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Shutter Island: the explanation of the ending of the film by Martin Scorsese

What happens in the Shutter Island finale? The noir thriller directed in 2010 by Martin Scorsese and based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane is revealed, in the eyes of the spectators, as an abstruse, labyrinthine and ambiguous film. What we see in the course of the film could only be a projection of the mind, a perennial lie that only in the final scene reveals the reality of the facts, but does so with reserve, leaving us in a limbo of doubts and uncertainties and with a question, an alone, which however could change the meaning of the entire film.

Before explaining the final scene of Shutter Island, however, it is good to understand well what happens in the film.

Played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Max von Sydow, Shutter Island takes us in 1954 to the Ashecliff Hospital psychiatric hospital, located in the windy and suggestive Shutter Island.

We see federal agents Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his shoulder Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive on-site to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), who mysteriously disappeared despite being in an armored room and unable to leave the island.

Rachel’s story is just one of the many pieces that animate the twisted puzzle of beliefs that lodge in Teddy’s mind, in which real name is Andrew Laeddis, a mad criminal hospitalized at Ashecliff Hospital, patient number 67 – this detail can come in handy while watching – accused of shooting his wife (a depressive freak) after the latter drowned their three children.

Edward “Teddy” Daniels and Andrew Laeddis are the same person

In his mind, Teddy has created a parallel story in which he is an FBI hero, creating Rachel Solando to deal with the pain and giving hospital members a different role from what they play in real life. In particular, the character played by Mark Ruffalo is none other than Dr. Sheehan, while the protagonist believes it is his shoulder Chuck Aule.

It is Dr. Sheehan who encourages Andrew Laeddis (DiCaprio) to put his illusion into action, in the hope that it will help him and bring him back to real life, but this role-playing game fails. If, at first, Andrew seems to have understood, in the morning he gives clear signs of slowing down and the doctor’s gaze makes us clearly understand that the protagonist’s only chance is lobotomy.

The missing link, responsible for the failure to understand the final scene of Shutter Island, lies in the sentence pronounced by the character of Leonardo DiCaprio at the end:

This place makes me think […] what would be worse: live like a monster or die as a good man?

Shutter Island – The final theories of Martin Scorsese’s film

The last scene of the film also leaves the viewer thinking, confusing him and providing different interpretations. According to some hypotheses, the explanation of Shutter Island lies in considering the last part of the film – therefore Andrew’s words – a mere reflection of an out of mind individual.

According to some, though, Andrew is only pretending to have had a relapse. Putting himself in front of the acts he does not bear the idea of remembering what he has done and for this reason, he decides to pretend to be crazy and be lobotomized, so as to escape the sense of guilt.

Which of the two versions seems to be more coherent? The point is that the director doesn’t even know. Or rather, he refused to give explanations; which leaves us in the balance between reality and illusion. DiCaprio’s attitude could be reduced to being a momentary flash, a moment of lucidity in the midst of countless moments of madness.

But something tells us that it is much more. In the final scene of Shutter Island, the character of Leonardo DiCaprio chooses his destiny.

He chooses to give in, not to fight anymore, not to be saved, because all the truth that spits on him is too heavy to support. It is as if Andrew wanted to end it, but he does not have the courage to take his own life and so he hands himself over to those doctors who are preparing to lobotomize him.

The latter hypothesis seems the most plausible. If we consider that Teddy was not even aware of having killed his wife, a reason that would lead him to define himself as a “monster”, it is clear that the character we see in the end is identifiable as Andrew Laeddis: true personality of the protagonist, aware of his actions, which he pretends to be mad just to forget.

What if everything is just a dream?

Some shots and scene hooks actually make us think that Shutter Island is nothing more than a dream of the protagonist, so nothing we see could be real. Maybe yes, Andrew is in that hospital under Dr. Sheehan’s care, but maybe none of those doctors will resort to the extreme gesture. After all, we see that some men dressed in white are approaching him trying not to catch the eye, but we do not actually see anything concrete.

The character played by Leonardo DiCaprio goes away and we can only imagine his fate but we will never be sure. The ending remains open, like the mind or those dreams where you don’t understand if you’re awake or sleeping.

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is deliberately ambiguous and, given that we are allowed to choose, we want to think that it is better to die as a good man.

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