From 1,129,905 votes, Shutter Island has an 8.2/10 rating from the users of IMDb.
In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.
Shutter Island is one of those really famous movies that are kind of mostly famous for having such a huge revelation in the film that you can never watch it more than once without picking up tons of new details. This review will be spoiler-inclusive so if you have any desire to watch it without knowing ‘the twist’, you absolutely should do that now.
This is another film that I first watched in university, huddled around a TV in my flatmate’s room with about five other people, clad in sweaty pyjamas and covered in assorted blankets. We watched in twice in a row, because that’s something you can quite easily do when it comes to this movie.
Leo DiCaprio is the man of the hour here, and he puts in such a nuanced, stunning performance depicting a man’s descent into madness as he’s trapped on an island and embroiled in a conspiracy theory of his own design. More on that later. Rounding out the main cast are Mark Ruffalo who is looking very fine and Sir Ben Kingsley who is just terrific in anything he does. Did you know he played Sabine in Fable III? The Welsh tribal leader? So cool.
The film starts out with a simple premise: Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is a US Marshal travelling to an insane asylum on a distant island to investigate the disappearance of a patient there. As the movie progresses, you find that Daniels actually has different, conflicting reasons for going to the island, climaxing in a high-stakes mission to unravel a eugenicist Nazi conspiracy theory. Does this sound unbelievable? Well, it should, because these are the schizophrenic delusions of the true identity of DiCaprio’s character – Andrew Laeddis.
The true scope of the film is the design of Kingsley’s character, Dr. Cawley, a radical psychiatrist who distrusts psychopharmacology and wishes to break Laeddis of his delusions by helping them play out to their unsatisfying conclusion: there is no missing woman, there is no Nazi conspiracy, and there is no Teddy Daniels. With Laeddis being the most dangerous, aggressive patient at the asylum, this is a last ditch attempt to save him or face a trans-orbital lobotomy (something that makes me full-body cringe no matter how much I learn about it).
The way that the film is built makes almost every scene take on a new light upon a rewatch. Things that might have made you cock your head in confusion now make perfect sense, and the film is now full of ‘a-ha’ moments that will either make you feel a bit silly or make you feel proud that you noticed how ‘off’ many of the interactions were the first time ’round. What is initially a mystery thriller becomes a heart-breaking character piece where you see so much care and effort into a patient’s care ultimately being all for naught. Regardless of what you think of the ambiguous conversation at the very end, the ultimate fate of Teddy Daniels/Andrew Laeddis is a horrific testament to the cruelty that the psychiatric profession used to resort to for seriously ill people.
Overall, I can see why this film is rated so highly. It’s a gripping, tense ride that is beautifully acted and a masterclass in foreshadowing. It also apparently has great cinematogrpahical significance with references to true Hollywood classics but I am not a classic movie buff (yet) so I daren’t comment. Verdict: watch this movie.
Quote of the Movie: “Sanity is not a choice, marshal. You can’t just choose to get over it.”
Ryan’s Psychopharmacology Soapbox
This movie is one for the psychology students. There is a lot to get into here, but specifically I want to talk about chlorpromazine, the antipsychotic medication that is prescribed to Andrew Laeddis to keep him lucid. During the movie, Laeddis experiences withdrawal symptoms as he has been taken off his chlorpromazine, and he starts to experience tremors. This is known as parkinsonism and paradoxically, this is actually a side-effect of being on chlorpromazine, not being taken off it. What the movie did get right though is the increased sweating and nausea that Laeddis experiences as the drugs leave his system.
So why the tremors? One theory is to do with the fact that chlorpromazine acts as a dopamine antagonist. This means that the drug blocks up some of your dopamine receptors, meaning that there is overall less dopamine in the system. One theory of psychosis (which is to say, experiences of hallucinations, delusions and the like, not just ‘being a psycho’) is that positive psychotic episodes are caused by having too much dopamine in the system.
Conversely, one theory of how Parkinson’s works is that the symptoms such as the tremors commonly associated with it are caused by a lack of dopamine. As you can see, it makes sense that taking chlorpromazine, which reduces your dopamine levels, might cause symptoms that could be mistaken for Parkinson’s. Thusly, it makes not much sense that our protagonist in Shutter Island would be experiencing tremors. But then, I guess it’s one of those physical symptoms that an actor can use to really show off, even if it’s psychopharmacologically inaccurate.