Shutter Island Ending Explanation & Discussion

Published 5 years ago by , Updated June 4th, 2014 at 10:09 am,

shutter island header Shutter Island Ending Explanation & Discussion

The Rule of 4 and Patient 67

The rule of 4 has to do with the anagram names Andrew invents for his fantasy world. “Edward (Teddy) Daniels” is an anagram of “Andrew Laeddis” and “Rachel Solando” is an anagram of “Dolores Chanal,” the maiden name of Andrew’s dead wife. Four names, get it? As for patient 67: Andrew Laeddis IS patient 67. As long as “Teddy Daniels” is looking for patient 67 he’ll never be able to find him, and his fantasy will be sustained.

“Rachel Solando” is also a play on “Rachel Laeddis”, the name of Andrew’s dead daughter. His daughter is also the same little girl who shows up in his Holocaust dreams, saying, “You should have saved me,” which is Andrew’s mind trying to work through the trauma of what happened. His daughter represents the truth – she’s the one thing Andrew can’t deny or forget. The nurse Dr. Cawley has pose as Rachel Solando is part of a therapy technique to get Andrew to remember his real wife – if you watch that scene again, the Cawley’s gamble almost works, but not quite. Andrew’s brain simply can’t handle the strain.

Final Confirmation From the Filmmakers

Ben Kingsley Leonardo DiCaprio Martin Scorsese and Mark Ruffalo Shutter Island Shutter Island Ending Explanation & Discussion

I was fortunate enough to attend the press junket for Shutter Island back when the movie was released, and had a chance to sit down with DiCaprio, Sir Ben Kingsley and Martin Scorsese. The stars and director talked at great length about how difficult it was to film Shutter Island. The problem was that when they started shooting the film, they realized that upon first viewing the audience would have to believe that Dr. Cawley and Shutter Island could be something sinister, but upon second viewing you would have to be able to tell that everyone around Teddy is in on the role play game, and are trying to maintain the fantasy – though many of the staff and guards are not happy about it.

Upon viewing the film a second time and knowing how it ends, I have to say Scorsese and the cast did a great job. It’s all too obvious that the other characters know that Teddy is crazy, and here are a few tip-offs to help you see it:

  • Watch the guards throughout the film. They get extremely edgy whenever “Teddy” is around, and clutch their guns a little tighter. This is especially true at the beginning when “The Marshals” come to the island. It’s because the guards know Teddy is a lunatic and they’re not exactly thrilled about the role play experiment. It’s also why they are less than enthused about looking for a Rachel Solando who doesn’t exist down by the ocean rocks.
  • Pay attention to the staff interview scene. When Teddy and Chuck interview the nurses and orderlies it’s easy to see just how ridiculous the staff finds the interview. One nurse says something about how ‘far from normal’ their jobs are – she’s making an ironic joke because she’s talking to a lunatic dressed as a cop. In that scene, the staff are also not too enthused about the role play, and Dr. Sheehan / Chuck pushes them to answer Teddy’s questions. You’ll see what I mean.
  • When Teddy interviews Mrs. Kearns (the “normal” insane lady), she talks about how great Dr. Sheehan is. There is a bit of awkward eye contact between her and “Chuck” because she’s talking about him! It’s also why she asks Chuck for water and he quickly accepts (it’s an awkward moment). Mrs. Kearns writes “run” on the paper she slips to Teddy because she knows he has an opportunity to escape while they’re doing the whole role play experiment. It’s also why she sounds “coached” about what to tell Teddy – she has been. As for the conspiracy about why Mrs. Kearns’ hand is empty when she goes to drink the water Chuck brings…she’s crazy, let’s not forget that. I doubt it was an error in editing.

shutter island creepy lady Shutter Island Ending Explanation & Discussion

  • The creepy lady in the yard at the beginning of the film does the “shush” motion at Teddy because she knows him, knows that she’s playing a game and has been instructed not to spoil it. She’s a crazy lady enjoying a game, that’s all.
  • When Teddy reveals to Dr. Naehring that he’s figured out the patient 67 riddle during a staff meeting, Naehring says “What are they doing here?” He’s genuinely annoyed that Dr. Cawley is letting Teddy/Andrew roam so freely.
  • In Ward C Teddy is accosted by a loose prisoner and nearly strangles that prisoner to death. “Chuck” and a guard show up and drag the strangled man away. The guard tells Teddy that he can’t come along to the infirmary, while mumbling about how much trouble he’s going to be in – for letting a patient strangle another patient.


In the end, Shutter Island is a pretty clear-cut mystery. I realize that boiling it down to “Teddy is crazy” might not be as fun as some of the conspiracy theories out there, but the evidence is all over the film. Still, isn’t it fun when a film sparks so much debate, discussion and imagination? I would rather have that than another dumb, by-the-numbers movie on my hands – wouldn’t you?

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    • She wasn’t a real patient she was in fact just another part of the role play used to help Teddy/Andrew. Notice how he says she was ”normal compared to the other patients” this is because she was normal and also notice how she looked at him nervously and had to leave when he asked if she knew the patient Andrew Laeddis, it was because she knew it was him.

      • She also wanted to get rid of that partner (she already knew he was one of the ones controlling all the un ethical stuff inside the asylum, colleague of the doctor) and she asked him for a glass of water then wrote to Teddy “RUN”. This souns more logical to me.

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  2. And also they repeatidly denied Teddy Daniels aka Andrew Llaedis acess to the staff and patients medical files.

  3. I agree with Gavin, i think at the end when he asks which is better to die a good man or live as a monster, i think he wants to be put out of his misery aka lobotomized what have you, while he is in his right mind and back in reality, i think he means would it be worth it to live, but live as an insane person making up a fake reality like he was doing, or would it be better to just call it quits while he’s in his right mind at least knowing he’s going out/being lobotomized while he’s in his right man and remembers reality. HOwever some things still confuse me, for one: if all of it was rehearsed why did that lady write “run” on his paper? was she for real crazy or not, if she was normal and just acting for his role play, why would she write “run” to him? unless she just knew they would lobotomize him so as a secret message like “save yourself or your gonna be a vegetable soon” ? but if thats what she was doing that means she saw good in him and didnt agree with the doctors to lobotomize him?, or was that just part of her role play to write run to him as to play along like the island is dangerous/bad intentions? to feed his fantasy? also hard to tell which scenes were real and which ones were hallucinations, like the car blow up scene? almost figured it was a halucination but the doctor says “i loved that car”.
    But some peoples theory of how the doctors are really bad and that leo isn’t insane at all, why would they do it? in hopes of really creating a government controlled “ghost”?? what good would a half out of it/violent man do for the government?
    and on another note, i don’t understand why he himself as well as others refer to him as a monster for his crime, the man killed his wife gently, after she murdered all of their children!! i would call that the closest to justifiable homicide possible, though he did feel guilty for not getting her help before, its no his fault she went that crazy,he had his own trauma to deal with being in the war and seeing all those things of war.,
    so lastly yea, i’d say i think at the end he did not relapse but just wants to put an end to it while he is in his right mind and reality. crazy awesome movie, love leo

    • @Brian If you research Project Paperclip, the U.S. brought over German psychologists and other doctors of the sort following WWII in an attempt to achieve the implanting of memories into a given subject’s mind. Following that inspiration, the film would make some sense given that the entire series of events was part of one of the Paperclip projects.

  4. Just watched the movie again today for the 2nd time. I thought that Teddy was a normal Marshal coming to Shutter Island. I thought when he was looking for patient 67 that they TURNED him INTO patient 67 by giving him the pills, coffee, food, water, and cigars. I didn’t know he was ALREADY patient 67.

  5. Hello. So everything you said made sense. But I still don’t get that if andrew is really insane and “teddy” made up this theory about how shutter island does brain experiments on patients and it was proved to not be real… then why was he labotomized at the end of the movie for being insane when they were trying to convince him the whole time that brain experiments and making people into ghosts and erasing their memories wasn’t true?

    • Reason they started this whole role play was for one reason. Teddy was a dangerous patient; it got to the point where he attacked other patient’s. Some doctors thought it was necessary to lobotimize him so that he would stop being harmful.. In a last ditch effort “chuck” and Cawley make this whole role play hoping that teddy would come back to reality… Although the experiment appeared to have failed. –> teddy was still seen as dangerous, and they had to lobotimize him.

  6. I have watched this movie 4 times! Really awesome movie and i am totally agree with spiffy. Teddy was a real marshal!

  7. I have a question for you guys.
    For the first half of the movie we see all the things and events from the perspective of Marshall Teddy or hallucination of Andrew! but all of these as I understand (maybe it is not perfect!) are hallucination. There is not something wrong in film making that director deliberately put audience in wrong way? Because I think I saw half of movie from hallucination view and then from the middle of movie I saw reality. For instance I found that Rachel the patient is hallucination and real one is his wife Dolores.
    My question is, this is art of film making or as I believe it is misleading the viewer?


    • I should also say if we agree what “SpiffyAnonymous” said it makes more sense and then it is a masterpiece I expect from Scorsese!

  8. There was no hurricane. It was part of Teddy’s hallucination. Dr. Crawley explains at the lighthouse that Teddy repeats the same theory over and over again, including the hurricane. At the end of the movie when Teddy came to reality, the yard was in pristine condition and no damage to the buildings, yet during Teddy’s hallucination, the yard and buildings were damaged. It has to do with water representing the reality side of Teddy’s brain that he was fighting and not ready to deal with.

  9. Contuniued from my previous comment: Chuck reinforces Teddy’s hurricane hallucination by Chuck always mentioning it to Teddy. Chuck knows about the hurricane hallucination because it was part of Teddy’s prior hullicinations that he continually repeats.

  10. With regard to charley towns comment I believe that the ‘run’ character is a real patient and is understandably scared and leaves when he asks if she’s heard of Andrew laeddis, this being due to his attack on noyce for ‘outing him’ 2 weeks earlier

  11. With the speech at the ending I see it slightly differently. Andrew asks if it’s better to die a good man but if it’s a ‘reawakening’ causing enough guilt to voluntarily lobotomize himself then there’s no way he see’s himself as a good man. I think he remains delusional but in the sense that he is at this time aware of the two realities and is choosing to go towards the teddy one, knowing that if he ‘died’ as teddy then he is to himself a good man. After all the delusion is about fooling himself rather than the outside world.

  12. I have now watched the film and read the book.

    The doctors turns him insane because when he admits in the mausolem that he’s gonna reveal the place AND find Andrew Laeddis in front of doc Sheehan, him (Sheehan) and Cawley decides to make up a role play to make Teddy think he is Andrew Laeddis, the anagram is just an accident. The big evidence for saying Teddy is not insane from the beginning is that he never had any children. As long as he haven’t used their cigaretts or pills, no children occurs in his dreams. In the end, he realizes he wont get of the island as well as he’s aware of that he can’t live with the loss of his wife combined with the fact that he failed to find Laeddis, he decides to give up and let the doctors lobotomize him.