Shutter Island Book vs Movie Review

written by Laura J.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003)

Shutter Island directed by Martin Scorsese (2010)

I posted a book vs movie poll, and my subscribers voted for Shutter Island! If you are not yet subscribed you definitely should, so you can take part in future book vs movie polls as well as future sub choice months like I did in September where all of the book vs movie topics were suggested by my subs.

Book review

I had read the book before, and I wondered if having already seen the movie, plus already having read the book would deter from the experience. I am happy to report that it didn’t! I still loved the book and I blew through it. I thought it might take me longer to read since I already knew the story and there wouldn’t be the same level of suspense, but nope! I still couldn’t put it down.

There are also a number of themes going on here and even if you know how things end, there is still so much to chew on. It is a great thriller with fantastic character development.

Movie review

This movie has gone down in history has having some of the most surprising twists. As with the book, even when you watch the movie a second time, already knowing how it ends, that doesn’t take away from the viewing experience. Again, as with the book, watching it a second time is just as good because even though you won’t have the shock of the end, but what you get instead is a greater appreciation for the clues that were given that you missed the second time as well as the nuance involved in different conversations that the first time around you took at face value. This was probably my fourth time seeing the movie by the way.

This is also an incredibly faithful adaptation. I have covered three Scorsese movies so far (Killers of the Flower Moon, Goodfellas, and this) and all three have stayed incredibly close to the book! A good number of his movies are based on books, so I should go through the others and see if that is something that always tracks with him!

This movie did not receive any Oscar nominations, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t good enough exactly. But rather the production studio didn’t have the budget to promote it as an awards contender, so they gave it a February release and didn’t submit it for any awards. (There is so much politics involved in awards. I used to think any deserving movie or performance would be noticed, but there is a lot more to it than that and a lot of spending and campaigning).

If you have not read the book or seen the movie, I highly recommend both! And please, if you have not yet watched/read them and do not know what happens, do not watch this video until after you have seen the movie or read the book!!

From here on out there will be spoilers for both book and movie

Teddy Daniels

The book begins first with a journal entry from Lester Sheehan, written in 1993. Then we hear a story from Teddy’s childhood about when he went out with his sailor father and he saw Shutter Island as they sailed around. Teddy got sick, and when they got home, his dad kept saying they would go out again sometime, but they never did. Teddy felt his father was disappointed in him for being seasick. Father feeling like their sons are “weak” comes up later, because Teddy feels the same about his own son. But his dad later dies while he is at sea.

We then see Teddy out on the ocean again as an adult in 1954, as he and his new partner Chuck, are sent to Shutter Island which is home to Ashecliffe, a mental institution for the criminally insane. A patient there named Rachel Solando has escaped and they are sent to investigate.

During their investigations, Teddy reveals to Chuck that he requested this case because his wife Dolores was killed by a man named Andrew Laediss when he burned their apartment while she was home. He found out that Laediss was sent to Ashcliffe, and he wanted to come her to avenge his wife in some way. After he had heard that Laediss was sent there, he did more research into Ashecliffe and found out there is all kinds of shady things going on there . They do Nazi-like experiments on their patients and also do tests with hallucinogens and other such things.

We see too, how Teddy has been suicidal since his wife’s death. He has never acted on it thought because while he can’t find a reason to live, he also says he never found a reason to die either because he does not beleive in the afterlife and therefore dones’t think that he will be reunited with Dolores in death. In the book we get a lot of flashbacks to his marriage with Dolores and see how she was mentall unwell. We see this to some extent in the movie, but it is more so in the book. In one flashback, after Dolores is saying things that Teddy finds upsetting , the book reads, “…and he felt like crying. Not from the pain. Not from the hangover. But because he didn’t know what was happening to his wife, to the girl he’d first danced with at the Cocoanut Grove. He didn’t know what she was becoming or what the world was becoming with its lesions of tiny, dirty wars and furious hatreds and spies in Washington, in Hollywood, gas masks in schoolhouses, cement bomb shelters in basements. And it was, somehow, all connected—his wife, this world, his drinking, the war he’d fought because he honestly believed it would end all this…”

Rachel Solando

The patent that has escaped was sent to Ashecliffe because she killed her three kids but then refused to acknowledge her actions and now lives a delusion. When they search her room, they find a code she has written. In the movie, Teddy finds the paper with the code but in the book the head doctor, Dr. Cawley finds it and gives it to Teddy. In the movie the paper says, “the law of 4/who is 67”, in the book it reads, “the law of 4/I am 47/they were 80/+ you are 4/we are 4/but/who is 67?”. The movie just as the one coded clue, but in the book, there are a lot of clues that Rachel had left which Teddy finds.

As they search the island, Teddy notices in book and movie, how the guards and orderlies are halfheartedly searching, and in general as he is interviewing people, the staff seems a bit odd. There is a funny line though when he is asking a nurse about a group meeting, they had the night before which Rachel had been part of. This exchange is in both book and movie and reads,

“’Anything unusual occur [at the group therapy meeting last night]?’

‘Define unusual.

‘Excuse me?’

‘This is a mental institution, Marshal. For the criminally insane. ‘Usual’ isn’t a big part of out day.”’”

Fairly soon, Rachel ends up being found by the guards but Teddy and Chuck have to stay on the island because there is a hurricane.

Events leading up the reveal

After the hurricane, Teddy and Chuck are wearing orderly uniforms because their clothes got soaked. They are able to sneak into Ward C-the ward for the most dangerous criminals. While there, they separate and Teddy finds a man named George Noyce in one of the cells. He had spoken to George before when he had been researching Ashecliffe. George had been at Ashecliffe, released, then sent to another prison. Teddy didn’t know he was sent back to Ashecliffe and is surprised to see him there. They talk and Teddy is filled with fear and doubt about everything that has been going on and is not also suspicious of Chuck.

He and Chuck are walking around the island and again separate when Teddy wants to check out some rocks but Chuck doesn’t want to make the climb down. When Teddy returns, Chuck is nowhere to be found. In both, he finds the real Rachel Solando in a cave and finds out she had been a doctor but when she didn’t want to go along with their experiments, they tried to get rid of her. She has been living on the island ever since, unable to escape and constantly hiding about. She confirms his suspicions on everything he has read about what is going on there.

He then sees Cawley and when he asks where Chuck is, Cawley tells him he doesn’t know who Chuck is and that Teddy showed up by himself.

In both, he suspects the experiments are going on in the lighthouse and wants to go save Chuck who he suspects they have kidnapped.

The reveal

When Teddy gets to the lighthouse, he finds Dr. Cawley calmly waiting for him. We then find out that Teddy is Andrew Laediss and he has been a patient at Ashecliffe for the past two years. His wife had suffered from mental health issues, but Teddy ignored the signs and she ended up killing their three children. When he came home and saw what she had done, he killed her. He can’t bear to accept that truth though, and he created a the delusion that he is still a marshal, that he and Dolores never even had kids, and that he has been sent to Ashecliffe to investigate Rachel, someone he made up who happens to have done what Dolores did in real life. He also came up with the conspiracy that Ashecliffe is doing inhumane experiments and anything they say can’t be trusted. His primary doctor is Dr. Sheehan, who is the man who has been pretending to be Chuck this whole time.

Book and movie ending

In both, Teddy (Andrew) refuses to believe this. Dr. Cawley and Sheehan are trying to convince him. They explain that they staged this whole weekend for everyone to play along with his delusion in hopes it would help him come to terms with the truth.

They are also explaining what a huge moment this is in the medical industry. Sheehan says, ““Listen to me,” Sheehan said. “If we fail here, we’ve lost. Not just with you. Right now, the balance of power is in the hands of the surgeons, but that’s going to change fast. The pharmacists will take over, and it won’t be any less barbaric. It’ll just seem so. The same zombification and warehousing that are going on now will continue under a more publicly palatable veneer. Here, in this place, it comes down to you, Andrew.”” They tell him that if he doesn’t accept the truth, they have no choice but to have him lobotomized because that is what the board wants to have done. It will also lead the board to think that Cawley and Sheehan’s more humane tactics to help patients is no good.

In both, he does end up having a breakthrough and accepting the truth.

However, in the end of both, it is the next day and Sheehan goes up to Teddy and asks what the plan is for the day. Teddy talks to him like they are Marshals again, and Sheehan gives the sign to Crawley and the others that Teddy has reverted back to his former delusion and his breakthrough didn’t stick.

The book ends there, but the movie has Teddy saying the line to Chuck, “This place makes me wonder…which would be worse-to live as a monster or to die a good man?” This definitely leads the viewer to believe that Teddy’s breakthrough did stick, but while he isn’t delusional, he still can’t bear to live with the reality and would rather be lobotomized and potentially die. Whereas the book it is up the reader to decide.

Teddy’s delusion

When you go through this book or movie already knowing that truth about Teddy, there are so many lines and scenes and camera angles that now have a whole new meaning. For example, in a flashback in the book we see Teddy with Dolores and she is talking to him about the night they met. We then get his thoughts about this which read, “Teddy hated when she did this. Memory Lane. She couldn’t adapt to the present, to who they were now, warts and all, so she drove winding lanes into the past to warm herself.” We get another line when he and “Chuck” are talking about the violence they experienced in war and Chuck says to him, ‘Chuck raised a knee to his chest. “My parents, my girlfriend, some of my friends who couldn’t pass the physical, they all ask, you know?…What was it like? That’s what they want to know. And you want to say, ’I don’t know what it was like. It happened to someone else. I was just watching it from above or something.’” He held out his hands. “I can’t explain it any better. Did that make a bit of sense?” Teddy then responds, “You can’t tell ’em. They’ll never understand. Because what you did was for the right reason. But what you did was also wrong. And you’ll never wash it off.”

We also have different shots in the movie that you can apricate like when someone mentions Dr. Sheehan, the camera often moves to Chuck. There are also different clues in the movie that tell us something about Teddy’s perception is off, for example when talking to the woman patient, when she lifts her glass of water to drink, from Teddy’s perspective her hand is empty. In both book and movie he also thinks he sees Chuck’s dead body at the base of a cliff, but when he goes down there he realizes it was just a rock that looked like a body.

The book and movie dialogue between Teddy and Chuck is also pretty cheesy, there is even a point in the book when Teddy thinks how they sound like they are in a Cagney movie. This also makes sense, considering it is just an act. The conversation he has with George Noyce also takes on a whole new meaning when you know the truth.

We also have Chuck fumbling with his gun at the start, the guards and staff being halfhearted about the whole thing, his strange interactions with people such as Naehring and the warden, and the nurse who says “usual isn’t a big part of our day” which then gets a chuckle from the other employees. Something else that is mentioned in the book is the name Teddy made up for his fake partner. The name is Chuck Aule, the last name being pronounced “all”. In the book Cawley says, “Chuck Aule. I mean, Jesus, say it a couple of times fast. It’s just another of your jokes, Andrew.” But I don’t get it. It sounds like chuck all, or check all? That’s the best I can think of but I don’t know if that’s what was meant.

I like that in the movie, once the reveal takes place some films would go back in time and show us all of the clues they had left. But this one doens’t do that, it is up to us to think back and remember, or to rewatch it and catch what we missed.

Teddy not letting go

Teddy makes numerous remarks about the patients and how what they did was terrible and insinuates that Cawley might be too nice. Teddy can’t forgive himself for what he has done, which is why he can’t forgive others either.

He can’t forgive himself for killing Dolores, but the bigger thing he can’t let go is the fact that all the signs were there, yet he did nothing about it. In the book we read, “But he’d failed her. Failed his children. Failed the lives they’d all built together because he’d refused to see Dolores, really see her, see that her insanity was not her fault, not something she could control, not some proof of moral weakness or lack of fortitude. He’d refused to see it because if she actually were his true love, his immortal other self, then what did that say about his brain, his sanity, his moral weakness?”

In the book we see numerous times when he was shown that things weren’t right and his kids were in danger. Yet he stayed busy working and drinking. In the movie we don’t get as many flashbacks and details telling us this, however we do get an amazing scene when Teddy realizes the truth and the doctors are having him repeat what happened to prove he knows the truth now. DiCaprio’s acting here is incredible and it may be my favorite scene in the whole movie.

Teddy in WW2

In both, Teddy was at Dachau, which was a Nazi death camp and Teddy was there when the prisoners were saved. In the movie Cawley says to Teddy that he really ahd been at Dachau, but he may not have killed anyone. A big part of who he is, is the story that he and the other US soldiers killed the Nazi guards even after their surrender, because what they had done to the prisoners was so horrific. In the book I don’t think there is ever a question on whether or not Teddy really did that. In the book when he is remembering the truth we read, “After the war, after Dachau, he’d swore he would never kill again unless he had no choice. Unless the other man’s gun was already pointed at him. Only then. He couldn’t take one more death. He couldn’t.”

So I think that war history is a key part to why Teddy now has to live a delusion. He experienced too much murder, and then killing Dolores even when he still loved her despite what she had done, was too much to bear.

The time period

The time period of this is very important because one, we have WW2 and all of the violence he witnessed. People seeing the inhumane and shocking experiments the Nazi’s had been doing clearly effected Teddy and was part of his delusion. Then there was the Korean war, then on top of that there was fear of what could be done with nuclear weapons which had been created for WW2. In both book and movie, there is the patient in Ward C who talks to Teddy about how a hydrogen bomb implodes in on itself, and that implosion leads to a massive explosion. We read, “It falls in on itself and goes through a series of internal breakdowns, collapsing and collapsing. But all that collapsing? It creates mass and density. See, the fury of its own self-destruction creates an entirely new monster.” This clearly seems to symbolize what is happening to Teddy. His lack of acceptance is causing an implosion, which then affects those around him and he “creates an entirely new monster” which is a line that reminds me of the line in the movie.

But on top of that happening in the world, we were on the cusp in the medical industry. Lobotomies started coming to an end in the 50’s, with the last one being performed in 1967. And in the 1950’s, pharmaceuticals were starting to become the new thing like what Sheehan talked about in the quote I shared earlier.

There is also talk of the new drugs that cause hallucinations which people were also fearful of.

Changes from book to movie

The changes that exist are pretty minor. But we have the details of Teddy’s childhood and his father which aren’t in the movie. We also get more flashbacks in the book about Teddy and Dolores. The conversation he has with the warden is also different. In both situations he has an odd conversation, but in the book the warden keeps saying the n word and saying that’s what Teddy is. So I preferred the conversation they have in the movie where the warden says how they are men of violence.

We also have Chuck and Teddy talking more with the orderlies they bunk with.

When Teddy realizes the truth, in the movie this happens after he sees the pictures of his dead children. They changed their names by the way. In the book his sons were named Edward and Daniel which is where his fake name comes from; but in the movie the son’s names are Henry and Simon, not sure why that change was made. Anyway, in the book even after the pictures he refuses to believe and it isn’t until he goes to sleep that he dreams about the truth and he wakes up realizing he is Andrew.

Book vs Movie

The book is written in such a cinematic way, they really didn’t need to make many changes at all. So many details come straight out of the book and much of the dialogue is verbatim. Since what makes the plot amazing is right from the book, it makes me want to say the book wins. The movie though is such a fantastic adaptation. The fact that the script writer knew if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but on top of that you have amazing production, direction, and of course acting. I gave the book five stars, but the movie I gave 4, so based on that on top of what I just said, I should say the book. But then there is another side of me that wants to give it to the movie for so perfectly adapting this book! Ugh this is so tough!! When I originally did this episode-because this is my second time doing a book vs movie for this! I did it before back in 2020, it was the eleventh book vs movie episode I ever did! Anyway, that time I said the movie wins. But now after seeing how well the book holds up, I am having a hard time choosing! I don’t let myself do ties, but both book and movie made tears well up in my eyes and they are both so great! Okay okay, I guess I will just say the movie wins. But I say that almost randomly because whichever I went with would have been the right choice lol.y