Shutter Island (film)

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Shutter Island
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Scorsese
Screenplay byLaeta Kalogridis
Based onShutter Island
by Dennis Lehane
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byThelma Schoonmaker
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • February 13, 2010 (2010-02-13) (Berlin)
  • February 19, 2010 (2010-02-19) (United States)
Running time
139 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[1]
Box office$294.8 million[2][3]

Shutter Island is a 2010 American neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Laeta Kalogridis, based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Deputy U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels, who is investigating a psychiatric facility on Shutter Island after one of the patients goes missing. Mark Ruffalo plays his partner and fellow deputy marshal, Ben Kingsley is the facility's lead psychiatrist, Max von Sydow is a German doctor, and Michelle Williams is Daniels' wife. Released on February 19, 2010, the film received mostly positive reviews from critics, was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2010, and grossed over $294 million worldwide.

The film was noted for its soundtrack, which prominently used classical music, such as that of Gustav Mahler, as well as modern classical music by composers such as Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti, John Cage, Ingram Marshall, and Max Richter.


In 1954, U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule travel to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor. They are investigating the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando, incarcerated for drowning her three children. Their only clue is a cryptic note found hidden in Solando's room: "The law of 4; who is 67?" The two men arrive just before a massive storm, preventing their return to the mainland for a few days.

Teddy and Chuck find the staff confrontational and uncooperative. Lead psychiatrist John Cawley refuses to turn over records, and they learn that Solando's doctor Lester Sheehan left the island on vacation immediately after Solando disappeared, preventing them from interrogating him. They are told that Ward C, one of three, is reserved for the most severely disturbed patients and is off limits, along with the lighthouse, which has already been searched. While being interviewed, one patient writes the word "RUN" in Teddy's notepad. Teddy starts to have migraine headaches from the hospital's atmosphere and has waking visions of his experiences as a U.S. Army soldier during the liberation of Dachau including reprisals against the guards. He has disturbing dreams of his wife, Dolores Chanal, who was killed in a fire set by arsonist Andrew Laeddis. In one instance, she tells Teddy that Solando is still on the island—as is Laeddis, who everyone claims was never there. Teddy later explains to Chuck that locating Laeddis was his ulterior motive for taking the case.

Teddy and Chuck find that Solando has resurfaced with no explanation, prompting the former to break into the restricted Ward C. Teddy encounters George Noyce, a patient in solitary confinement, who claims that the doctors are experimenting on patients, some of whom are taken to the lighthouse to be lobotomized. Noyce warns that everyone else on the island, including Chuck, is playing an elaborate game designed for Teddy.

Teddy regroups with Chuck and climbs the cliffs toward the lighthouse. They become separated, and Teddy later sees what he believes to be Chuck's body on the rocks below. By the time he climbs down, the body is revealed to be an optical illusion of the rocks, but he finds a cave where he discovers a woman in hiding, who claims to be the real Rachel Solando. She states that she is a former psychiatrist at the hospital who discovered the experiments with psychotropic medication and trans-orbital lobotomy in an attempt to develop mind control techniques. Before she could report her findings to the authorities, she was forcibly committed to Ashecliffe as a patient. Teddy returns to the hospital, but finds no evidence of Chuck ever being there.

Convinced Chuck was taken to the lighthouse, Teddy breaks in, only to discover Cawley waiting for him. Cawley explains that Teddy is actually Andrew Laeddis, their "most dangerous patient", incarcerated in Ward C for murdering his manic depressive wife, Dolores, after she drowned their 3 children. Edward Daniels and Rachel Solando are anagrams of Andrew Laeddis and Dolores Chanal, and the little girl from Laeddis's recurring dreams is his daughter Rachel. Cawley discloses that Andrew attacked Noyce two weeks earlier for calling him Laeddis. Teddy's denial comes from his guilt over not having sought mental help for his wife after she burned down their city apartment. After the arson, the whole family went to the lake house, where Dolores drowned their children some time later. According to Cawley, the events of the past several days have been designed to cure Andrew's conspiracy-laden insanity by allowing him to play out the role of Teddy Daniels. The hospital staff were part of the test, including Lester Sheehan posing as Chuck Aule and a nurse posing as Rachel Solando. Andrew's migraines were withdrawal symptoms from his medication, as were his hallucinations of the "real Rachel Solando". Overwhelmed by the memories of what really happened, Andrew faints.

He awakens in the hospital under the watch of Cawley, Sheehan, the warden and the nurse who played Rachel Solando. When questioned, he tells the truth in a coherent manner, satisfying the doctors. Cawley notes that they had achieved this state nine months before, but Andrew quickly regressed. He warns this will be Andrew's last chance; otherwise, they will have to lobotomize him.

Some time later, Andrew relaxes on the hospital grounds with Sheehan, but calls him "Chuck" again, saying they must leave the island. Sheehan shakes his head to Cawley, upon which Cawley speaks to Naehring and the warden before turning away. The warden gestures to the orderlies and Andrew is taken away to be lobotomized. Before leaving peacefully, Andrew asks Sheehan if it would be worse "to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?" A stunned Sheehan calls Andrew "Teddy", but the latter does not respond to the name.



The rights to Dennis Lehane's novel Shutter Island were first optioned to Columbia Pictures in 2003. Columbia did not act on the option, and it lapsed back to Lehane, who sold it to Phoenix Pictures. Phoenix hired Laeta Kalogridis, and together they developed the film for a year. Director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio were both attracted to the project.[4] Production began on March 6, 2008.[5]

Lehane's inspiration for the hospital and island setting was Long Island in Boston Harbor, which he had visited during the blizzard of 1978 as a child with his uncle and family.[6]

Shutter Island was mainly filmed in Massachusetts, with Taunton being the location for the World War II flashback scenes.[7] Old industrial buildings in Taunton's Whittenton Mills Complex replicated the Dachau concentration camp.[8] The old Medfield State Hospital in Medfield, Massachusetts, was another key location. Cawley's office scenes were the second floor of the chapel during the late evening. Lights were shone through the windows to make it look like it was daytime. The crew painted the hospital's brick walls to look like plywood. This served the dual purpose of acting as scenery and blocking the set from view of a local road. The crew wanted to film at the old Worcester State Hospital, but demolition of surrounding buildings made it impossible. The stone lodge, next to Leach Pond, at Borderland State Park in Easton, Massachusetts, was used for the cabin scene.[9] The film used Peddocks Island as a setting for the story's island. East Point, in Nahant, Massachusetts, was the location for the lighthouse scenes.[10] The scenes where Teddy and Chuck are caught in the hurricane were filmed at the Wilson Mountain Reservation in Dedham, Massachusetts.[11] Filming ended on July 2, 2008.[12]


Shutter Island: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
ReleasedFebruary 2, 2010
GenreFilm soundtrack
LabelRhino Records
ProducerRobbie Robertson
John Powell

Shutter Island: Music from the Motion Picture was released on February 2, 2010, by Rhino Records. The film does not have an original score. Instead, Scorsese's longtime collaborator Robbie Robertson created an ensemble of previously recorded material to use in the film.

According to a statement on Paramount's website: "The collection of modern classical music [on the soundtrack album] was hand-selected by Robertson, who is proud of its scope and sound. 'This may be the most outrageous and beautiful soundtrack I've ever heard.' [Robertson stated]."[13]

A full track listing of the album is below. All the musical works are featured in the final film.

Disc 1
  1. "Fog Tropes" (Ingram Marshall) – Orchestra of St. Lukes & John Adams
  2. "Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato" (Krzysztof Penderecki) – National Polish Radio Symphony & Antoni Wit
  3. "Music for Marcel Duchamp" (John Cage) – Philipp Vandré
  4. "Hommage à John Cage" – Nam June Paik
  5. "Lontano" (György Ligeti) – Wiener Philharmoniker & Claudio Abbado
  6. "Rothko Chapel 2" (Morton Feldman) – UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus
  7. "Cry" – Johnnie Ray
  8. "On the Nature of Daylight" – Max Richter
  9. "Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Mayan City Which They Themselves Destroyed for Religious Reasons – 3rd Movement" (Giacinto Scelsi) – Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
  10. "Quartet for Strings and Piano in A Minor" (Gustav Mahler) – Prazak Quartet
Disc 2
  1. "Christian Zeal and Activity" (John Adams) – The San Francisco Symphony & Edo de Waart
  2. "Suite for Symphonic Strings: Nocturne" (Lou Harrison) – The New Professionals Orchestra & Rebecca Miller
  3. "Lizard Point" – Brian Eno
  4. "Four Hymns: II for Cello and Double Bass" (Alfred Schnittke) – Torleif Thedéen & Entcho Radoukanov
  5. "Root of an Unfocus" (John Cage) – Boris Berman
  6. "Prelude – The Bay" – Ingram Marshall
  7. "Wheel of Fortune" – Kay Starr
  8. "Tomorrow Night" – Lonnie Johnson
  9. "This Bitter Earth"/"On the Nature of Daylight" – Dinah Washington & Max Richter; arrangement by Robbie Robertson


Shutter Island is a period piece with nods to different films in the film noir and horror genres, paying particular homage to Alfred Hitchcock's works.[14] Scorsese stated in an interview that the main reference to Teddy Daniels was Dana Andrews's character in Laura, and that he was also influenced by several very low-budget 1940s zombie movies made by Val Lewton.[15] The main frame of the plot resembles that of William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration,[16][17][18] as well as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.[18][19][20] La Croix noted that Shutter Island was a "complex and puzzling" work that borrowed from genres as diverse as detective, fantasy, and the psychological thriller.[21]

There have been differing opinions over the ending of the film, in which Laeddis asks Dr. Sheehan, "[W]hich would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?", a line that does not appear in the book. Professor James Gilligan of New York University was Scorsese's psychiatric adviser, and he said that Laeddis's last words mean: "I feel too guilty to go on living. I'm not going to actually commit suicide, but I'm going to vicariously commit suicide by handing myself over to these people who're going to lobotomize me."[22] Dennis Lehane, however, said, "Personally, I think he has a momentary flash.… It's just one moment of sanity mixed in the midst of all the other delusions."[22]


Martin Scorsese at the premiere of Shutter Island at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival

The film was scheduled to be released by Paramount Pictures in the United States and Canada on October 2, 2009.[23] Paramount later announced it was going to push back the release date to February 19, 2010.[24] Reports attribute the pushback to Paramount not having "the financing in 2009 to spend the $50 to $60 million necessary to market a big awards pic like this", to DiCaprio's unavailability to promote the film internationally, and to Paramount's hope that the economy might rebound enough by February 2010 that a film geared toward adult audiences would be more viable financially.[25]

The film premiered at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival as part of the competition screening on February 13, 2010.[26][27] Spanish distributor Manga Films distributed the film in Spain after winning a bidding war that reportedly reached the $6 million to $8 million range.[28]


Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 68% based on 259 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It may not rank with Scorsese's best work, but Shutter Island's gleefully unapologetic genre thrills represent the director at his most unrestrained."[29] On Metacritic, the film received a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[30] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average "C+" grade, on an A+ to F scale.[31]

Lawrence Toppman of The Charlotte Observer gave the film 4/4 stars, claiming, "After four decades, Martin Scorsese has earned the right to deliver a simple treatment of a simple theme with flair."[32] Writing for The Wall Street Journal, John Anderson highly praised the film, suggesting it "requires multiple viewings to be fully realized as a work of art. Its process is more important than its story, its structure more important than the almost perfunctory plot twists it perpetrates. It's a thriller, a crime story and a tortured psychological parable about collective guilt."[33] Awarding the film 3+12 stars out of 4, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "the movie is about: atmosphere, ominous portents, the erosion of Teddy's confidence and even his identity. It's all done with flawless directorial command. Scorsese has fear to evoke, and he does it with many notes."[34]

The Orlando Sentinel's Roger Moore, who gave the film 2+12 stars out of 4, wrote, "It's not bad, but as Scorsese, America's greatest living filmmaker and film history buff should know, even Hitchcock came up short on occasion. See for yourself."[35] Dana Stevens of Slate described the film "an aesthetically and at times intellectually exciting puzzle, but it's never emotionally involving".[36] The Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday negatively described the film as being "weird".[37] A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote in his review that "Something TERRIBLE is afoot. Sadly, that something turns out to be the movie itself."[38]

Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York named Shutter Island the fifth-best film of 2010.[39]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at #1 at the US box office, Shutter Island was released alongside The Ghost Writer. with $41 million, according to studio estimates. The movie gave Scorsese his best box office opening yet. [40] The film remained at #1 in its second weekend, with $22.2 million.[41] Eventually, it grossed worldwide $294,805,697[2] and became Scorsese's second highest-grossing film worldwide.[42]

Home media[edit]

Shutter Island was released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 8, 2010, in the US[43] and on August 2, 2010, in the UK.[44] The UK release featured two editions—a standard edition and a limited steel-case edition.[45] For the 10th anniversary, Paramount Pictures released on February 11, 2020 a 4K steelbook + Blu-ray.[46]

Other media[edit]

Unproduced TV series[edit]

In August 2014, Paramount Television and HBO were reported to be brainstorming a TV series called Ashecliffe, which will serve as an origin story for the film.[47]

Video game[edit]

A video game based on the film was released for PC.[48] A Nintendo DS version was planned, but cancelled.[49]


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External links[edit]