward, she says. This is Teddy’s moment of full-blown panic, as he realizes that he’s in a dangerous situation. As a result, the Third Plot Point is set up flawlessly.
Thirdly, Teddy infiltrates the lighthouse in search of Chuck but finds no evidence of his research. His partner Chuck was actually a doctor role-playing in an attempt to break through Teddy’s fake reality, but the chief doctor tells him otherwise: he is a patient, Andrew Laeddis.
Not only does this provide an abundance of new information, but it also takes the protagonist to a perfectly tailored low point. What could possibly be worse than realizing that you’ve already been incarcerated for insanity, thwarting your objective of fleeing prison?
To reach the climax of the story, Teddy/Andrew must remember that he shot his wife, who then set fire to the family’s residence and drowned their three children.
Finally, Teddy/Andrew speaks to “Chuck” in a way that suggests he has relapsed into his delusions, leaving him with no choice except to have a lobotomy.
To reach a resolution, Teddy/Andrew agrees to undergo a lobotomy in a cordial manner with the doctors.
Is the Plot of Shutter Island Based on Fact?
Dennis Lehane’s novel, “Shutter Island,” isn’t based on any real-life events, but he did manage to incorporate some parts of fact into the fiction for the sake of the reader. Long Island in Boston Harbor served as Lehane’s inspiration for the story’s namesake island.
Was Shutter Island a Big Hit or a Bust for Universal Pictures?
“Shutter Island,” the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, raked in $295 million worldwide, making it the biggest grossing Scorsese release until “The Wolf of Wall Street” surpassed it in 2012. While “Shutter Island” didn’t win as many Oscars as the director and actor’s prior films, it was nevertheless a huge triumph for both of them.
Is It Possible to Watch Shutter Island on Netflix?
Netflix will have Shutter Island available for viewing through the end of January.
Shutter Island: Is Shutter Island Worth Watching?
Love this movie and highly recommend it. Visually beautiful, wonderfully acted, and relentlessly gripping, Shutter Island is a brilliantly unrestrained psychological thriller that keeps its audience riveted throughout its entire duration.