Shutter Island is a 2010 film directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and accompanied by outstanding Ben Kingsley and Mark Ruffalo. The film recovers the film noir of the 40s and 50s, keeps the suspense until the end and immerses us in a totally disturbing situation.
An island, a mental institution and an inexplicable disappearance will be the main ingredients of this psychological thriller that, more than one, left with an open mouth. The film places us in 1954, at which time mental institutions were still booming and some practices such as transorbital lobotomy were still practiced.
Federal agents Teddy Daniels and Chuk Aule will be sent to the Ashecliffe hospital to investigate a strange disappearance. Can someone disappear from a totally guarded institution, on an island, without shoes and in the rain? The film presents us with a plot that, little by little, will deform until it brings us to an unsettling outcome.
Madness and history
Throughout history, the treatment of mental illnesses has been very diverse. Michel Foucault approaches this subject in his work The History of Folly in the Classical Era, takes the transvaluation of Nietzschean values and applies it to the term madness. What is considered “good” at any given moment may cease to be “good” at another time, or may take another course and different nuances; Something similar happens with madness. It is not that Foucault defends madness, but tries to explain the change that takes place over time.
In the Middle Ages, the “crazy” were excluded, but not locked, because they meant access to another type of knowledge. It is not until the Renaissance, with the emergence of rationalism, when they begin to be enclosed and isolated. By generating the idea of reason, there is also unreason, madness.
In modern times, madness begins to arouse some interest and fascination among researchers. From this moment on, the search for healing will begin, although the truth is that the first practices can scandalize us at present. Without going too far, we soon realize that every day we discover disorders or mental illnesses that we had never heard of and, in the same way, some beliefs are demystified. Do not forget that until not long ago homosexuality was considered a disease.
On Shutter Island, we attended a most creepy mental institution, Ashecliffe. A hospital located on an island, where no one can escape, totally claustrophobic and isolated (forgive the redundancy), in short, a place not at all welcoming. Music also does not accompany the viewer to expect something nice, but on the contrary, creates a dark atmosphere, lugubrious and charged with tension.
The film also shows us the psychiatric “war” that was being lived at the time, because it is a moment of change, of transition, where the new currents collide with the old ones. The old model in psychiatry appealed to the seclusion of the sick and to practices such as electroshocks or lobotomy. On the other hand, appeared a new current that sought to humanize or normalize the lives of patients, without resorting to confinement and advocating the use of drugs. The problem is that many of the drugs were not yet fully developed and were in an experimental phase.
Doctor Cawley is the director of the institution. He is shown as a man trying to reconcile both currents, because at no time he wants his patients to be treated as delinquents, appeals to the use of drugs and pretends that patients can lead a “normal” life. However, this contrasts with the fact of running an institution totally isolated from the world, where patients are locked up and lobotomies are still practiced in very extreme cases.
The patients of Shutter Island are not common patients, they are people who have committed atrocious acts: they have killed, wounded … And instead of being confined in a prison, they are assigned to this institution, in which there are different pavilions depending on the dangerousness from the patients.
Disorders in Shutter Island
I can not talk about Shutter Island without making spoilers, because it is a film with many plot twists that will give clues to the outcome, so, if you have not seen the film, I do not recommend that you continue reading.
Although at first everything seems to point towards a detective film, Scorsese leaves us some clues that will indicate that, perhaps, not everything is what it seems in Shutter Island. Small details like the fact that Chuck is not able to get the gun with the agility that a police officer should have or that Teddy begins to hallucinate, that he dreams of his late wife, the drugs Cawley administers to Teddy for migraines, etc. They invite us to think that something strange happens with the protagonist.
Throughout history, we see that Teddy Daniels begins to have migraines and memories of his past in World War II. He lived really traumatic experiences that have created a deep wound in his mind. The images of Dachau concentration camp are very difficult to erase and they take their toll on his present. On his return from the war, Daniels shared his life with his wife Dolores and their three children, but he was a man very devoted to his work and hardly spent time with his family. In addition, his way of “facing” the ghosts of the past was not the most successful, because he had serious problems with drinking.
Daniels begins to relive past experiences through dreams and hallucinations. In this way, we understand that he is probably suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder due to the harsh experiences he has had to face. As the film progresses, we see that not only World War II has opened a wound in the protagonist, but the very history of his family.
His wife told him that something in his head spoke to him, a kind of worm that was inside her. Daniels was so devoted to his work and his own traumas that he completely neglected his wife’s mental illness and, as a consequence, his wife’s health worsened and he ended up murdering his own children. Daniels, upon discovering such an atrocity, kills his wife with tears.
All this causes stress to increase and Daniels appears in a state of denial and unfolding of personality, creating invented characters, from anagrams, such as Andrew Laedis (who is Daniels himself) and Rachel Solando (his wife). In this way, he invents a fantasy in which his wife died in a tragic fire caused by a supposed Laedis and, in his fantasy, he is still a federal agent and has been sent to Shutter Island to investigate a mysterious disappearance.
The protagonist creates a new reality and, in this way, forgets what happened before. He refuses to accept it and prefers to live a lie, to think and investigate the supposed conspiracies and experimentations that take place on the island.
Dr. Cawley and his team allow him to carry out his fantasy with the hope that, finally, upon discovering that there is no conspiracy, he becomes aware of his past, accepts it and comes to a cure.
Undoubtedly, Shutter Island is an interesting film that deals with issues related to the history of psychiatry and psychology and that, in a masterly way, plays with our mind and deceives our own senses. Nothing is what it seems on Shutter Island.
“What is better? Live like a monster or die like a good man?”