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Shutter Island: A Case Study of a Case Study

Celeste Peterson

Seton Hill University


Shutter Island: A Case Study of a Case Study

Shutter Island chronicles the life of Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal and WWII veteran

who is sent to Shutter Island. Shutter Island is the home of a well-known mental hospital, where

a patient, Rachel Solando has recently escaped. Rachel’s disappearance is Teddy’s official

reason for coming to the Island; however, he admits he has been trying to get here sooner in

order to investigate another patient, Andrew Laeddis. This mysterious patient is said to be

housed in the “dangerous patient” ward, which is confirmed when Teddy reveals that he, Andrew

Laeddis, set a fire that killed Teddy’s wife. Throughout the movie, Teddy uncovers various

suspicious things about the hospital; he believes that there is some illegal activity on the ominous

Island and threatens to report the facility to the FBI. Ultimately, after a few days on the Island,

the story unfolds and it is revealed that Teddy is actually a patient at the mental hospital, after

having a breakdown himself. The elaborate scheme entailing Teddy acting as a Marshal

investigating the hospital was set up by the doctors and psychiatrists in hopes of Teddy having a

breakthrough. Teddy finally recognizes the truth, that he is Andrew Laeddis and he had killed his

wife, only after discovering she had drowned their three children. There is no doubt that a man

like “Teddy” has both witnessed and suffered from various psychological disorders, as is

depicted in the movie. As with any movie depicting a mental hospital and its inhabitants, the

movie can easily be examined from a psychological standpoint with various different aspects of

psychology prevalent throughout the whole two-hour film.

Upon initial examination of the movie, it is evident that Andrew Laeddis suffers from

various psychological disorders. After learning of his time serving in the military, there is no

doubt that Andrew has seen his fair share of trauma; however, it was the death of his wife and

children that triggered his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While it was not his time in

the military that caused his PTSD, there is no doubt that his serving led to his moderate

alcoholism, which ultimately led to Andrew being rather negligent and ignoring the signs of his

wife’s own psychological problems. Nonetheless, after discovering his three drowned children

and his responsible wife, Andrew shoots her.

PTSD is different than acute stress disorder, as the symptoms persist for over a month.

There are various different symptoms of PTSD, and Andrew exhibits most of them. First and

foremost, Andrew has dreams, memories, and even flashbacks about the event. He often “sees”

his wife, and oftentimes she dies during the scene. For example, Andrew is dreaming about his

wife, Dolores, while on the Island, when she suddenly begins bleeding from her abdomen, where

he shot her, and she eventually turns to ash in his arms, all the while saying that he has to let her

go. With this vision, it is as if Andrew is reliving the death of Dolores all over again. Andrew is

also very dissociative, with the inability of recognizing and understand who he is, where he is,

and what he has done; Andrew has lost awareness of his present surroundings, which is a

common symptom of PTSD. Whenever the doctors and psychiatrists try to talk to Andrew about

the traumatic event, he completely avoids and denies the whole situation. One may also observe

that during these times, Andrew appears to be in physical distress, sweating, shaking, and

exhibiting outbursts of anger. All of these signs and symptoms coupled with the extremely

traumatic death of his children and wife are indicative of the fact that Andrew Laeddis suffers

from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As is mentioned above, Andrew is dissociative, even to the point of not recognizing who

he really is. In fact, Andrew has created two different identities for himself, Teddy Daniels and

Andrew Laeddis. This creation of multiple personalities leads to a little bit of confusion

throughout the movie, but more importantly, Andrew’s next psychological condition,

Dissociative identity disorder (DID); this disorder is very severe and is explained as having two

or more distinct identities present in an individual. After simply watching the movie and reading

the definition of the disorder, it is clear that Andrew suffers from this disorder without a doubt.

This disorder lends the patient to be unable integrate different aspects of life into one single self,

and is usually coupled with PTSD. For example, one suffering from DID may be unable to

include his or her identity, memory, and consciousness in one person. Both of these symptoms

are easily observable in Andrew, as he is unable to accept his identity as Andrew Laeddis, thus

explaining his creation of Teddy Daniels. One with DID is said to have frequent gaps in

memories of personal history, which is evident in Andrew; he is practically unable to recall his

own life in the way of his wife’s death, the existence of his children, his career, and his current

living conditions. Andrew also appears to be distressed and impaired in his social functioning, as

he is extremely paranoid and unable to trust anyone; Andrew also exhibits an inability to behave

normally in the way that he chooses to physically fight with anyone who opposes him, rather

talking through the issue like most adults would. Much like with PTSD, Andrew is a clear

sufferer of Dissociative identity disorder.

One last disorder prevalent in Andrew Laeddis is Delusional disorder. Essentially, his

current existence is one big delusion, but Andrew shows signs of specific Delusional disorders

including Grandiose and Persecutory thus indicating that he has Mixed Delusional disorder. In

Grandiose, one believes that he or she has a special identity, power, or knowledge. This appears

to describe Andrew perfectly, as he believes that he, as Teddy Daniels, is a very renowned U.S.

Marshal on Shutter Island on a special mission. His doctors and psychiatrists seem to add to this

by calling him things such as “boss”, thus further inflating Andrew’s head. Unlike Grandiose, in

Persecutory, one believes he or she is being spied on, drugged, or followed. Once again, this

seems to describe Andrew perfectly. While on the Island, Teddy becomes very paranoid that the

doctors and psychiatrists are trying to keep him on the Island forever, to the point that blows up

someone’s car in hopes of creating a distraction so that he can escape; he begins to think that the

aspirin they are giving him is not just aspirin; he often believes that the doctors and psychiatrists

are following his every move. Clearly, both types of delusions are equally as applicable to

Andrew, and for that reason, he is Mixed, meaning his delusions can be characterized by more

than one of the different types of Delusional disorder.

Aside from the psychological disorders present in the movie, there are also various types

of treatment present. It may come as no shock that there are hundreds of different types of

treatment available to those suffering from psychological disorders, and a few of them are

present in Shutter Island. In the broadest of senses, there are two different types of treatment,

those focused on using drugs and surgery to help the patient and those focused on talking to and

teaching the patient, noninvasively. In the movie, there is a heavy emphasis on both types of


Biomedical therapies, those dealing with drugs and physically changing the patient are

evident very early on in the movie. Very quickly, the audience can see that there is a constant

flow of pills being given to patients, including Andrew. At the time, Andrew thinks that the pills

are simply aspirin, but it can be concluded that they are actually a psychotropic drug. In fact, one

may go as far to say that Andrew is going through withdrawal from his drugs, exhibiting many

common symptoms of such. Aside from all the drugs, the audience also quickly learns of

supposed lobotomies happening on the Island in the lighthouse. The lobotomies are a type of

psychosurgery that alters the brain functioning in an effort of reducing symptoms. There is no

doubt that those working at Shutter Island strongly favor biomedical therapies.

While there does seem to be more examples and references to biomedical therapies, it is

also clear that the hospital also uses psychological therapies, which is associated with a “shrink”

and sitting in an office talking through one’s issues. Through the use of psychotherapy, the

doctors hope to resolve Andrew’s problems by engaging him in discussions and interactions and

creating a safe, trusting environment. Through the extravagant role-play experiment Dr. Cawley

hopes to integrate Andrew out of his delusion and back into the present, real world. Based on the

heavy emphasis on the “here and now” it is clear that Dr. Cawley is taking up a Humanistic

approach, the type of therapies that hope for the client to grow and come to self-determination.

Unfortunately, it appears as though this approach is unsuccessful with Andrew, as he reverts

back to his old ways after having a breakthrough.

While analyzing Shutter Island through a psychological perspective, it is evident that the

film is full of different aspects covered in a psychology class. A movie following a man, Andrew

Laeddis, who believes he is someone else, through a mental hospital is bound to have a plethora

of different psychological aspects. In fact, the main character himself exhibits various different

psychological disorders. Andrew suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dissociative

identity disorder, and Delusional disorder. In order to combat these disorders, the audience sees

the use of different types of therapy, both biomedical and psychotherapies. There is a constant

stream of different psychotropic drugs and mention of lobotomies, along with the use of

psychotherapy evident in his role-play experiment. While some may argue that the disorders

were not depicted perfectly in the movie, there is no question that there are so many different

lessons from a psychology class applicable to this film.



Davis, S. F., Palladino, J. J., & Christophzrson, K. M. (2013). Psychology. Boston: Pearson.

Delusional Disorder. (2017, March 09). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from


Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). (2017, February 24). Retrieved

April 23, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/dissociative-identity-


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2017, April 03). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from