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In 1954, US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule are assigned to investigate the disappearance of multiple murderess Rachel Solando, who is a patient at Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental hospital for the most violent of the criminally insane. It is revealed that Andrew Laeddis, the man responsible for Daniels' wife's death, is incarcerated there as well.
As the marshals investigate further, they begin to uncover hints that Ashecliffe Hospital may be home to a living nightmare of Nazi-esque experimentation on unwilling patients.
But of course, all is not as it seems...
- Arc Words: "Why you all wet, Baby?"
- All Germans Are Nazis: Teddy automatically assumes that the German doctor working in the asylum is some kind of Josef Mengele, continuing his experiments on American soil.
- A Storm Is Coming: Said by the captain of the boat at the beginning of the film.
- Bedlam House: A very good example of a subversion, as the horrific experiments are all part of the protagonist's delusions. The story plays with the audience, as it is because of familiarity with the trope that one so readily accepts Daniels' version of reality as truth.
- Crusading Widower
- The Fifties: A very grim portrayal of the time period, bordering on Crapsack World. Cold War, McCarthyism, fresh memories of Nazi atrocities, rampant crime and general paranoia form the zeitgeist.
- Framing Device: The novel is presented as Dr. Sheehan's desire to set the record straight at last.
- Go Among Mad People
- It's Personal: Teddy takes on the case specifically because of its link to his wife.
- Lighthouse Point: The lighthouse at the end of the island, that the staff says contains the septic system, but others say contains a lobotomy lab. It's actually an office.
- Locked Room Mystery: How did Rachel Solando escape? "It's as if she evaporated straight through the walls."
- Meaningful Name: Toward the end of the book, Dr. Cawley remarks on the irony of how Teddy even in his intent to hide the truth from himself, gave his
partnerprimary psychiatrist the name "Chuck Aule". Say it five times fast.
- Only Sane Man: Cruelly subverted. Teddy believes he is one. He is wrong.
- The Precious Precious Car: Teddy blows up Dr. Crawley's beloved car in order to create a diversion.
- Room 101: Teddy assumes the lighthouse is one.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Teddy's got nightmares and perhaps a drinking problem because of his WWII experience.
- The Shrink: In Teddy's eyes, the psychiatrists are the evil version of this trope. In reality, they are only trying to help him overcome his madness.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Teddy Daniels.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Teddy Daniels is Andrew Laeddis.
- Tomato Surprise: The missing Dr. Sheehan turns out to be Teddy's new partner, Chuck Aule.
- Twist Ending: One that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud.
- Unreliable Narrator: Teddy Daniels.
- US Marshal
- Was It All a Lie?: And a decidedly cruel, sad version of it, because for once "The Mole" was actually doing it for the protagonist's own good.
Chuck/Lester: I'm genuinely sorry about that ... I never wanted to leave you feeling betrayed ... You have to believe me.
Teddy/Andrew: You were my friend. I trusted you ... You were my friend, Chuck. Oh, I'm sorry, Lester.
The movie contains examples of
- Anti-Villain / Hero Antagonist: Dr. Cawley. He seems really sad and regretful when he has to admit his own defeat.
- Big No: DiCaprio's character gets a pretty good one.
- Blast Out
- Catapult Nightmare: A few.
- Despair Event Horizon: see Gory Discretion Shot.
- Did Not Do the Research: While "Arbeit macht frei" was on the gate at Dachau, the sign we see belongs to Auschwitz. Although, since Andrew may or may not hallucinated the guards massacre anyway, it's not a big stretch to say he misremembered because of the most famous picture of this phrase
- Also, the liberation of Dachau and the subsequent massacre occurred during the spring; in the film it is snowy.
- Driven to Madness: Subverted. They're actually trying to cure his madness. Played straight in that what happened to his wife and children really did make him crack before the start of the story.
- Epiphany Therapy: Cruelly Subverted. As of the end of the film, Dr. Cawley has gotten Teddy/Andrew to snap out of his madness twice. Neither time stuck. The movie ending somewhat suggests that Andrew is really cured, but is so guilt ridden at what he had done that he pretends to have regressed back to the Teddy Daniels fantasy so they will lobotomize him, and his last line in particular implies that he knows.
- Eye Scream: 'If I sink my teeth into your eye right now do you think you can stop me before I blind you?'
- Don't forget the description of a lobotomy, which is very strongly implied to be
Teddy's Andrew'sthe lead character's fate.
- Note that a real lobotomy doesn't actually damage the eyeball, as this is gently pushed sideways to clear a path to the orbital fissures at the rear of the eyesocket. Still extremely creepy, even discounting the brain damage.
- That said, sticking an ice pick through the orbital fissures to reach the frontal/temporal lobe isn't going to be a good thing for the optic nerve. And then if they botch it (which they will do... It's brain surgery with an ice pick and guess work) you get damage to those areas, and god forbid they dig too far down and hit the corpus callosum. Say bye bye to communicating hemispheres.
- Actually, lack of a corpus callosum isn't nearly as damaging as a frontal lobe lobotomy. Cutting the corpus callosum remains a highly used surgery to treat intense epilepsy.
- Don't forget the description of a lobotomy, which is very strongly implied to be
- Fake American: British actress Emily Mortimer as American Rachel Solando
- Film of the Book
- Foreshadowing: "You can't just choose to be sane."
- Also how Andrew (then believing himself to be Teddy) utilized matches to see in Ward C, after having told Sheehan (as Chuck) that Laeddis was a fire bug. This is arguable, as obviously he had to use something to see in the nearly-pitch-black ward, but it's heavily inferrable based on how much attention the movie pays to Andrew lighting each match.
- In addition, Teddy told his partner that his wife was killed by smoke from a fire. A constant habit of his is smoking. Another arguable point, as it is the fifties, and smoking was encouraged at the time.
- Smoke from a fire could have also been refering to the smoke from his gun, as shown when he hullucinates shooting it. Some films from that time period have similar lines
- Gory Discretion Shot: Most assuredly not always present, but still packs a wallop at the ending, with the "peaceful" shot of the lighthouse. The previous scene makes clear what will happen to Laeddis there.
- Herr Doctor: Played with. Dr. Naehring is undeniably German (although played by a legendary Swede), but his accent is much lighter than required by the trope.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Jack Dawson and Stan are investigating an insane asylum run by Xavier Finch, where Antonius Block works. Oh, and Rorschach is also an inmate.
- Homage: The film is absolutely crawling with them, in particular Alfred Hitchcock/Vertigo.
- I Know You Are in There Somewhere Fight: Nearly the entire film is one, on the part of Kingsley's character. He fails. Or does he?
- I Know You Know I Know: A somewhat meta-example; any sufficiently Genre Savvy viewer should be able to spot the obvious twist a mile away, but the way the film plays out makes one constantly question whether or not that's just what the filmmakers want you to expect.
- Infant Immortality: Brutally Averted. Along with the dead children at Dachau, Rachael Solando killed her three children by drowning them and by extension, so did Dolores.
- Ironic Echo: "Why are you all wet, baby?"
- "I gotta get off this rock, Chuck."
- Manly Tears: Teddy sheds these a lot,
almostto the point of being The Woobie.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: The Warden.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: As we later learn,
Daniels'sLaeddis' delusions led him to completely misunderstand what George Noyce was talking about.
"It's about you and Laeddis. It's always been about you", implying that "it" was about Daniels vs. Laeddis
As opposed to:
"It's about you. And, Laeddis, it's always been about you", implying that Daniels IS Laeddis and everything was focused around HIM
- One-Scene Wonder: The inmates interrogated by Teddy give one hell of a performance, particularly Jackie Earle Haley.
- Significant Anagram: Four of them, hence the "Rule of Four." Edward Daniels/Andrew Laeddis, and Rachel Solando/Dolores Chanal.
- Tentative Light in the movie.
- The Ending Changes Everything
- There Are No Therapists: Completely, utterly inverted. The whole island is orchestrating a therapy session to play along with the main character's delusions to see if he can resolve his own internal conflicts without help. They are trying to simulate a There Are No Therapists scenario.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Carried over from the novel. Teddy spends the whole movie chasing after Andrew Laeddis, the man who killed his wife. Near the end it's revealed that he is Laeddis, and invented the Teddy Daniels persona so that he wouldn't have to deal with the guilt of shooting his wife after she drowned their children in a lake. He's been a patient at the hospital for the last two years.
- Trailers Always Spoil: Why do we keep spoiling Daniels's insanity, guys?
- Twist Ending: A truly nasty one, too.
- Weapon Stomp: Done very nastily. The nazi reaching for the gun had blown his cheek off in a suicide attempt and was lying on the floor bleeding out. He reached for his dropped gun to try again, only to have the protagonist step on it and drag it away.)
- Wham! Line: "You don't have a partner, Daniels. You came alone."
- "Your name is Andrew Laeddis. The sixty-seventh patient at Ashecliffe? He's you, Andrew."
- "Honey?... Where are the kids?" "They're at school." "...It's Saturday. School's not open on Saturday." "My school is."
- Windmill Crusader: the main character.