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Reflections on Shutter Island

I finally saw Shutter Island last night. I didn't know a lot about it other than that it was Leonardo DiCaprio on an island that was an asylum for the criminally insane. I'd also heard that it was the same kind of mindbender as the 2000 film Memento, which I enjoyed.

I really enjoyed the movie, and if you haven't seen it, it's worth watching.  (And I'm going to be careful not to include spoilers below.) In addition to the story itself, it's an interesting study of psychology as it stood in the mid 1950s.  Psychotropic medications, most notably antipsychotics, had just entered widespread use, but earlier, more destructive treatments like lobotomies were still being widely used (and misused) on difficult patients.

It's too bad that they didn't place a little more emphasis on how mental institutions at the time were self-sustaining.  Patients helped do things like farm, and in addition to providing sustenance, it gave them purpose and responsibility and dignity and improved their overall mental health in many cases -- which makes a lot of sense when you consider that the alternative in many cases was to be stuck in a closed room.

One of the things I loved most about the film was the portrayal of DiCaprio's character's experiences as a soldier in WWII.  He was part of the regiment that freed Dauchau, and as the movie progresses it becomes clear that he has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) complete with intrusive recollections, recurrent nightmares, amnesia for certain events, hypervigilance, and irritability.  And rather than using washed-out frames to portray the memories, Scorsese hyper-saturates the scenes, giving them a vibrant, even jarring hyper-realism.

The one thing that drove me crazy through much of the movie was the assumption that the new antipsychotics (chlorpromazine, or Thorazine, in particular) caused hallucinations and delusions when in fact they do the exact opposite.  But it was all explained in the end.  I promised not to spoil the film for you, so I'd better stop there...

Definitely worth a watch, though, if you haven't seen it.

I'm really looking forward to seeing another mindbending DiCaprio movie next weekend: Inception.  If that one has as much psychology as this one did, I'll be writing another one of these in a week! (But hey, if you've seen it, no spoilers for me in the comments, okay?  I wanna be surprised! :)

Need accurate and easy-to-understand information on antipsychotics, lobotomies, historical or modern mental institutions, and disorders like PTSD for your story?  I've got you covered with lots of information on all of those topics in The Writer's Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior at your favorite online bookstore today!  Pre-order a copy now!


  1. jennifer said...
    I really loved that movie. I watched it in the theater right after it came out. I predicted the end of it immediately. For some reason it was really predictable to me (maybe because I'm so in tune with people with mental illness), but it was still worth the time and money to see it.
    Stina said...
    Great review. I'm curious now.

    Definitely looking forward to your book, Carolyn.

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