In 1954, U.S. Marshals 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, who was 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?" They arrive just before a storm hits, preventing their return to the mainland for a few days.
Daniels and Aule find the staff confrontational. Dr. John Cawley, the lead psychiatrist, refuses to turn over records, and they learn that Solando's doctor Lester Sheehan left the island on vacation immediately after Solando disappeared. They are given access to the hospital, but they are told that Ward C is off limits and that the lighthouse has already been searched. While being interviewed, one patient secretly writes the word "RUN" in Daniels' notepad. Daniels starts to have migraine headaches from the hospital's atmosphere and experiences waking visions of his involvement in the Dachau liberation reprisals. He has disturbing dreams of his wife Dolores Chanal, who was killed in a fire set by a local arsonist named Andrew Laeddis. In one instance, she tells him that Solando is still on the island somewhere—as is Laeddis, who everyone claims was never there to begin with. Daniels later explains to Aule that locating Laeddis was an ulterior personal motive for taking the case.
During their investigation, Daniels and Aule find that Solando has abruptly resurfaced with no explanation as to her former whereabouts or how she escaped. This prompts Daniels to break into the restricted Ward C. There he encounters George Noyce, a patient in solitary confinement. Noyce warns him that the doctors are performing questionable experiments on the patients, some of whom are taken to the lighthouse to be lobotomized. Noyce warns Daniels that everyone else on the island is playing an elaborate game specifically designed for Daniels—including his partner Aule.
Daniels regroups with Aule and is determined to investigate the lighthouse. They become separated while climbing the cliffs toward it, and Daniels later sees what he believes to be Aule's body on the rocks below. By the time he climbs down, however, the body has disappeared, 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, however, she was forcibly committed to Ashecliffe as a patient. Daniels returns to the hospital, but finds no evidence of Aule ever being there.
Daniels is convinced that Aule was taken to the lighthouse; he breaks into it only to discover Cawley calmly waiting there for him. Cawley explains that Daniels is actually Andrew Laeddis, their "most dangerous patient" incarcerated in Ward C for murdering his manic depressive wife Dolores Chanal after she drowned their children. Edward Daniels and Rachel Solando are anagrams of Andrew Laeddis and Dolores Chanal; furthermore, the little girl from Laeddis' recurring dreams is his daughter Rachel.
According to Cawley, the events of the past several days have been designed to break Laeddis' conspiracy-laden insanity by allowing him to play out the role of Daniels. The hospital staff were part of the test, including Dr. Sheehan posing as Aule and a nurse posing as Rachel Solando. The migraines that Laeddis suffered were withdrawal symptoms from his medication, as were the hallucinations of the "real Rachel Solando". Overwhelmed, Laeddis faints.
Laeddis awakens in the hospital under watch of Cawley and Sheehan. When questioned, he tells the truth in a coherent manner, which satisfies the doctors as a sign of progression. Nevertheless, Cawley notes that they had achieved this state nine months before but Laeddis had quickly regressed, and further warns that this will be his last chance to redeem himself.
Some time later, Laeddis relaxes on the hospital grounds with Dr. Sheehan, but he calls him "Chuck" and says that they need to leave the island. Sheehan shakes his head to an observing Cawley, who gestures to the orderlies towards Laeddis. Laeddis asks Dr. Sheehan if it is worse to live as a monster or die as a good man and is then led away by the orderlies.
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. Production began on March 6, 2008.
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.
Shutter Island was mainly filmed in Massachusetts, with Taunton being the location for the World War II flashback scenes. Old industrial buildings in Taunton's Whittenton Mills Complex replicated the Dachau concentration camp. 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. Borderland State Park in Easton, Massachusetts was used for the cabin scene. 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. Filming ended on July 2, 2008.
Shutter Island was originally slated to be released on October 2, 2009, but Paramount Pictures delayed it until February 19, 2010.
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]."
A full track-listing of the album can be seen below. All the musical works are featured in the final film.Disc 1
- "Fog Tropes" (Ingram Marshall) – (Orchestra of St. Lukes & John Adams)
- "Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato" (Krzysztof Penderecki) – (National Polish Radio Symphony & Antoni Wit)
- "Music for Marcel Duchamp" (John Cage) – (Philipp Vandré)
- "Hommage à John Cage" – (Nam June Paik)
- "Lontano" (György Ligeti) – (Wiener Philharmoniker & Claudio Abbado)
- "Rothko Chapel 2" (Morton Feldman) – (UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus)
- "Cry" – (Johnnie Ray)
- "On the Nature of Daylight" – (Max Richter)
- "Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Mayan City Which They Themselves Destroyed for Religious Reasons – 3rd Movement" (Giacinto Scelsi) – (Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra)
- "Quartet for Strings and Piano in A Minor" (Gustav Mahler) – (Prazak Quartet)
- "Christian Zeal and Activity" (John Adams) – (The San Francisco Symphony & Edo de Waart)
- "Suite for Symphonic Strings: Nocturne" (Lou Harrison) – (The New Professionals Orchestra & Rebecca Miller)
- "Lizard Point" – (Brian Eno)
- "Four Hymns: II for Cello and Double Bass" (Alfred Schnittke) – (Torleif Thedéen & Entcho Radoukanov)
- "Root of an Unfocus" (John Cage) – (Boris Berman)
- "Prelude – The Bay" – (Ingram Marshall)
- "Wheel of Fortune" – (Kay Starr)
- "Tomorrow Night" – (Lonnie Johnson)
- "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. Scorsese stated in an interview that the main reference to Teddy Daniels was Dana Andrews' character in Laura, and that he was also influenced by several very low-budget 1940s zombie movies made by Val Lewton. The main frame of the plot resembles that of William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration, as well as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. La Croix noted that Shutter Island was a "complex and puzzling" work which borrowed from genres as diverse as detective, fantasy, and the psychological thriller.
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' 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." 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."
The film was scheduled to be released by Paramount Pictures in the United States and Canada on October 2, 2009. Paramount later announced it was going to push back the release date to February 19, 2010. 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.
The film premiered at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival as part of the competition screening on February 13, 2010. Spanish distributor Manga Films distributed the film in Spain after winning a bidding war that reportedly reached the $6 million to $8 million range.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 68% based on 241 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. 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." On Metacritic, the film received a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average "C+" grade, on an A+ to F scale.
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." 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." Awarding the film 3½ 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."
The Orlando Sentinel's Roger Moore, who gave the film 2½ 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." Dana Stevens of Slate described the film "an aesthetically and at times intellectually exciting puzzle, but it's never emotionally involving." The Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday negatively described the film as being "weird". 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."
The film opened #1 at the US box office with $41 million, according to studio estimates. The movie gave Scorsese his best box office opening yet. The film remained #1 in its second weekend with $22.2 million. Eventually, the film grossed worldwide $294,803,014 and became Scorsese's second highest-grossing film worldwide.
Shutter Island was released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 8, 2010, in the US, and on August 2, 2010 in the UK. The UK release featured two editions—a standard edition and a limited steel-case edition.