Plot Summary of the Movie "Shutter Island"

by Mary Freeman
Shutter Island takes place at a hospital for the criminally insane.

Shutter Island takes place at a hospital for the criminally insane.

Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

"Shutter Island" is a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Martin Scorcese. The movie, based on Dennis Lehane's book of the same title, follows federal marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule as they explore an isolated mental hospital and its grounds, looking for a patient who has mysteriously vanished. Everything Daniels learns forces him into new mysteries, as he struggles with his own past and with memories of his dead wife.

Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane

The movie opens on two U.S. marshals, Daniels (DiCaprio) and Aule (Mark Ruffalo), traveling to Shutter Island, a windswept bit of land in Boston Harbor. When they land, they are ushered into Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, an asylum and treatment facility for violent patients. The guards at the gate make them surrender their weapons, which they do, grudgingly. They learn that the hospital is divided into male and female wards, along with a third building that houses the most dangerous patients.

Rachel Solando is Missing

The marshals meet with Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the lead psychiatrist at the hospital. He explains that Rachel Solando, who drowned her three children some years previous, has vanished from her locked cell. The marshals are charged with finding her. Daniels and Aule interview Cawley, hospital guards and Solando's fellow patients, who all provide unhelpful information.

Andrew Laeddis and Dolores Chanal

While the two men explore Shutter Island, we are told that Daniels had a wife, Dolores Chanal, who died in a fire set by a scarred, brutal man named Andrew Laeddis. Daniels suspects that Laeddis, a former patient at Ashecliffe, is still on the island. His search for Solando becomes entangled with his search for Laeddis and his struggle to accept his wife's death.

Headaches and Visions

Meanwhile, Daniels suffers from vivid dreams and crippling headaches. He fought in World War II and encountered a number of horrible scenes, including an abandoned concentration camp and a dying German soldier. His dreams shift from violent war scenes to images of his wife. He comes to suspect that Cawley is poisoning him, and he grows increasingly suspicious of everyone around him.

Rachel Solando Discovered Twice

The elusive Solando suddenly appears in the midst of the investigation, with no explanation of how she escaped. She seems highly delusional and makes little sense to the marshals. Daniels, who by this point suspects that his partner is conspiring against him, later searches the island by himself and finds a woman hiding in a cave; she also identifies herself as Solando. She tells him that Ashecliffe Hospital conducts mind-control experiments in the island's lighthouse in an attempt to create obedient super-soldiers.

The Lighthouse (Spoiler)

During the last scene, Daniels explores the forbidden lighthouse, only to find his partner and Cawley waiting for him. They tell him he is a patient on Shutter Island, institutionalized for killing his wife after she drowned their three children. The entire time he spent on the island was an elaborate psychological intervention designed to get Daniels -- whose real name turns out to be Andrew Laeddis -- to accept reality. He is given a choice to break free from his delusions or to be lobotomized. He chooses the lobotomy, apparently unable or unwilling to live with the truth.

About the Author

Mary Freeman is a freelance writer. She has held several editorial positions at the print publication, "The Otter Realm." She traveled throughout Europe, which ultimately resulted in an impromptu move to London, where she stayed for eight months. This life experience inspired her to pursue travel writing. Freeman received a degree in human communication from California State University.

Photo Credits

  • Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images