Forget Inception; Leonardo DiCaprio's previous film, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, confused just as many cinemagoers. David Cox investigates the curious history behind one of the more troubling conclusions in recent cinema
Shutter Island is no impenetrable art-house enigma: it's an old-fashioned noirish thriller that ends with a massive plot twist. As such, you might have thought it would have been easy to understand. In fact, since the film was released in March, the blogosphere's been awash with debate about what actually happens in the final scene.
Martin Scorsese's film is based on a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane. The book's protagonist, Teddy Daniels, who's apparently a US marshal, turns out to be Andrew Laeddis, a demented killer. He's a patient in a mental hospital who's been encouraged by his psychiatrist to act out his delusion in the hope that this will dispel it. The role play fails: after a brief recovery, Andrew relapses into insanity and is therefore taken off to be lobotomised.
The film's been described as faithful to the book, and many cinemagoers seem to have assumed that it's telling the same story. Leonardo DiCaprio's Teddy does indeed turn out to be Andrew. However, before he falls into the clutches of the lobotomists, he utters a line that isn't in the book. "This place makes me wonder," he asks, "which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?"