Shutter Island book and movie comparison Review

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003)

Shutter Island directed by Martin Scorsese (2010)

October is here! October was actually my favorite month in the past. It’s the start of cool, crisp temperatures, beautiful fall colors, my birthday month, Halloween kicks off the holiday season, and finally, scary movie season! I still like October for all of those reasons, other than the last one. So, here’s the deal. I grew up loving scary movies, my dad would watch them and I looked up to my dad, so I watched them too. They made me scared of the dark, yet the thrill you get from watching them was exhilarating enough that I felt it was worth the fear that came at night. I was never into the slasher/torture movies, but I loved horror, creepy, thrilling, scary movies.

Then, in 2015, I watched a scary movie and while watching it I didn’t think it was that scary. Going to bed though, I had that feeling of fear stick with me all night. And at this time, I was sleeping in my sister’s basement, so that certainly didn’t help things. Then a few months later, I watched another scary movie. This one creeped me out/disturbed me so much I didn’t even finish it! At this point I was living with roommates, and that night my roommate was out of town and I legit slept with the bedroom light on all night. This room was at the top of the stairs too, so I kept imagining someone/something climbing up the stairs to get me.

Anyway, that night, as I lay there, I was like what the heck am I doing?? I’m an adult, yet here I am, with the light on, scared to sleep in the dark. I realized that watching these movies was not at all worth it. And that was the last scary movie I ever watched!

Now the definition of “scary” can differ to person to person. I have stopped watching what I consider to be scary. Some may consider Shutter Island scary, but it is more suspense/thriller, a genre I still enjoy. But as far as movies I consider scary, I am proud to say I have been scary movie free for five years!

So anyway, that is why the books I will be talking about this month, while having a Halloweenesque theme, won’t be very scary. Sorry to any horror fans out there. Like I said though, there will be suspense, murder mysteries and books of that nature so it’ll still fit the season somewhat.

As you can see, today’s book is Shutter Island! If you aren’t familiar with the story, here is the synopsis.


The book is set in 1954 and Teddy Daniels is a US Marshal who has been sent to Shutter Island-home to the Ashcliffe mental institutional for the criminally insane. He has been assigned a partner named Chuck, and they have been assigned to go and look into an escaped patient named Rachel Solando. A woman who is there because she went crazy and drowned her three kids.

After a day of investigating, Teddy confides in Chuck, telling him he has been researching Ashcliffe for the past year, and that he jumped on the chance to be sent over. We find out that his wife, Dolores, died in a fire when a guy named Andrew Laeddis burned their apartment building down. He claimed insanity and was sent to Ashcliffe. Teddy wants to find Laeddis to avenge his dead wife.

Later, they say that Rachel has been returned and they meet her, but Teddy feels like something is off. And even though the patient has now returned, the marshals can’t leave the island because there is a hurricane preventing anyone from leaving. While there, they still check the place out for Laeddis, whom the doctor in charge, Crawley, denies is there. Teddy tells Chuck that in his research, he found out that Ashcliffe is doing experimental surgeries on their patients, similar to the experiments that were performed on prisoners during the Holocaust. They go to the ward that has the most dangerous criminals and try to find info. While there, a prisoner gets Teddy question whether Chuck is trustworthy. After leaving the ward, Teddy goes his own way and happens upon a cave where the real Rachel is hiding out.

She confirms his suspicions of the experimental research that has been going on. She says she had been a doctor there, but when she didn’t agree with their methods, they tried to make her think she was crazy, and are keeping her locked up. Eventually, he has to leave, and he never sees her again.

He doesn’t see Chuck when he gets back to the main building, and when he asks Crawley where Chuck is, Crawley tells him that he came here alone and there is no Chuck.

Teddy doesn’t believe him and thinks Crawley is trying to convince Teddy he himself is crazy, because Crawley doesn’t like him snooping around and discovering the truth.

That night Teddy escapes and hides out, then sets fire to Crawley’s car as a diversion to get to the lighthouse. He thinks they are keeping Chuck held hostage in the lighthouse-also where he thinks they are performing these surgeries/experiments.

He gets there and sees Crawley, who is totally calm. Long story short-Teddy is Andrew Laeddis. And there is no Rachel Solando. Turns out Teddy (Andrew) has been at the institution for two years because he came home and found that his wife had drowned their kids. He ends up shooting her, and later goes crazy and creates this story in his head where he is a man named Teddy Daniels, who is seeking to avenge his dead wife. He also blocked out the memory of ever having kids but created this Rachel character who did to her kids what Dolores actually did to theirs. He creates this fantasy, because he can’t bare the guilt he feels. He knew Dolores wasn’t mentally stable, and his kids even gave him warnings about their mom acting strange. Andrew became and alcoholic to try and put things out of his head.

Andrew eventually has a breakthrough and believes what Crawley and Chuck (who is actually a doctor named Sheehan) are telling him. They tell him they set aside these four days, so allow Andrew to carry out this delusion in hopes it would help him realize the truth. So, they are doing radical experiments there-just not the kind Teddy came up with in his head.

The next day Andrew gets up and walks over to Sheehan to ask him for a light. Sheehan, trying to get a feel for what frame of mind he’s in, asks, “What’s the plan for today boss?” Andrew replies saying they need to find a way off this rock to get home. Sheehan says, that’s what he thought he would say, and signals to Crawley. Crawley and some orderlies walk over in a way that implies that are going to resort to something more extreme (such as lobotomies, which were common back then) because clearly Andrew has once again regressed.

Teddy and Chuck at the end

Thoughts on Book

Reading this book made me regret already having seen the movie. It would have been a fun experience to read it, not knowing that Teddy was crazy all along. Having said that, reading it already knowing the twist, made me notice all the clues that are given throughout the book. I read it in two days, so it clearly kept my interest. A lot of the lines spoken between Chuck and Teddy are pretty cheesy, and at one point Teddy even says how he feels like he’s in a James Cagney movie. When you know that the whole thing is a set-up, the cheesy lines make sense because it’s not even real anyway. His whole delusion is once cliche after another.

It is a story that centers around mental illness, not just in a way to give an interesting story, but to give insight into the reality of various forms of mental illness. Also giving us a look at how these illnesses were dealt with in the past. Lobotomies and electroshock are things that now seem barbaric, but at the time they didn’t know how to treat these patients and the mental institutions were getting too full.

A doctor who did the first transorbital lobotomy was a Dr. Walter Freeman, and it was performed on Sallie Ellen Ionesco in 1946. She was a housewife who suffered from severe depression, and since there were no pharmaceuticals, her family resorted to a lobotomy. She was 29 at the time and went on to live another 61 years. Her daughter is quotes as saying “It’s a hard decision to make, but inevitably life is just full of decisions like that… For me it was a good thing. I think for mama it was a good thing. And I think the lobotomy he did on her was a very good thing. Certainly the electroshock therapy was. Of course, now they have medicine for this, so it’s all a moot point. But they had nothing back then. That’s the thing, people who are looking at it don’t understand, they didn’t have anything else and nobody was coming up with anything.”

Ionesco later in life

Lobotomies were eventually outlawed in the 60’s. They worked some of the time (like in the case of Ionesco) but patients would often die, or take a very long time to recover from it. There was a case where one was performed on 12 year old Howard Dully. It took him decades to recover from the procedure. During his life he was institutionalized, incarcerated, and eventually became a homeless alcoholic. Though eventually Dully sobered up and even received a college degree.

Along with people’s opinions changing, (or the ones who had disagreed all along were just able to get a larger following) medications also began being introduced which caused lobotomies to be deemed unnecessary. Though electroshock was still a common thing for quite some time longer. It is still legal today, though you don’t hear about it being done really. By the way, the last lobotomy the famous (infamous?) Dr. Freeman did ended with the woman having a brain hemorrhage and dying.

Nowadays, prescriptions are given out left and right to deal with a person’s mental illness’. In the book, Dr. Crawley and Dr.  Sheehan are doing this test on Andrew to prove that a patient can be cured in more civil ways than surgeries and medications. There’s a quote from Sheehan where he’s telling Andrew, “Listen to me. If we fail here, we’ve lost. Not just with you. Right now, the balance of power in 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.”

This book was published in 2003, so it’s not like Lehane was seeing into the future. But the number of people addicted to opioids and benzos is definitely higher now than ever before. I know there are times when medication is necessary. But in cases where the medication is given because it is just the easier route, or if you want to get all conspiracy theory, because the government wants us addicted to those drugs, so they have doctors pushing them on us more and more. This book raises the question, which is more inhumane, getting people and kids addicted to medications, or giving people lobotomies?

Anyway! That was a long lobotomy tangent-now on to the movie!


The movie follows the book extremely closely. I had watched this movie back around the time it came out, but I actually am not sure if I watched it more than once. Which, if I did only watch it once, I still remembered a lot about it, so that shows it’s not a story you are likely to forget. I did forget that it was directed by Martin Scorsese. It definitely isn’t quite his usual kind of story, but his directing is of course perfect. This DiCaprio/Scorsese combo is the only one never to have been nominated for anything! Again, I think it just isn’t Scorsese’s usual, so maybe it just didn’t get the attention it should have.


Now, I am probably biased when it comes to the acting. While reading this book, I pictured all the actors below in their perspective roles, so it therefore made me feel like they were all perfectly cast. Also, just look at that list! An all-star cast!

Leonardo DiCaprio gives an amazing performance as Teddy/Andrew. Has DicCaprio ever given a bad performance though? Side story on DiCaprio-when I was a kid my family was raised not liking him because my parents didn’t like Titanic. I know, they were basically the only people who saw it in theaters and disliked it haha. But, now that I have seen Titanic for myself, I agree with their opinion. I personally feel that most of James Cameron movies are incredibly overrated. Don’t even get me started on Avatar. But then, in 2004 The Aviator came out, and when it was released on DVD we watched it and loved it! From that time forth, we were all huge DiCaprio fans.

Kingsley, DiCaprio, Scorsese and Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo plays Chuck/Dr. Sheehan. He got this role because he wrote Scorsese a letter, saying how much he would like to work with him. Ruffalo was a fairly well-known actor (I had liked him in 13 Going on 30, Zodiac, Just Like Heaven, and this). Just two years after Shutter Island he became a very well-known actor when he took on the role of The Hulk. I personally have a strong dislike for superhero movies (at least all the ones that came out after 2010), but I will forgive Ruffalo for choosing to be part of the genre.

Ben Kingsley is Dr. Crawley, and once again, has Kinsley every given a bad performance?? He definitely didn’t disappoint with this one. I think his character had a bit more lines in the book, so my only complaint is that they didn’t give him more screen time.

Michelle Williams plays Teddy’s dead wife Dolores. She shows up in his dreams, as a hallucination, and in the scenes where we are taken into the past. Even with her somewhat limited screen time, she gives a stellar performance.

Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson plays the two different roles of Rachel. The two portrayals are very different, and both are perfectly executed.

Movie Differences

There are scenes that were left out that had been in the book, but as far as changes to the story there are very few.

When they first get to the island, they see the Warden in the distance and are told they will meet him later. Teddy thinks this is odd that he isn’t meeting him right now. In the movie, he doesn’t even see the Warden till about halfway through.

When he is searching Solondo’s room, in the book Crawley shows him the paper with the code she has written on it. In the movie, he finds the paper himself, under a tile in the floor. With this code, in the movie all it says is “The law of 4/who is 67?” In the book there was more to it, it was, “the law of 4/I am 47/they were 80/+you are 3/we are 4/but/who is 67?” Throughout the book there are other codes left behind by Rachel that Teddy discovers. Of course, we know that Rachel didn’t leave any of these codes, it is Andrew leaving codes and finding codes where there are none. In the movie they only have that one code.

In the book and movie there are a number of dreams that Teddy has. In the book he has a bit more than the movie, and Lehane does a great job illustrating the weirdness of dreams. I think his descriptions of them are more dreamlike that what they are able to show in the movie. In the book when he dreams of Dolores she often wet, and there’s the reoccurring line, “why are you all wet, baby?” The movie has the line, but I think it is said more in the book. Also, in the book, there is water seeping from her stomach in his dreams. In the movie it is a bit more graphic because they have blood coming from her stomach instead.

Williams as Dolores with Teddy in the background

In the movie, the first talk of transoribital lobotomy is mentioned by Crawley when talking to Teddy and Chuck, as well as of some of the medications they give. In the book I’m pretty sure Teddy was the one who brought this up when talking to Chuck. Of course, he goes even further with talk of them giving patients hallucinogens. Also believing they are doing lobotomies in order to remove thoughts, feelings and memories so that they can create a “ghost” army to be released into the world. “Ghost”, because mentally these people aren’t all there. Of course, this is all in Teddy’s head, and part of this conspiracy he has created.

Later, Teddy and Chuck gather the orderlies, doctors and nurses to investigate Rachel Solando. In both, the group is acting pretty casual and just wanting to go to bed, which Teddy finds odd considering there is a mental patient lose. There is a part when he is asking a nurse about anything unusual happening. She says that she works in a mental hospital, “usual isn’t a big part of our day.” Watching/reading this with the knowledge that this whole thing is a set-up, going along with Teddy’s delusion, makes this line even more applicable. In the movie, whenever talk of Dr. Sheehan is brought up, the camera will go to Chuck. Not in an obvious way, but once again, when you are watching this already having the knowledge that Chuck is Sheehan, it makes you notice those little signs like that, that are given.

questioning the patients

The next day Teddy and Chuck meet the patients one by one who had been in the same group therapy as Rachel. There is the Peter guy, who Teddy has a strong dislike for. In the movie, Teddy starts moving his pencil on the paper as a way to annoy Peter, because he can’t take the sound of pencil on paper. In the book, Peter tells them this before Teddy starts doing it, but in the movie,  Teddy is never told. I guess in Teddy’s sub-conscious he already knew this would get to Peter, considering the had probably met before? I’m not sure. In the book it describes a few more interactions they have with patients. In the movie they just show Peter, and the Mrs. Kearns lady, the one who Teddy can tell has been coached to recite specific lines about Rachel. Then later she writes “run” in Teddy’s notebook.

The scene where they tell him Rachel is found and they go see her is done in the movie almost exactly as in the book. The only difference is that Rachel didn’t stand, he actually went and sat beside her. Shortly after, he gets his really bad migraine, in the book he notices what looks like shoe polish on his fingers and realizes that it is from Rachel’s hair. Meaning they died her hair, and she isn’t the real Rachel.

When they send him to bed because of his migraine, in the book they have him sleep in a private room Crawley uses to take naps. In the movie he is sleeping in a room surrounded by other people.

When he wakes up, in the book, Crawley is sitting there beside him. Crawley asks Teddy if he is suicidal and Teddy says yeah and that’s the reason he doesn’t drink anymore. Crawley tells him he will give him some names of psychiatrists to see when he leaves the island. Teddy says it isn’t necessary, but Crawley tells him he really should see someone. In the movie, he wakes up and Chuck is there and there is no conversation about suicide.

Scorsese, DiCaprio and Ruffalo

Later, when they go to Ward C, in both the book and movie Chuck and Teddy get separated. However, in the book they agree to separate, whereas in the movie is happens accidently. In the movie, when they are separated, and Teddy comes across a patient who is running around playing “tag”. He and Teddy fight, and Teddy injures him pretty bad. In the book, Chuck was still with him when they come across this guy, plus there is an orderly who is also trying to get the guy. The orderly is the one who causes the most damage to the patient, and Chuck has to tell the guy to stop. The three of them take the man back to his cell and Chuck tells the orderly to get a doctor. The orderly thinks he means get a doctor for himself, because he had been injured in the fight. But then Chuck is like, “no, for him”, so that whole scene kind of clues you in that Chuck works there because he is giving orders to the staff.

in Ward C

The patient, in both book and movie, before they start fighting is talking to Teddy about he how he has heard there is a hydrogen bomb. A passage from the book has him saying, “But a hydrogen bomb, it implodes. 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. You get it? Do you? The bigger the breakdown, then the bigger the destruction of self, then the more potent it becomes. And then… bang, boom, whoosh. In its absence of self, it spreads. Creates an explosion off of its implosion that is a hundred times, a thousand times, a million times more devastating than any bomb in history. That’s our legacy. and don’t you forget it.”

This is symbolic of what is happening with Teddy, and the other mental patients. They are self-destructing from the inside, and that implosion leads to the destruction of the world around them.

Then Teddy runs into George Noyce (played by the incredibly talented Jackie Earle Haley). What plays out in the movie is basically exactly what happens in the book. I’ve seen online that people having questions with George Noyce, like why does “Teddy” know who he is if he doesn’t know he himself is a patient. In the book this is clearly explained, because Noyce is part of the delusion he created. He believes he is someone he had met in a regular prison, during that imaginary year when he was investigating Ashcliffe. He is surprised to see him back at Ashcliffe though, because as said, he thinks he is someone he had met that was in a regular jail.

Later there is the whole thing with him and Chuck going separate ways once they are outside, and Teddy comes across the ‘real Rachel’ in the cave. The movie follows the book very closely with this whole thing. She of course confirms his suspicions on the experimental surgeries that are being done for their ghost assassins. She is just a figment of his imagination though, so that is why she is saying all of this stuff that goes along with his delusion.

After this, he is picked up by the warden in both book and movie. The conversation the has with the warden is a bit longer in the book. When he gets back, he sees Crawley who tells him he didn’t come here with a partner. I wish they would have stuck with this narrative a bit longer, and made you really wonder if he just made Chuck up. However, Teddy doesn’t believe it at all and wants to find a way to escape, and to rescue Chuck whom he thinks they are holding hostage and are going to do experiments on him.

This look tells you all you need to know about Teddy’s opinion of the warden

When he gets back to where he is staying he is talking to the orderly they share a room with, named Trey. In the book, Trey helps him and tells him where on the fence the electric wire isn’t working and this whole thing about a boat called Betsy Ross that comes by that he needs to use to escape. The movie doesn’t have this scene, Teddy just escapes out of the room without Trey noticing. The book has more scenes with Trey and the other orderly they share a room with. Early on there is a scene where the four of them are playing cards and Teddy is impressed at how well Chuck hits it off with these strangers. Of course, when you know that Chuck is actually a doctor who works there, it makes sense why he gets along so well with them. He’s known them for years and this certainly isn’t his first time playing cards with them.

Anyway, in both he decides to forget trying to escape and instead try and rescue Chuck whom he thinks is in the lighthouse. Once he gets there, Crawley is there. What plays out in the movie is very similar to the book. In the movie, at one point he grabs his pistol which had been on the desk and tries to shoot. Turns out it’s a fake gun that he is able to break in his hands. In the book Crawley hands him the gun. Teddy shoots and turns out it’s a water gun. The book also has one last code Teddy comes across and while they are telling him who he really is, he realized the code comes out to “you are him”.

In the book, he still refuses to believe, and it isn’t till he goes to bed that night that he has a dream about what really happened and the truth about how his wife really died. Then he wakes up and Crawley and Chuck are there. This is fairly similar to the movie, though he kind of collapses while in their office and they move him to his bed. The flashback scene that shows what really happened is exactly the same in both. The movie does a remarkable job with this. It is such a tragic scene, DiCaprio and Williams do an incredible job plus the music and the cinematography really bring the whole heartbreaking moment all together.

One change they made in the movie I didn’t like, was the names of his kids. His daughter’s name is still Rachel, but in the book his sons’ names were Edward and Daniel. This alter ego he has created is named Edward Daniels, though he goes by the nickname Teddy. In the movie his sons’ names are Simon and Henry, which have no significance.

Bringing his kids out of the lake

The biggest difference of all, is the very, very end. In the movie, after realizing who he is, he goes and is sitting outside. Sheehan walks up and asks what the plan is. He then calls him Chuck, and says they need to find a way off this rock. Sheehan looks over at Crawley and gives him a slight shake of the head, to which Ben Kingsley as Crawley gives a heartbreaking look, realizing all is lost. Then the orderlies proceed to walk towards him. Teddy then turns to Chuck and says the line, “This place has me wondering-is it better to live as a monster or to die a good man?” He then gets up and follows the orderlies to wherever they are taking him. I think this line implies that he still knows full well who he truly is, he just doesn’t want to except it and would rather die than deal with the guilt. In the book this final line is never said. So, we don’t know for sure if he truly regressed once more, or if like in the movie, he is choosing to just act like he regressed.

Both the book and movie talk about how he had been in World War 2 and was there when the soldiers took over the Dachau death camp, where the Americans gunned down all the Nazi officers. In both it shows how his delusions also stemmed from PTSD which he never got over.

Not only did he become an alcoholic to suppress the truth about his wife’s insanity, it was also the only way he knew to deal with his PTSD (which of course he didn’t realize was PTSD). He hadn’t believed in mental illness and felt that it was his wife’s choice. Same with him, he didn’t want to believe he would have mental health issues caused by the war.

Final Thoughts

This movie has become well known for being so confusing, with its out of the blue twist at the end. I think that’s why I even forgot it was a Scorsese, because he isn’t known for making movies with a shocking twist. I remember hearing people talk about being confused, and I’m sure it took me a while to fully piece it all together after watching it for the first time. (Even though I remembered the story, I don’t have a memory of what it was like to watch it that first time.) This time around, I didn’t find it confusing due to the fact that I had just read the book. The book actually isn’t confusing at all. If you don’t know the twist, you will be surprised, but Lehane explains it all in a way so that you aren’t left scratching your head. The book has a number of flashbacks that aren’t in the movie. Including memories to when he first met Dolores, memories of their conversation the morning she set the apartment on fire, as well as remembering the mental illness she was suffering but he chose to ignore. All these scenes help you to understand the truth of what has happened.

Oh, and just one more thing with what was left out. Teddy thinks his wife died when their apartment was set on fire. There was a fire, however it was Dolores who set it on fire. There is also talk of a place called The Coconut Grove, where they had met for the first time. While Teddy is in the war, it gets burned down. Safe to assume Dolores did it.

There is a lot more that could be said about this book as well as its subject matter in general. But I feel like this post as already gone on longer than usual so I’ll wrap it up.

Book or Movie?

Honestly, this is a hard one to decide. The movie is creepier I think than the book. Though the book talks more about what the various patients are in for, which can be disturbing. As I said, the book explains things much better and you won’t be left feeling confused.

The movie though really is so well done and I have no complaints. Amazing acting, and even with the minor changes and scenes that are left out, they still stay true to the book. The book does focus maybe a bit more on mental illness and the struggle between doctors who want to medicate/use electroshock and lobotomies versus doctors like Sheehan and Crawley who believe that there are more hands-on methods and types of therapies that can be done to help the patients.

Ultimately, I think I have to say this is a tie. You could go with either one and wouldn’t go wrong. Like I said, the book provides more clarity, so if you want to see more into Teddy’s past, then go with the book. But after reading the book, you should then go watch the movie.