WARNING: There are major spoilers in this post.
Today I want to elaborate on something that my buddy pointed out about Shutter Island and as I watched the movie unfold and I watched how the twist was revealed I started to dissect the beginning and end scenes of the movie. Then it hit me like a sold gold brick to my head and (keep in mind, I was at a restaurant when this happened) I yelled, “Marty you bastard!” It was after that, when I realized that I loved this movie. Also, as a side note, when I sincerely love a director I like to verbally bully him with my friends. Ex: I love composer John Williams so when I hear his scores I say, “John you bald sonofabitch! You did it again!”
Anyway, onto the post at hand. The beginning of Shutter Island opens up on the ocean as a boat makes it way out of the fog. The ocean is calm and the general tone of the scene is gray, grim, dark and very foreboding. The fog is thick, white and you can barely see anything, which is perfect for what this scene implies. At this point Teddy is going to the island for the investigation and to find Andrew Laeddis but he does not realize that he is Laeddis so he still believes that he is Teddy Daniels, US Marshal.
At the very end of the movie, when Cawley and Chuck (who turned out to be the psychiatrist for Andrew) confront Andrew and tell him that he is not Teddy, they mention that they have to hear him say that he is not Ted Daniels so that they could avoid giving him a lobotomy. They go on to mention that his brain is in a loop and that one day he’ll know he’s Laeddis and the other he’ll think he is Teddy. Well, he tells them that he is Andrew and that there is no Teddy and the next day he says to Chuck that he is Marshal Daniels; implying that he still thinks he’s Teddy. Chuck signals Cawley to proceed with the lobotomy but Andrew says, “Do you want to live as a monster or die a hero?” As the staff takes Andrew away Chuck yells, “Teddy, wait!” but Andrew doesn’t look back. This implies that Andrew was playing Chuck and the staff; he set them up to believe that he still believes he is Teddy Daniels just so they could lobotomize him. He understands he is a dangerous person and the only other way to cure him is lobotomy.
The end shot is a shot of the lighthouse, where the suspected lobotomies and mind control take place, sitting atop the rocks on a calm day. The tone of this shot is very relaxing but still very tense, gloomy and unsatisfying. However, the clouds of the storm are starting to pass so there is a little bit of blue sky peering out of the clouds; another great symbol for a cloudy mind beginning to clear up. Here the lighthouse symbolizes Andrew’s closure point… he knows he is a monster and he understands that he must be ‘cured,’ so the lighthouse is almost like point of enlightenment.
But lets also look at the beginning and end shots and see how they relate to each other. Think of the boat floating through the fog as Andrew’s mind: it’s cloudy, it’s murky and you can’t see what’s in front of you. You can’t see the shore because it’s blocked by delusion. Now, what to lighthouses usually do? They guide ships and boats to shore by providing them the only light in a fog-covered bay. The lighthouse image at the end is helping Andrew guide his way through his foggy mind to shore, or in this case help him get cured. It’s poetic and it proves that Shutter Island is a very beautifully shot movie.