Spectators who were once Plato’s prisoners have now become Martin Scorsese’s mental patients in cinema’s next evolutionary step Shutter Island. Using the term spectator will refer to those who in the past have been like Plato’s prisoner chained since childhood (Baudry 172). Chained and conditioned to consciously allow themselves to be victims of an illusory screen. Through visual and aural misperceptions and discontinuous editing, Scorsese communicates several spectral revelations that further evolve the spectator’s viewership by engaging in a visual discourse using repetitive images of the close-up, water and a record player. The effect of these images builds on the narrative itself, which is in allegorical alignment of the cinematic apparatus defined by Jean-Louis Baudry as a network that includes the screen, the spectator, and the projector.The allegorical alignment begins in the opening scene on the ship. Starting with the first character on screen, albeit from a distance, is an outline of Dr. Sheehan. Also, known as Detective Chuck Aule, who is playing a role in Andrew Laeddis’s fantasy. With the help of his colleague Dr. Cawley, the two of them orchestrates a scheme from details of Laeddis’s own fantasy that he has told them repeatedly over the last two years. By guiding the main character through this illusory story aligns Dr. Sheehan with Martin Scorsese as they are both guiding patients through a psychological maze. Dr. Sheehan is tricking Laeddis throughout the film, misleading him with purposeful lies to prove that Laeddis’s story of being Detective Teddy Daniels in search of a missing patient stems from a delusion. Dr. Sheehan lets his patient live out his delusion in hopes that he will realize that he will be able to identify himself as Andrew Laeddis, not his imaginary character Teddy Daniels, when looking into a mirror.
After the establishing shot, there is a cut to the interior of the ship. The first cut is outside the bathroom, Laeddis is seen through a door frame bent over the toilet. When the camera cuts to inside the bathroom, the camera is aimed directly at the mirror. The effect of this shot is for the spectator to see that they are not reflected in it, so when Laeddis raises his head in the frame, the spectator will identify with his character. This introduction through a mirror is in and of itself enough analogy to complete an analysis of this film. However, the significance here is the idea that the film is like the mirror, as Metz states, a strange mirror that differs from the primordial mirror in that there is one thing that is never reflected in it, the spectator’s own body (702). The mirrored close-up shot suggests a duplication, one that the spectator will have with Laeddis’s dual character. The spectator cannot identify himself as an object, but only with objects like Laeddis’s close-up, water and a record player, which are there without him. The process of identifying with objects on screen is known as secondary identification, with a person’s primary identification occurring around 18 months after they are able to recognize their physical presence in a mirror (Metz 699).
This shot also exposes the spectator to the close-up for the first time, which is one of the repeated objects Scorsese uses as visual dialogue. According to Baudry with every single close-up in the cinema the spectator is seeing himself anew (175). Therefore, making the identification with the leitmotif stare particularly important, as it occurs every time DiCaprio’s dual character confronts itself. Seen for the first time when Andrew Laeddis stares into the mirror and says, “Get yourself together Teddy” (2010). The reason he addresses himself as such is that he is a mental patient who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder as stated by the film’s Psychiatric Consultant Dr. James Gilligan (DID) (Shutter Island 2010).
Dr. Steinberg in her book The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation- The Hidden Epidemic, defines dissociation as an adaptive response to high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself or one’s surrounding (12). This directly envelopes then spectator’s cinematic experience while watching the film itself. What is striking about this disorder, is how prevalent it is, which Dr. Steinberg reveals that DID symptoms are as common as depression or anxiety (Steinberg 14). The spectator has sat down in their seat, boarded a ship and dived into the mind of an unknown character. One they may be for the first time finding out suffers from the exact same disorder they do while they are seated in the theater.
People with severe DID like Laeddis, suffer intrusive memory fragments, repeated flashbacks, and replays of the trauma itself. The effects of this disorder are in disturbingly close allegorical alignment with the spectator as he sits in the theater. The spectator has already been shown that they cannot be reflected into the mirror and is thus made to identify with objects on screen that are there without him. A process of identification which directly coincides with a primary core symptoms of dissociation, depersonalization. Depersonalization is when a person detaches from themselves due to significant traumatic or stressful event. Admittedly, the spectator may not have endured a traumatic event like Andrew Laeddis, but even stress from work or family can induce this disorder. Dr. Steinberg states that the difference between normal and abnormal dissociation is a matter of too much of a good thing. An adaptive, even life-saving response to a traumatic event for a person somehow persists and recurs long after the danger has passed (Steinberg 16).
By analyzing the variety of visual-aural tricks Scorsese uses will prove the theory that while the spectator sits in the theater they have Dissociative Identity Disorder. These highly elaborate filmic manipulations allegorize two of the symptoms brought on by DID (Steinberg 15). First, ‘derealization’, a detachment from one’s environment. For Laeddis it is the refusal of admitting that he has been a patient at Ashecliff for two years. For the spectator, this is the habitual forgetting that they are a part of the cinematic apparatus as it has been made to induce a dreamlike state. Breakdown the cave scene with Laeddis and Rachel Solando, who is only a figment of imagination, a delusional scene that never took place.
Whenever Rachel is talked about in the film, especially by Dr. Cawley and Dr. Sheehan it is about Laeddis. The purpose of using Rachel in this hallucinatory way is to make a play on identity that started in the bathroom scene. This is explained by the second symptom of DID, identity confusion. For those who suffer from DID is identity confusion is a feeling of uncertainty, puzzlement or conflict about who they are as a person (Steinberg 16). When Laeddis addresses himself as Teddy, he is talking to an imaginary character who is off screen. This aligns Teddy, as well as Rachel, with the spectator as they too are off screen. Everything communicated with out of frame characters like Teddy and Rachel, brings them closer to the spectator since the spectator is also out of frame (Metz 705). Meaning that every time Teddy is confronted by Laeddis or any other character, it is the spectator who is being confronted.
The effect of that scene is built on the visual-aural disconnect established in the previous scene of the ship. In this opening scene of the ship is where the spectator first starts to take on Laeddis’s dissociative attributes. The denoted image of a ship is accompanied by the impression of a fog horn, except the sound is coming from an extra-diegetic score entitled Fog Tropes. In an interview Scorsese said he wanted the spectator not to know “whether it is a foghorn or music” (Shutter Island 2010). Why? Because it is a dissociation between a visual object and sound made to disorient the spectator. The effect of this disassociation is the blurring of the real and the imaginary.
The connection between Teddy and the spectator is made through the second part of the cinematic apparatus, the screen. If Scorsese were writing his discourse in words, the screen would be the paper, the ink would be the image, and the projector would be the pen. However, in the theater, the spectator’s screen is an artificial psychosis that provides them an impression of reality (Baudry 179). The screen for Laeddis is the hallucinatory psychosis he has lived in the past two years where he believes he is a detective in search for a missing patient that he in the film mistakes for reality. By examining the first scene with Laeddis and Dr. Sheehan will prove this connection between the imaginary character Teddy and the spectator. As previously stated, Dr. Sheehan is a metaphor for the auteur Scorsese, so while Dr. Sheehan is narratively lying to Laeddis about being his partner named Chuck Aule, the spectator is being visually lied to by the auteur through discontinuous editing.
When Laeddis asks, “How long you been with the Marshals?” Dr. Sheehan, known as Chuck in this part of the film, replies “Four years” (2010). This is a lie that is visually complimented by a jump cut where the two characters are in completely different positions. When Laeddis first asks the question, there is a two-shot where he is staring directly at Dr. Sheehan who is staring at the ground. After he answers “Four years” there is a quick cut where Laeddis is now staring out to his left away from Dr. Sheehan who is now staring directly at Laeddis. The argument of this jump cup could be that some time has passed between the shots and that may be so as it is hard to tell from the environment how much time has passed. Even if there was enough time for them to make those movements it is not visually expressed to the spectator. However, the next time Laeddis is told a lie, inside Dr. Cawley’s office, the environment is more static and restrained than an obscure white foggy background.
In this scene, there is a clear action, Dr. Cawley shaking Laeddis’s hand, which indicates how much time that has passed. When the two characters are shaking hands, there is a jump cut where the two are no longer shaking hands and looking in different directions. In this cut it is evident that enough time has not passed for them to make these movements. Once again this discontinuous editing occurs during a lie, as Dr. Cawley acknowledges Laeddis as Detective Teddy Daniels and his colleague Dr. Sheehan as Chuck. What these two discontinuously edited shots have in common is the second object of visual discourse in the film, water.
While on the ship Laeddis’s feelings about water are described in the novel; “Never enjoyed being out on the water, took no pleasure from such a lack of land, of visions of land, things you could reach out and touch without your hands dissolving into them” (Lehane 11). These things one can reach out and touch with one’s hands dissolving into them perfectly describes a voyeur in search for his desired object. An object that is merely an illusion as it is not physically there. Water represents an illusory defense mechanism blocking Laeddis from the fact that his children and wife are dead. If he is to see water, then he is forced to recognize himself as Andrew Laeddis. In the same way, the spectator must realize they are prey of an illusion and recognize that while sitting in the theater they too are under a hallucinatory psychosis induced by the cinematic apparatus.
In describing this apparatus, Baudry returns to Plato’s prisoner who “is the victim of an illusion of reality, precisely what is known as a hallucination, if one is awake as a dream, if asleep, he is the prey of an impression of reality” (176). The visual connection between water and the illusory is established in the introductory bathroom scene. After the close-up shot of Laeddis through the mirror, there are several cuts every time he says the word water (Shutter Island 2010). With these rapid cuts in various angles at the word water, the spectator is led to take on yet another one of Laeddis’s internal struggles, his fear of water. Which is the fear of acknowledging that he has been living in a hallucinatory psychosis. In the film, illusions of time lapses and memory fragments which stem from symptoms of DID are associated with images of water.
By setting up this visual association with water so early in the film, slowly builds the tension in subsequent scenes. Images of water and discontinuous editing interact with each other like two tectonic plates rubbing against each other before an earthquake. This Scorsese-made earthquake is magnified when Laeddis is interviewing Bridget Kearns about Rachel Solando. When Laeddis asks Bridget if Dr. Sheehan ever made an advance on her she gets nervous and asks for a glass of water. Without noticing, Laeddis asks her the question while Dr. Sheehan is sitting at the table. It is Dr. Sheehan, acting as Chuck, who stands up to get her a glass of water.
Dr. Sheehan returns with a glass of water in his hands, there is a cut to a close-up of Bridget, she raises an empty C-shaped hand to her mouth. There is a jump cut to the table where she puts down an empty glass. Another cut shows a reaction shot of Laeddis, that leitmotif stare the spectator first saw in the mirror. After a long pause, he asks Bridget, “You ever heard of a patient here named Andrew Laeddis?” (2010). She becomes so visibly upset by the question, as does the spectator who watches this film for a second time, as he is saying, ‘do you know who I am because I clearly do not, and if you do call me Andrew I will beat you to death.’
Through his actions towards the character George Noyce he proves that he is willing to kill anyone that calls him Andrew. Returning to Plato’s prisoner Baudry asserts that “it is true they are chained, but freed, they would still refuse to leave the place where they are, and so obstinately would they resist that they might put to death anyone trying to lead them out” (Baudry 178). Scorsese knows of this Platonic history as he visually indicates in the shot before entering the bathroom with Laeddis with a sight view of chained shackles hanging from a wall. These open shackles show that Laeddis is now free to be a Marshal looking for a patient, a fantasy which he has become obsessive-compulsive with. By calling DiCaprio’s character by his real name Andrew instead of Teddy fills the gap between his object of desire, the dreams-like images of his dead wife, and himself. For a better understanding as to how this obsessive-compulsive behavior is communicated to the spectator through repeated images of a record player.
In almost every dream, flashback or hallucination there is a visual of a record player. The metaphor of the record player and this obsessive-compulsive behavior is articulated by Dr. Cawley who says, “You reset Andrew, like a tape playing over and over on an endless loop” (2010). Living in this dream-like state for Laeddis is like living in a world that exists outside of time and after numerous encounters his conscious mind can rediscover itself (Baudry 179). This is exactly what happens when the spectator enters the theater, and mistakes replay for play, moving shadows for reality. What haunts Plato’s prisoner haunts the spectator and Laeddis as well, their reluctance to leave, and even as previously mentioned their willingness to resort to violence (Baudry 180). Now, the violence of the average spectator may not be as lethal as Laeddis’s but there would be a resistance if they were forced to leave in the middle of a film and told they are to never watch a film again.
From the perspective of Laeddis and the spectator what drives them is that they are performing an act of voyeurism. Defined by Freud voyeurs are very careful to maintain a gulf between the object and the eye. The gulf or distance for Laeddis is the fact that his wife only exists in dreams and hallucinations as she is deceased making her an illusion. The story he has fabricated is a defense mechanism which maintains the distance and continues the pleasure of not associating with reality. In regards to the spectator, Baudry notices how he is careful to not sit too close or too far away from the screen. Resembling the eye in the film is the camera, which was there looking when the spectator wasn’t. This makes the screen an illusion of desired objects that helps maintain the distance between the eye and the real object of desire while sitting in the theater, the projector.
The third part of the cinematic apparatus is the projector, which is metaphorically represented in the film as the scheme plotted by Dr. Sheehan and Dr. Cawley. Laeddis entering the lighthouse is equivalent to the spectator entering the projection room and having Scorsese tell the truth about all the visual-aural tricks he used in the film. It is in this scene that the distance between the object of desire, the fantasy of being detective Teddy Daniels and the hallucinations of his dead wife, have been filled. As Freud predicted, to fill this distance would threaten to overwhelm the subject. When Laeddis finally acknowledges who, he is and that his story his false he is overcome with grief only to awaken the next day on another loop of the record player. While sitting on the steps he misidentifies his primary doctor, Dr. Sheehan, as Chuck, letting him know their scheme failed.
For spectators, they may find enough joy within the narrative itself, analyzing a film as was done in this paper may overcome them and fill the distance needed to keep the voyeuristic desire alive. Yet, even this analysis will never fully fill the lack as the object on the screen will always be absent and the gulf continually maintained. In the end, Laeddis just like the spectator pursues an imaginary object that has forever been lost which will perpetuate the desire. Objects on the screen, actors, water, the record player are all substitutes for real objects, which will continue the fetish spectators have with them. What matters is that spectators realize that they are just like Laeddis, mental patients on an island drowning victims of illusory water, prey for the doctors who navigate their mind with their favorite tool of choice, the screen. Coming to this realization may tear apart the joy that comes from going to the theater, but failing to comprehend the connotative meanings of a film’s visual discourse will forever deny spectators from the full cinematic experience.
Shutter Island aligns the spectator with an allegory of the cinematic apparatus that they have been a part of since childhood. In this film the main character Andrew Laeddis metaphorically shows the spectator that he is a victim of illusion who has two distinct personalities, one of which he consciously knows about and one that is imaginary and is reborn with each visit to the theater. Laeddis and the spectator both have voyeuristic tendencies that rest on a kind of fiction. For Laeddis this fiction is believing his name is Teddy. In regards to the spectator is it their unconscious self that is induced in the theater through the peculiar arrangement of the cinematic apparatus. As Dr. Sheehan knows how to lead Laeddis through his fantasy, Martin Scorsese through visual discourse of repeated images dissociates the spectator from his conscious mind and associates him with inanimate objects that do not physically exist. In order to evolve in viewership it is beneficial for the spectator to understand the cinematic language being spoken to them, so the various messages being told by the auteur do not fall on deaf ears. As they do for Laeddis, who fails to listen to Dr. Sheehan and Dr. Cawley, the projectors of the illusion they manipulated for their rate in a maze mental patient with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
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