Shutter Island Movie Ending Explained (In Detail)

What happens when you mix, but do not stir, Edgar Poe’s creepiest story and Agatha Christie’s most convoluted novel?

Get “Shutter Island” by Martin Scorsese. It is this gloomy Italian-American genius of modern cinema that can be called the author of a work whose literary basis belongs to Dennis Lehane. All the facets of insanity from obsessive-compulsive disorder to a split personality, interspersed with paranoid psychosis – everything is in this wonderful work, put on film by Oscar-winning cameraman Robert Richardson.


The beginning of the film is not original for the detective genre. To conduct an investigation into the disappearance of a patient, two federal marshals arrive at the prison where the most terrible killers and maniacs are kept. The prison, which is also a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, is located in the sea, not far from Boston, on the gloomy, rocky island of Shutter.

One of the marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), suffers from constant migraines and hallucinations associated with a difficult experience – the death of his beloved wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) in a fire.

The head doctor of the hospital, Dr. Cowley (Ben Kingsley) tells the marshals under what circumstances the patient disappeared. Daniels and his partner Chuck Oul (Mark Ruffalo) believe that escape under such conditions is impossible, and one of the staff is playing a double game.

Daniels’ deep depression is aggravated by the oppressive atmosphere that prevails in the institution. Grids and electricity around the perimeter of the territory plunge Teddy into depressing memories of World War II, in which he was a participant. Authentic German doctor Jeremiah Nahring (Max von Sydow), apparently stranded in America after the catastrophe of the Third Reich, becomes a trigger for Daniels, a man with post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by seeing the results of the work of German doctors in Dachau.

From this moment on, it becomes clear to the viewer that nothing will save the main character from the impending madness, he is doomed.

All other actions taken by the detectives take place against the backdrop of a storm with truly Shakespearean proportions played out on the island. The ferry service to the mainland is interrupted, the electric locks of the cells are turned off and the staff is left alone with the crazy maniacs hiding in the dark.

Teddy searches in a terrible medieval fort – the place where the most cruel criminals are kept – his alter ego – arsonist Andrew Laddis (Elias Koteas) – the culprit in the death of Dolores, but finds George Noyce (Jackie Earl Haley), beaten and depressed. He initiates the marshal into his fantasy associated with terrible experiments on the human brain, which are supposedly carried out in a lighthouse building on a rocky shore. Teddy runs to the lighthouse, driven by an irresistible desire to uncover the ugly deeds taking place in the clinic. The partner tries to stop him. Against the backdrop of a raging sea, on a dangerous cliff, a showdown between the two heroes takes place. As a result, the hero DiCaprio leaves the mise-en-scene alone. Realizing that at high tide it is not possible to get to the lighthouse, Daniels returns to the cliff. Chuck is gone. Teddy imagines the corpse of a partner lying on the rocks under the cliff. At the risk of his own life, he goes down the stones, does not find a corpse, but he sees a secluded cave in which reflections from a fire built inside are visible. In a cave, he meets a woman who introduces herself to him as Rachel Solando (Patricia Clarkson), a psychiatrist. Rachel reveals to Daniels the meaning behind the experiments being done in the prison. Completely broken, Teddy falls asleep in order to storm the lighthouse again in the morning.


Scorsese’s film is full of reminiscences and references to the best examples of the genre of psychological drama, thriller, horror from Hitchcock to Argento.

  1. For example, the use of a famous archetypal symbol in the film – an old lighthouse, personifying loneliness and madness (recall “Final Analysis” (1992) by Phil Joan).
  2. On the surface, there are also unambiguous analogies with Alan Parker’s psychological thriller Angel Heart (1987), in which a private detective is on the trail of a serial killer. The action of the picture takes place around the same time, in the mid-50s of the last century in America, going on a crusade against communism under the banner of the paranoid Hoover. The main character performed by Leonardo DiCaprio is the same fragment of the Second World War with its horrors and inexplicable cruelty, as well as the hero of “Angel Heart” performed by Mickey Rourke.

Here it is truly time to recall the classic: the main thing in the course of the investigation is not to find yourself.


Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” was released in 2010, but every year it becomes more and more relevant in the light of growing political correctness and a touchingly careful attitude to all kinds of deviations from the mental norm.

The film is not recommended for viewing by people who are in a borderline state, as it can cause bouts of existential despair, fraught with exacerbations of a sluggish disease.

However, why, then, are works of art needed at all, if not to awaken the strongest emotions?

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