Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shutter Island: A Mother's Review

Set in the 1950‘s, Shutter Island is a psychological thriller with all the creepy music, mysterious characters, and “dark, stormy nights” that make movies like that work. Then it has the big plot twist at the end. If you are planning on watching it you might not want to read my review because I’m not going to keep any secrets. If you are a woman with children, please do read my review. You shouldn’t watch this without knowing what you’re getting yourself into.

Andrew Laeddis is a US Marshal who fought in WWII. He dearly loved his wife but there was only one problem: she was manically depressed and suicidal. He refused to see that and tried to live with her in love until one day he came home from work to find that she had killed their three children. She had drowned them in the lake and he had to wade out and carry their limp, lifeless bodies to the shore. Then, as his wife talked about how much she loved him and how they could dry the kids off and take them on picnics, he shot her.

The movie opens with him arriving at Shutter Island, where there is a psychiatric prison for the criminally insane. He is on an assignment to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients: a woman who had drowned her three children. He also thinks that the wardens and doctors are using the patients to conduct weird experiments using barbaric Nazi methods to create a person without emotions or pain. His hope is to uncover this conspiracy and expose it to the world. By the end of the movie we learn that it’s all in his head. It’s all part of an alternate reality he created for himself to disassociate himself from what he went through and did. He’s actually been a prisoner/patient on Shutter Island for two years himself, living and reliving this imaginary story.

Using elaborate roll-playing techniques, the doctors are able to show Andrew the truth: that there are no conspiracies and his children are dead and he killed his wife. Over the two years of his imprisonment, he has gone through cycles of realizing the truth, only to regress into his fantasy again. They really believe that he can break out of this cycle, but since he has military training, he is a very dangerous crazy man and this is his last chance. Realization comes to Andrew--slowly and painfully--and for a moment he is sane. But in the morning he falls back into denial and the movie closes with him walking off to be lobotomized. “Is it better,” he wonders, “to live as a monster or to die as a good man?

And that’s it. No hope of change for the better. No redemption.

I could handle all the horrific stuff in the prison/hospital with all the creepy insane people, the long hallways, the unreliable lighting, and all his weird hallucinations of Nazi death camps. But a momma drowning her heart was ripped out. And then there was hope. He remembered. It was tragic, but he was going to get better, move on. Then--no, never mind. Reality was too much for him. He would rather have some nerves cut out of his brain and live in the stories in his head. My heart was left bleeding on the ground.

These were my thoughts right after watching it. But as I thought more about it, I realized that the movie couldn’t have ended any other way. After seeing the things he saw and doing the things he’d done, he couldn’t have forgiven himself. Without Christ he was a monster. The doctors did everything they could for him and it was almost enough. But they didn’t give him Christ.

Without the forgiveness of Christ’s blood we can’t get over sins or mistakes or sinful mistakes. We can’t just forget them, forgive ourselves and move on. We commit them and become monsters. The only way out is to rewrite the story to distance ourselves from the sin. In our minds we can be the victim instead of the villain. We might as well be drugged and have the dangerous tissues cut out of our brains.

I was fine watching this movie, “dark, stormy night” and all, until he came home to find his children drowned. Finding my own children drowned in a pool or in the bath is already one of my worst nightmares. I will literally wake up at night in a panic thinking of it. I didn’t need to see it lived out on screen. The thought of a mother holding her children’s heads under the water till they drown made me (makes me!) feel sick. I wish I could watch Shutter Island and think, “I could never do that,” distancing myself from it all.

My children are small and fragile. Comparatively, I am big and strong. I hold them in the palm of my hand. They have no one else to turn to and they can’t get away. That responsibility is scary. Mothers do cruel things to the children in their care every day and but for the grace of God, I could be one of them. Therein is the horror of this movie. Without the grace of God we are all criminally insane. I am criminally insane.

My response to Shutter Island is to thank God for His forgiveness, to thank Him for forgiving me every week and renewing covenant with me during worship. My response is to pray for His grace to saturate me every day so I can hold my children in the palm of my hand just as I am in the palm of His hand: lovingly, patiently, forgivingly. He has given me a new reality to live out, but it’s not fiction. It’s true. It’s real.


  1. This is so good, Amanda!
    I had the same revulsion and the same realization, but couldn't quite put it into words.

  2. Thank you for taking the time and effort to write these thoughts out, Amanda!
    I was having a hard time finding ANY redemptive value in this movie before we chatted. :-)

  3. Thanks, Amanda! It's a very good review. I kissed thrillers and horrors goodbye long time ago.
    Still hate "Fargo" for the scenes locked in my head.
    I love reading your blog!

  4. I wasn't going to watch this movie anyway, but now you've thoroughly convinced me not to! I had a difficult enough time reading your review (chalk it up to an extremely vivid imagination) that there's no way on earth I would be able to handle watching the movie!

  5. I knew I didn't want to see this movie because I can't deal with movies that have horrific or unnatural scenes with children. On the whole I really like the movie The Green Mile, but I still have a hard time watching it because of the children. I really appreciate your insightful discussion of this movie, though. Very thoughtful and important conclusions to garner out of an icky movie. Quite well said - thanks for sharing!