Friday, March 18, 2011

Shutter Island

We are first greeted with the sight of the the protagonist, Edward Daniels, hunched over a bathroom sink attempting to fight off sea sickness. The movie is set in the 50's and Daniels, as a U.S Marshall, is sent to an island that contains an institution for the insane to investigate the disappearance of a female patient.  He has his suspicions about the island as he doesn't trust the people overseeing the institution and wants to truly find out how the asylum treats  its patients.  
If we fast forward to the end of the film we find out that Daniels is actually a patient on the island and that he was actually in a role play that was set up by the islands doctors, in an attempt to get him to come back to reality. This is where we see who Edward Daniels truly is, a completely unbalanced hero whom denies that he is actually Andrew Laeddis, an arsonist who was convicted of killing a woman in one of the fires he created. In order to fully understand Andrew Laeddis, a second viewing is required. In his mind he has been set up by the island's institution and that he is an innocent human being who has been wrongly convicted. This is where the viewer sees the sickness that is contained within Andrew's mind. He creates fantasy situations where he can make up a reason for the way things are and then blame it on the directors of the island. He wants to believe that he is a U.S Marshall and so he creates a situation where that is true, and he doesn't see it any other way. 

The journey that Andrew Laeddis undergoes could be considered one of two different ones; either a quest for identity or a quest for knowledge. The way Laeddis sees it he is searching for knowledge about the island's institution and what is really going on the island. In reality, the role play was set up by the islands overseers in attempt to get him to snap out of his dreamworld and back into reality. When Laeddis finds out who he truly is, the audience expects him to be able live in reality now that he has been exposed to the truth. The next day  he is back to his schemes where he pretends that he is an U.S Marshall and he is investigating a crime on the island. As he is taken to become lobotomized after the island's directors feel he has no chance of becoming sane, he utters the question "Is it worse to live as a monster, or die as a good man?" 

This question is a powerful one as every viewer in the theater was left to ponder that as the lights slowly came on and the credits began rolling. Andrew Laeddis chose the second option, as he ended up dying as Edward Daniels, at least in his mind. This question has been asked in various forms from different movies (the Dark Knight for example) and it seems that there is no definitive answer, as people's point of view will always change that answer.


  1. Landon, check out google university for tips on apostrophe use. A more subtle archetype; creative and interesting discussion. Are there more "quest for identity" archetypes in film? If so, who is the intended audience of these films (age, gender)? Is there a specific target audience that has an abundance of identity films to choose from? Where else does the search for knowledge archetype appear? Are there any Greek myths where this archetype is predominant?

  2. The common trend with the movies which central around the quest for identity would be directed at teenagers. This is because the this audience group is still in the midst of determining their individual identity and these movies offer insight towards that search. With regards to the search for knowledge archetype, it seems as though the quest is meant to play on the internal conflict of two major options. The example you have above of the Dark Knight definitley takes this form. The main character of the Dark Knight must choose whether he will do more good to society remaining as a vigilante, or if he should turn himself in to avoid civilian deaths. This conflict is meant to have personal impact to the viewer as it shows how the protagonist must sometimes choose from the lesser of two evils. In both cases, the protagonist chooses to help society by sacrificing their freedom or in the case of the Dark Kight; by thinking of the bigger picture. Again, understanding the choice of the characters is a matter of perspective. What do you think these types of films reveal about the human condition and our own path in life?