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'Shutter Island' (2010) - Daniels v. Laeddis

A Psychological Evaluation of the Main Character in 'Shutter Island': a Mindbender Movie where Insane Is Given a Whole New Meaning

pic cred: BabbleTop 

At the beginning of Shutter Island and throughout most of the film we know the main character as Edward (Teddy) Daniels‚a decorated U.S. Marshal and widower. He has been assigned a special case involving an escaped patient at a highly classified and heavily guarded mental institution by the name of Ashecliffe, located on Shutter Island. This location serves as the setting for the entirety of the movie, apart from flashbacks and delusions created by the mind of Teddy.

pic cred: tunefind

Toward the beginning of the film, Teddy and his partner Chuck Aule share dialogue in which Teddy reveals the loss of his wife (Dolores Chanel), his experiences during his military service, and his suspicions about what may be really going on at Ashecliffe. He claims that his wife died of smoke inhalation in their apartment building, and the resident janitor who lit the match which burned the building down—Andrew Laeddis—was a patient there. He suspects that the staff are doing experiments on the minds of the residents and confides in Chuck that he plans to collect enough evidence to expose the program for what it really is. Throughout the movie Teddy experiences many traumatic flashbacks involving WWII, as well as some alarming physical symptoms to which he credits the staff at Ashecliffe giving him substances through his food, beverages, and cigarettes. The escaped patient for which he was called there for is one Rachel Solando who eventually gets “found,” but not before Teddy discovers a note written by her with a cryptic message “The law of 4. Who is number 67?”

pic cred:

After a major storm, Teddy decides he must find out for himself what is happening in the sectioned-off, retired lighthouse which he thinks is being used for mind experiments. When he arrives at the lighthouse he is greeted by one of the doctors introduced earlier in the film, Dr. Cawley, who explains to him that he is actually Andrew Laeddis, that his wife Dolores Chanel (who was suffering from major depressive disorder) drowned his children in a lake, and that he killed her afterwards for what she had done. He is told that he’s been a patient at Ashecliffe for two years and has created a second personality and alternate reality in his mind to escape the tragedy and guilt of what happened to his family. We learn that the Law of 4 refers to the four names (Edward Daniels, Andrew Laeddis, Rachel Solando, and Dolores Chanel) which are anagrams of each other. Rachel was the name of his daughter. He’s accused of being violent and dangerous, and it is explained to him that the past few days were a large-scale role play designed to let him play out his alter-personality and finally come to the realization of who he really is. His unusual physical symptoms are explained as the effects of withdrawals from his medicine. After being bombarded with this deeply disturbing information, he is warned that if he is unable to maintain his sanity he will have to be subdued with surgery.

He seems to accept and understand everything they tell him and regain his sanity, only to relapse soon after, stating, “You know, this place makes me wonder—which would be worse? To live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” The movie ends with Teddy/Andrew being taken to have a transorbital-lobotomy. His final statement poses the question of whether he’s actually insane, or if he possibly faked his relapse into insanity to be deliberately lobotomized because he can’t cope with knowing the truth about who he is, (Shutter Island, 2010).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

pic cred: Speeli

During the course of the film, Andrew Laeddis presents with delusions/psychosis, grandiosity, hallucinations, flashbacks, irregular and traumatic dreams, addictive tendencies, paranoia, aggression and violence, and narcissism for psychological symptoms. He also suffers from nausea and vomiting, tremors, severe headaches and photosensitivity as physical symptoms, which Dr. Cawley correctly identifies as withdrawal symptoms from chlorpromazine, (MedlinePlus, 2018).

He is diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Delusional Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Dissociative Disorder, which I agree with (Shutter Island, 2010). I would add the diagnosis of Narcissistic Disorder because he exhibits grandiosity, expresses no empathy for others, and feels a need for respect/admiration (Kearney & Trull, 2015).

I would also note that he presents with an addictive personality and a tendency to abuse substances—he was partial to alcohol before being a patient at Ashecliffe, which in addition to his absence due to WWII his family suffered, particularly his wife who developed Major Depressive Disorder—and in the present he is addicted to cigarettes (Shutter Island, 2010).

Nature or Nurture

pic cred: youtube

Andrew’s origins were never discussed, but we do know that he was an alcoholic prior to becoming a patient at Ashecliffe. He seemed like a loving husband and father despite his vices, so it’s reasonable to determine that nurture rather than nature was the driving factor in the development of his mental disorders. His experiences in WWII, marital and family problems caused by his absence, and substance abuse, discovering that his wife drowned his kids, and murdering his wife are all major traumatic and high-stress situations which are more than reasonable explanations for his development of mental disorders (Shutter Island, 2010). However, a major biological risk factor for Schizophrenia is genetic influence, so there’s a possibility that Laeddis’ ancestors are likely to have had the gene for that disorder, which was passed down to him (Kearney & Trull, 2015).


pic cred: The Film Sufi

Due to the nature and severity of his symptoms, I would partially agree with Dr. Crawley and Dr. Sheehan’s treatment options which included chlorpromazine and therapy, which was basically an effort to make Laeddis as comfortable as possible for the rest of his life, since he would never be able to return to the person he once was. The chlorpromazine is used to treat Schizophrenia primarily, as well as aggression, frenzied mood, disconnection from reality, and several other symptoms, (MedlinePlus, 2018). I don’t agree with the use of the lobotomy, which has since been abandoned as a form of treatment as safer and more efficient treatment options have come out since the timeframe of this movie (1950s).

In addition to his medication, I’d suggest that Laeddis participate in therapy specifically tailored to his situation and his comorbid disorders—but it would have to be one-on-one with a therapist and probably not in group therapy due to his aggressive tendencies.


pic cred: The Obtuse Observations of a Wistful Writer

The prognosis for Laeddis is definitely negative—since previous treatment was unsuccessful, he relapsed back into insanity, he’s non-compliant with his meds, and he doesn’t seem able to recover, to the point even that he considers suicide over dealing with his guilt. He’s unlikely to ever recover (Shutter Island, 2010).


Shutter Island was an incredible movie with a major plot twist which undoubtedly warped my mind, which is one of my favorite characteristics of a movie. The CGI, acting, sensory cues and the plot were all amazing. The movie gave a better understanding of some of these more intense disorders, a look at what PTSD feels like and the way it physically affects sufferers, as well as what comorbid disorders look like from the outside. Overall I thought it was a very good representation if slightly overly dramatic, but it wouldn’t be a good movie if it wasn’t.


Kearney, C. & Trull, T. (2015). Abnormal psychology and life: A dimensional approach. (3rd ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Scorsese, M., Kalogridis, L., Medavoy, M., Messer, A. W., Fischer, B. J., Brigham, C., . . . Robertson, R. (2010). Shutter Island (Widescreen.). Hollywood, Calif.: Paramount Home Entertainment.

MedlinePlus. (2018). Chloropromazine. Retrieved from:

This paper was written as a final project for a PSY2214 class (Intro to Abnormal Psych.), hope you guys like it! 

Check out these other mindbender movies in this article: 

- Xis

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