I recently finally had the pleasure of watching American psychological thriller, Shutter Island.
In 1954, two U.S. Marshals, Edward “Teddy” Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, travel to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island located in Boston Harbor, as part of an investigation into the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando, incarcerated for drowning her three children. The sole clue is a note left by Solando, which reads: “The law of 4; who is 67?” Shortly after arrival, a storm prevents their return to the mainland for several days. Daniels finds the staff confrontational: the lead psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley, refuses to hand over records of the hospital staff; Solando’s doctor, Dr. Sheehan, had left on vacation after her disappearance, and they are barred from searching Ward C and told that the lighthouse on the island has already been searched, so there is no need to search it. When a patient is being interrogated by Daniels, with a subterfuge she sends Aule away for a few seconds and scribbles “RUN” in Daniels’s notepad.
The unpleasant air of the Ashecliffe Hospital causes Daniels to start having migraine headaches, waking visions of his involvement in the Dachau liberation reprisals, and disturbing dreams of his wife, Dolores Chanal, who was killed in a fire set by a local arsonist named Andrew Laeddis. In one dream, Chanal tells Daniels that Solando is still on the island, as well as Laeddis, who also went missing months ago. Daniels later explains to Aule that locating Laeddis was an ulterior motive for taking the case.
As Daniels and Aule continue their investigation, they find that Solando has been found by the staff with no explanation. With neither the staff or patients helping, Daniels decides to break into Ward C, and eventually meets George Noyce, another patient, in a solitary confinement. Noyce warns Daniels that Ashecliffe is performing questionable experiments on its patients, and sends the incurable to the lighthouse to be lobotomized, which is why they were banned from searching the lighthouse. As Daniels leaves, Noyce asserts that everyone on the island, including Aule, is playing in a game designed for Daniels.
Meanwhile, Daniels regroups with Aule and they make their way to the lighthouse, but as they attempt to traverse the cliffs, they become separated. Daniels has a glimpse of a body that has precipitated on the rocks, and climbs down the cliff but finds no sign of Aule. Instead climbing back he finds a woman hiding in a cave, who claims to be the real Rachel Solando. The woman asserts she was a former psychiatrist at Ashecliffe until she discovered the experiments with psychotropic medication in an attempt to develop mind control techniques. When she attempted to alert the authorities, she was committed as a patient to prevent her from escaping. Leaving the woman, Daniels returns to the hospital where Dr. Cawley claims that Daniels arrived to the island alone, with no evidence of Aule ever being there.
Determined but confused, Daniels returns to the lighthouse and breaks into it. At the top, he finds Dr. Cawley waiting for him. Cawley explains that Andrew Laeddis is actually Daniels himself, “[their] most dangerous patient”, incarcerated in Ward C for murdering his manic depressive wife after she drowned their children, thus revealing that “Solando” is actually his deceased wife. Edward Daniels and Rachel Solando are anagrams of Andrew Laeddis and Dolores Chanal (“the law of 4”), and Laeddis is the 67th patient at Ashecliffe (“who is 67?”); furthermore, the little girl from Laeddis’ recurring dreams is his daughter, Rachel.
According to Dr. Cawley, the events of the past several days have been designed to break Laeddis’ conspiracy-laden insanity by allowing him to play out the role of Daniels. The hospital staff, including Dr. Sheehan posing as Aule and a nurse posing as Rachel Solando, were part of the test, and the migraines that Laeddis suffered were withdrawal symptoms from his medication, as well as hallucinating the “real Rachel Solando”. As memories of reality and realization that Daniels was only his play, this overwhelms Laeddis, and he faints.
Laeddis awakes in the hospital, under watch of Dr. Cawley and Sheehan. When questioned, Laeddis tells the truth in a coherent manner, which satisfies the doctors as a sign of progression. Nevertheless, Dr. Cawley notes that they had achieved this state nine months before but Laeddis had quickly regressed, and further warns that this will be Laeddis’ last chance to redeem himself.
Some time later, Laeddis relaxes on the hospital grounds with Dr. Sheehan, but calls him “Chuck” and says they need to get off the island. Sheehan shakes his head to an observing Cawley, who gestures to the orderlies towards Laeddis. As he is about to be taken away, Laeddis asks Dr. Sheehan, “Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or die as a good man?”, and then calmly leaves with the orderlies to be lobotomized.
It was a brilliant film, with an incredibly strong plot and some fantastic acting. Everyone performed superbly, and the film had me on the edge of my seat for the entire film. There were plenty of twists and turns throughout, and the whole film was put together brilliantly. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Thanks for reading.