Shutter Island Ending Explained: What Really Happened?

The meaning of the film Shutter Island

Most viewers who care about the meaning of “Shutter Island” are actually looking for an answer to one question: was DiCaprio’s character actually a madman named Andrew Laddis, or was he driven mad by the insidious inhabitants of Ashcliff Hospital, and in fact he is a Marshal Teddy Daniels?

Many believe that the fundamental insolubility of this riddle and the ambiguity of the ending are the highlight of this film. But let me disagree: the meaning of the ending of “Shutter Island” is quite transparent: Andrew Laddis is really crazy, and there can be no other interpretation here. Below I will try to prove it.

The plot and meaning of the film “Shutter Island”

“Shutter Island” is interesting because almost everything that happens on the screen is a role-playing game, invented by doctors at Ashcliffe Hospital to awaken consciousness in patient number 67 – Andrew Laddys. The true state of affairs is revealed only in the last minutes of screen time.

So Andrew, a WWII veteran, lived with his mentally ill wife Dolores and three children. Andrew realized that Dolores was unwell, he confesses this to the doctors in one of the final scenes, pleads guilty to not paying attention to her state of mind in time.

Andrew himself had no less problems – post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol addiction – all this did not make him understand how badly Dolores really was.

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Dolores constantly appears to Andrew in his nightmares and hallucinations

The terrible truth was revealed only on the day, when, returning home, Andrew found his children dead. Unable to cope with his despair, Andrew kills his own wife, whom, according to him, he loved so much (but, however, could not help her cope with a mental disorder).

The grief from the loss of his family and heavy guilt are so unbearable for Andrew that he creates a new personality for himself – Marshal Teddy Daniels, and when he gets to Ashcliffe Hospital, he invents a sophisticated conspiracy theory, according to which he was tricked into this place under the guise of an investigation.

In reality, Ashcliffe’s doctors are trying to help him. Chief Physician Cowley and Laddys’ attending physician Lester Sheen believe that with the help of competent therapy, madness can be cured without resorting to surgical methods. There are, however, opponents of their theory – Warden and Dr. Neuring, who believe that a dangerous patient should be lobotomized.

Treatment of Laddis under the supervision of Lester Sheen proceeds with varying success – he returns to reality, then again goes into his detective fantasies. And then Cowley and Sheen decide to take the last step: they arrange a role-playing game with the participation of all the hospital staff, the purpose of which is to visually show Laddis the illogicality of his detective invention and make him reject his own delirium.

Evidence for Laddys Madness

When watching the film for the first time, some details may escape attention, but if you revisit “Shutter Island”, already knowing the essence of the plot and the ending, then you will notice that the authors from the very beginning prompted us the right decision. I will list what I managed to notice, and you can supplement the list with your own observations.

Arrival of Teddy and Chuck on the island

In the very first frames, we see that the cabin on the ship, in which Teddy is, is hung with chains and shackles. Why are they needed here? Obviously, earlier with these chains a dangerous patient, Andrew Laddis, was shackled, but before the start of the experiment he was released.

When Teddy and Chuck land on the island, the guards are extremely wary – and not surprising, because the guards know that they are dealing with an unbalanced mentally ill person who, according to doctors, has already harmed others. And in the future, you can often notice that the guards tense up every time they see Teddy – they are ready to grab him at any moment, if he shows the slightest signs of insanity.

On the way to the hospital, Teddy notices that the fencing of the area is energized. “How did you get that?” Asks Chuck (aka Lester Sheen). “I’ve seen this before,” says Teddy, without specifying where he might have seen it. It will later become clear that Teddy-Andrew has already spent two years in Ashcliffe Hospital and, of course, knows that her fence is energized.

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The guards are constantly monitoring Teddy, because everyone knows that there is a dangerous patient among them.

The source of Teddy’s hallucinations

The “real” Rachel Solando (actually a figment of Andrew’s imagination) tells Teddy that they are trying to fill him with pills, that even the cigarettes offered to him contain hallucinogens. But in reality, the opposite is true. When Teddy gets to the lighthouse, Dr. Cowley explains to him that the tremors and hallucinations – what Teddy believed were due to psychotropic drugs – were actually just a consequence of  refusing the drugs that patient Andrew Laddys had been taking for two years at Ashcliffe Hospital.

These drugs did not induce, but suppressed painful hallucinations. But for the purity of the experiment, doctors Cowley and Sheen decided to temporarily stop giving drugs to Laddys – which resulted in nightmares, visions and tremors throughout the body.

George Noise and his relationship with Andrew

In his detective fantasies, Teddy Daniels claims to have met Noise when he began investigating the history of Ashcliff Hospital. Indeed, Noise recognizes Teddy when he appears in the third corps. But the real state of affairs is explained by Dr. Cowley at the end of the film.

Noise and Laddys met at the hospital, and the former contributed to the development of a conspiracy theory, which the latter later used in his accusations against doctors. However, when Noise called Laddis by his real name, he broke down and beat his comrade. It was this event that caused Warden and Dr. Neuring to demand a lobotomy for Laddys, and Dr. Cowley and Lester Sheen to give him one last chance in the form of an RPG.

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Dr. Cowley is the main villain in the world of Teddy Daniels, but in reality he is trying to save the patient.

Attitude of staff and patients to role play

During the interrogation that Teddy Daniels arranges for the staff, you can see how light they are about what is happening. One of the nurses starts joking and the others chuckle at Teddy and the “interrogation” because they know that one of the patients is standing in front of them. Only thanks to the intervention of Dr. Sheen (whom Teddy considers his partner Chuck) is it possible to restore order at least temporarily.

When Teddy interrogates Mrs. Kearns and it comes to Dr. Sheen, the patient and the doctor feel uncomfortable as she has to talk about who sits across from her at the table. That is why she asks “Chuck” to bring her water, and he readily accepts the request to avoid the awkward moment.

Mrs. Kearns writes “Run” to Teddy because she knows that he is not being watched too closely now, and he has the opportunity to leave the hospital. When Teddy notices that Mrs. Kearns speaks as if memorized words, he is absolutely right – the staff and the most sane patients were instructed on their roles in the upcoming game.

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Staff are not very enthusiastic about interrogation

Staff and patients view the experiment differently. So, a frightening-looking elderly woman who presses her finger to her lips, seeing Teddy at the beginning of the film, is apparently glad of the opportunity to take part in the game – her gesture means that she was asked to be silent and she will be silent, so as not to spoil Andrew’s pleasure to be in the role Marshal.

Other patients cannot help laughing (in the scene when Teddy is talking to Dr. Cowley, after returning from the third building, in the background you can see patients laughing at Teddy, while the staff orders them “not to look in his direction”) … Dr. Neuring treats Teddy with undisguised irritation and sarcasm, not ready to take part in Dr. Cowley’s experiment.

Finally, no longer hiding at all, one of the security officers, who picked him up after a night in the cave, is talking to Teddy. He talks to Teddy as if from above, making it clear that he is only one of his charges, nothing more. And when, at the end of the conversation, Teddy remarks: “You don’t know me!”, The officer replies: “I know you very well.” Not surprisingly, Andrew has been under Ashcliffe’s roof for two years now.

The meaning of the ending of the film “Shutter Island”: explanation

One of the key scenes in the film is Teddy Daniels’ appearance at the lighthouse. As he believed, a secret laboratory is hidden here, in which Cowley and company perform terrible experiments on humans. Armed with a gun, he makes his way to the lighthouse, where he finds nothing similar to his suspicions.

The lighthouse is completely empty and half-abandoned, and the more absurd Andrew-Teddy looking around with a gun at the ready looks all the more absurd. Here Dr. Cowley is already waiting for him and finally explains the essence of the experiment. It was important for Cowley and Lester Sheen that Andrew himself get to the truth, without anyone’s help. The doctors wanted the patient to fully live his role from start to finish, finally solving the riddle, the answer of which is himself. They hoped that this was the only way Andrew could be cured and that he could avoid a lobotomy.

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Andrew Laddys makes an important decision, and Lester Sheen plays along with his patient this time

Their hopes were indeed justified. Realizing the absurdity of his assumptions about the island and the hospital staff, Andrew recalled the reason why he ended up in Ashcliffe. All the pain and guilt fell on his shoulders again. In addition, Dr. Cowley said that this is not Andrew’s first return to reality. Finally, the decisive moment comes.

Dr. Shin starts a conversation with Andrew, wanting to find out if he has finally accepted reality or not. At this moment, Andrew is in absolutely clear consciousness, but the feeling of guilt is so unbearable that he makes a conscious decision to go for a lobotomy. This is clear from his farewell phrase to Dr. Sheen:

– Which is better: live a monster or die a good person?

For himself, Andrew Laddis makes a choice: he wants to die a good man. And, already fully realizing who he really is – Dr. Cowley’s therapy still worked! – he pretends to still consider himself Teddy Daniels.

Dr. Shin nods resignedly to his colleagues standing at a distance – the experiment has failed, you will have to go to extreme measures. However, Andrew’s line may indicate to Lester Sheen that he voluntarily agreed to the lobotomy. But the doctor does not dare to contradict the patient in his desire.

In the last frames, we see how Andrew gets up and leaves in the direction of the doctors, who will now take him to the operation. He is perfectly aware of what he is doing, but does not want to continue his life as a monster who could not save his wife and children from death.

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