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Shutter Island Versus The Shining Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1091 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Rene Descartes was a philosopher who introduced a popular philosophical method called Radical Doubt in his book Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes “proposed discarding any kind of belief that could be doubted, [because it] might be false”. In both Shutter Island directed by Martin Scorsese and The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick, the viewers are introduced to characters that doubt the very existence of reality, much like Descartes, and who are drowned in the depths of insanity. Fear, paranoia, and doubt are the main ingredients that make both movies a psychological mind maze that constantly teases the brain with every turn. Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick are both masters in cinema direction and are not regulars in the horror genre. Nonetheless, both have created a product that makes viewers question what it’s like to be sane. The goal of this essay is to demonstrate the similarities and differences between Shutter Island and The Shining based on their themes of insanity, isolation, and alcoholism.

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The story of Shutter Island revolves around Marshall Teddy Daniels, and his partner Chuck Aule, and their journey to a remote and barren island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an inmate from the mental asylum. The island is home to a fortress-like mental institution, Ashcliffe Hospital, which houses 66 of the most dangerous criminals in the country. From the beginning, Martin Scorsese introduces the viewers to the theme of isolation. In the opening scene, Scorsese uses the boat ride as a sign that illustrates how the island is being distanced from reality. The viewers are never introduced on unfiltered view of “the real world” outside of the asylum. The only available information about reality beyond the walls of the asylum comes from Teddy, through the scattered flashbacks he experiences throughout the movie, which easily brings in the theme of reality versus illusion. As soon as the detectives arrive at the asylum a hurricane strikes the island and all transportation and communication systems are cut-off. They continue their investigation in ominous isolation while being surrounded by dangerous inmates and an uncooperative secretive staff.

It seems that Teddy is trapped in a maze, trying to find answers to the disappearance of the missing inmate, Rachel Salondo. Every time he finds a clue that could bring him closer to an answer, it turns out to be an answer he did not expect. Teddy begins to question the motivations of everyone involved, including his own decisions. He reaches a point in his investigation where he does not know who to believe anymore. He is, as one character tells him, “A rat in a maze”, trying to find his way out of the island. As the movie progresses, so does its distance from reality. Scorseses throws Teddy into a psychological mind maze where he begins to question everything surrounding the investigation. What is real? Who to trust? Everyone in the asylum seems to be skewed by insanity.

The Shining is director Stanley Kubrick’s epic, gothic horror film. The movie tells the story of the Torrance family and their experience at the Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrance is a former school teacher who has a passion in writing screenplays. Jack agrees to accept the job as a caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a massive resort isolated in the mountains of Colorado which is completely isolated and free from alcohol, which instigates Torrance’s descent into madness. From the very first scene of the movie the viewers are given a birds-eye-view of the hotel and its isolation from society. Since alcohol is referenced throughout the movie and Jack is a recovering alcoholic, the theme of alcoholism plays a huge role in Jack’s overall behaviour towards his family. Alcoholism is like a beast “within” him and since the hotel is alcohol free, Jack believes that accepting the caretaker job will help mend his relationship with his wife Wendy and son Danny and bring them closer, especially after the incident where Jack dislocated Danny’s shoulder in a bender because of his drunkenness.

The theme of the supernatural is referenced in the movie when Wendy is giving descriptions about Danny’s behaviour to the psychiatrist. She says that Danny started talking to Tony, the invisible friend that lives in his mouth. Also, as the family arrived at the hotel, they were introduced to Dick Halloran, the cook at the Overlook Hotel. Halloran contacts Danny telepathically and tells him that he has a psychic ability which allows him to see both the past, the future and communicate mentally with other “shiners”. As time progresses, it seems that the hotel places a great amount of mental stress on Jack, his underlying insanity gradually evolves into a rampant madness as he attempts to murder his wife and son with an axe. The viewers witness the madness slowly settle, and explode fiercely through Jack, transforming him from a father trying to repair his relationship with his family into a psychotic lunatic bent on destroying everything he loves.

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In conclusion, both Shutter Island and The Shining are haunted house themed movies that are “filled with labyrinthine spaces that threaten to consume their occupants”. Shutter Island is a shadowy and grim looking castle. Redesigned out of an old Civil War fort, every piece of fixture in it relates back to some dark secret in the past. The island itself sends out a warning of the terrible evil that lurks around it. On the other hand, Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel is just as fear infested as Scorsese’s Island. Even though it doesn’t have the darkness of the mental asylum, everything in the hotel is brightly lit, carpeted, and full of luxurious items. Perhaps the enormous size of the hotel introduces a great sense of isolation the characters go through.

Shutter Island, much like The Shining is segregated from society. Teddy Daniels finds himself trapped in the island due to a hurricane much like how Jack finds himself trapped in the hotel due to a blizzard. Both Shutter Island and The Shining revolve around protagonists that are unreliable. The viewers are introduced to the “heroes” and then to their slow decent into madness. Isolation and insanity are prominent in every scene of both movies, which turned normal and loving fathers into insane and psychotic killers that led both of them to their end.


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