The implausible escape of a brilliant murderess brings U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck ( played by Mark Ruffalo) to Ashecliffe Hospital, a fortress-like insane asylum located on a remote, windswept island. The woman appears to have vanished from a locked room, and there are hints of terrible deeds committed within the hospital walls. As the investigation deepens, Teddy realizes he will have to confront his own dark fears if he hopes to make it off the island alive.
Why Shutter Island?
Shutter Island has got to be one of the best psychological thriller I’ve seen. It has a massive plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. Its memorable ending left many with many questions (in a good way), leading to many meaningful discussions about it. Upon finishing movie, I watched analysis videos about this movie and was blown away by the amount of symbolism and subtle hints littered throughout the film.
Disclaimer: I am deeply sorry, but I have to spoil the massive plot twist in the movie from this point on.
“Which would be worse – to live as a monster? Or to die as a good man?” – Teddy Daniels/Andrew Laddis
That’s right, the real identity of the protagonist, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, is actually Andrew Laeddis. Andrew Laeddis is revealed to be a patient residing in the hospital located on Shutter Island. His partner, Chuck, turns out to be his doctor. The hospital decides to allow Laeddis to role-play his delusion as Teddy Daniels, in hopes of dispelling it and curing his insanity. If the role-play fails, Laeddis will be taken to be lobotomised.
Andrew Laeddis has experienced many traumatic events that drove him insane. Such events include finding out that his wife murdered their three children, and then murdering his wife himself. Ridden with guilt and remorse, Teddy Daniels is a persona that Laeddis invents to cope with this trauma. The Teddy Daniels that Laeddis invents is a brokenhearted WWII veteran whose wife was killed in a fire caused by a local arsonist.
The chosen quote is the last line of the movie. It suggested that Laeddis is sane throughout the role-play, and has purposely failed it so that he will be lobotomised. The quote means, which is worse – to live with all the guilt and remorse that Andrew Laeddis is burdened with, or to be lobotomised believing he is Teddy Daniels and escape his dark past.
In a nutshell, Andrew Laeddis is the monster, Teddy Daniels is the good man.
Breakdown of quote
“Which would be worse – to live as a monster? Or to die as a good man?”
There are two comparisons made here:
- ‘live’ vs ‘die’
- ‘monster’ vs ‘good man’
Symbolism in the movie:
- Fire: Symbolises the fantasy that Laeddis had created around himself, through the personal of Teddy Daniels.
- Water: Symbolises the reality of what happened to his wife and children (since his children were drowned by his wife in a lake behind their house).
- Fire = good man. Water = monster
These can serve as a guide for me in my concepts, portraying these comparisons using symbolism, juxtaposition and metaphors.
*Note: I ended up not using fire and water in my designs since these elements are very specific to the movie plot. It’s difficult to grasp their significance if one hasn’t watched the movie before.
In this concept, a weighing scale is used to weight the severity of the two options that Andrew Laeddis had presented. The weighing scale is balanced and not tilted to either side so as to allow the viewers to ponder about the question and come to a conclusion themselves.
- Weighing scale at equilibrium
- On one side, a live water monster – representing Laeddis
- On the other side, a skull – representing Teddy Daniels
Room for improvement:
- Very vague meaning overall
- Add in more design elements as evidence to support the quote
- Orientation of the design is more fitting for a landscape layout, not a portrait one. It is very constraining laterally and there’s a lot of free space on the top and bottom
- Hand holding weighing scale – represents viewers as the judge. They are the ones who will decide whether it would be better for Laeddis to live as a monster or die as a good man.
- Water monster – represents living as a monster. The monster is holding a gun since that’s the weapon that Laeddis used to murder his wife, which was what drove him insane.
- Skull – represents dying as a good man. The dove that flies behind the skull represents purity and goodness.
- Lack of contrast between the good and bad aspect of the character. Skull connotes death and is negative.
This concept features the two sides of Andrew Laeddis – the monster and the good man. By placing these two contrasting personalities side by side, we will be able to juxtapose and determine which option is worse.
The reference that I am using for this concept is this poster of MARVEL’s poster for ‘Captain America: Civil War’. This poster shows the contrast between two different characters very well.
- Imagery is broken into half – alive part of the face belongs to Andrew Laeddis, skull (dead) part belongs to Teddy Daniels
- Behind Laeddis is a gun, which was what made him into a murderer/monster
- Behind Daniels are lilies. Lilies are most commonly associated with funeral services as they symbolise the innocence that has been restored to the soul of the departed. They also express majesty and purity. Hence, I chose to use lilies to celebrate Daniels as a dead good man.
Room for improvement:
- Should have focused more on the face since that’s the focal point. The body is the center of attention now.
- The cut down the middle isn’t very obvious since the middle section of the body is mainly white, I might leave the body attached instead.
- I.e. Rework on composition
- Mid-shot of character – shows more emphasis on the face as compared to Development 1
- Blood splatter – I realised that simply placing a gun behind Laeddis (monster) can suggest many things in this context. It can suggest that the gun was the Laeddis’ weapon of choice or occupation, etc. To make it clear that Laeddis was a murderer, I included blood splatters to show his animosity. The blood splatters only covers half of the body, since the other half represents a good man.
- Again, skull connotes death. The good man aspect can be stronger visually.
- The flowers require more deciphering.
The artist reference for this development is Dan Hillier. Some of his works feature a single character, but with 2 faces merged together. I can use this as an inspiration to depict Laeddis’ character.
- Similar to Development 2, but mirror images of the character is used this time. I wanted to merge the two faces like what Dan Hillier did, but the results are messy due to the threshold effect.
- Shows clear contrast on the two different personas
Room for improvement:
- Positioning of gun and flowers can be improved. Eg, looking at Dan Hillier’s works, I can perhaps try to merge the two together rather than positioning them separately.
- Tried to merge the blood splatters and flowers by increasing the quantity of them
- However, there’s not much breathing space and it’s difficult to differentiate the different elements
- More breathing space this time, less clutter than the previous development
- Two guns that point at each persona – representing that both personas are bad, but which is worse?
- The blood splatters and flowers are placed above the monster and good man persona respectively.
- I can flip character’s image around and change it to white instead, to represent the good man.
- Usage of semiotics to represent good man. People may not get that flowers represent goodness immediately, they’ll need to decipher it.
- Not advisable to use skull because it has a negative connotation. Focus more on the ‘good man’ rather than death.
- Based on Mimi’s suggestions, I removed the skull and changed it to a mirror image of Leonardo.
- The left side represents the monster side, and the right side represents the good man side. This difference is shown through the colour contrast. It represents the dark and bright sides of oneself.
- The monster side features blood stains on Leonardo’s face to further re-enforce that he’s a monster. The good man side has lesser black and Leonardo’s face and clothes are clean, representing purity.
- Changing the skull to a mirror image of Leonardo is a good decision since both Leonardos are looking in each other’s directions. It’s as if the two sides are challenging each other, making the viewers wonder which side will win in the end.
- I decided to stick with the lilies as a representation of good man because flowers, in general, have positive connotations, representing goodness and purity.
Room for improvement:
- The entire composition still doesn’t feel cohesive, I find the positioning of the guns pretty strange since they’re just floating above the characters’ heads.
- Positioning of the guns have been shifted down to the bottom. This new position makes the entire composition feels more cohesive and whole now, since they’re not floating in the middle of nowhere like before.
- Blood splatters and flowers that are behind the guns are now merged into both Leonardos’ bodies, giving the sense that these symbols are part of their identity.
- Clear distinction between the monster and good man’s sides.
- Shutter Island (2010). (2017). Living in Cinema. Retrieved 3 October 2017, from http://livingincinema.com/2011/11/08/movie-quote-of-the-day-shutter-island-2010/
- http://alexlovesdiana.tumblr.com/. (2017). Rebloggy.com. Retrieved 3 October 2017, from http://rebloggy.com/post/gif-quote-life-tumblr-quotes-movie-typography-leonardo-dicaprio-mark-ruffalo-shu/29582246092
- Hillier’Puppeteer’, D. (2017). Puppeteer by Dan Hillier – Nelly Duff. [online] Nelly Duff. Available at: https://www.nellyduff.com/gallery/dan-hillier/puppeteer [Accessed 5 Oct. 2017].
- Hillier’Lark’, D. (2017). Lark by Dan Hillier – Nelly Duff. [online] Nelly Duff. Available at: https://www.nellyduff.com/gallery/dan-hillier/lark [Accessed 5 Oct. 2017].