The latest in a series of posts that deconstructs Dennis Lehane’s “Shutter Island” – both book and movie.
If you’d like to review or catch up on previous posts, you’ll find those links at the end of this article.
According to the principles of story structure, Part 3 of a well-told story (roughly the third quartile) is all about the hero getting into the game.
About taking action, becoming proactive.
The second half of Part 3, after a bruised and bloody George Noyce plants a seed of doubt in Teddy’s mind that maybe Chuck isn’t his friend after all, or even who he claims to be – which is, of course, spot-on accurate – Teddy does the most assertive thing he’s done yet in this story – he ditches Chuck.
This is just the place for that aggression. It’s Part 3, after all.
His goal at this point is to make his way to the lighthouse to find Laeddis. He’s talked himself into the validity of this goal, with Chuck playing along all the while.
But suddenly, he’s not so sure.
This happens after Chuck flashes a morsel of real-world truth to see how Teddy might react, hoping it might jar his memory back to reality, which it doesn’t.
Chuck shows Teddy Andrew Laeddis’ two-year-old admittance paperwork, signed at the time of his committal to the institution. But rather than jarring him back to sanity, it only confirms the Noyce-inspired suspicion that Chuck is playing for the other team.
Messing with him. Just like everyone else.
And so Teddy tells Chuck to take a hike.
The rest of Part 3 shows Teddy making his way alone, then doubling back to see the body of Chuck on the rocks at the base of a cliff. We don’t know if he jumped, or if one of the evil-doers on the island did him in.
It’s a hallucination, we ultimately learn, but one the audience buys at this point because we were all still under Lehane’s narrative spell.
Teddy works his way down the rocks. But there is no Chuck at the waterline. No dead body. Just more confusion… for Teddy and for us.
On his way back up, after encountering a few thousand resident rodents, Teddy finds Chuck’s paperwork, which had flown away in the wind. You can tell he senses something disturbing about it, something confusing, but all suspicion is put aside when he sees something else entirely.
What he sees is the coming of Plot Point Two.
The flickering light of a fire can be seen coming from the mouth of a cave.
When he climbs up and goes inside, he encounters a woman who claims to be the missing Rachael Solondo.
Like Teddy, she’s been victimized by Dr. Cawley. That she was, in fact, not a patient at all, but a doctor. One who didn’t buy into Cawley’s agenda.
She explains all the dark doings that Cawley and Naehring are up to, medical experiments and lobotomies and pharmaceutical mayhem, all with the distinct odor of military intelligence.
All of which confirms Teddy’s suspicions.
This is an important context to understand in retrospect. Because everything about this scene was a hallucination on Teddy’s part.
And thus, the moment their encounter is over, it becomes Plot Point Two.
Because from Teddy’s point of view, all of his suspicions have been confirmed. All of his doubts put to rest.
It’s new narrative information that lights the fuse on the final act.
Teddy has to act. To expose the dark agenda of Shutter Island. To nail Cawley and Naehring.
Just as any self-respecting U.S. Marshall would do.
And in the process, he’ll find Laeddis there.
This is what a good man would do. And Teddy is, above all else, a good man.
In Part 4 the hero rises. And that is precisely Teddy’s intention.
The Launch of Part 4
The final act of the movie – Part 4 of the story – is a linear series of scenes that show Teddy making his way toward the lighthouse. He climbs up… he traverses the rocks… he swims for it… he clobbers a guard… he climbs stairs with gun in hand… and then…
… he finds Dr. Cawley. Waiting for him. Expecting him.
The rest of the story – which comprises the second half of Part 4 – involves the tying up of loose ends. It is an amazing revelation, both to Teddy and to the reader/viewer, who for the first time is let in on the truth behind the entire narrative charade.
That thud you heard was your jaw hitting the floor.
Part 4, perfectly executed. The hero rising, risking courageously, finding the truth. Confronting inner demons, seemingly conquering them. Loose ends neatly connected. Shock and awe for everyone, with a heavy dose of mind-bending theme slathered over everything.
But then, just when you think this revelation and the horrific flashback that explains it all is enough to bring this story to a close, Teddy and Dennis Lehane have one more killer twist in store.
For us… for Dr. Cawley… for the newly-identified Dr. Sheehan (heretofore known to him and us as Chuck)… and, we are left to surmise, perhaps to Teddy himself.
Is he cured? Or is he insane?
This is Lehane’s final expository triumph in this story. Because you and I get to decide.
And even – in the movie at least – when Teddy actually tells us, we still aren’t quite sure.
Tomorrow’s post: The Conclusion of Shutter Island
Interested in revisiting prior posts in this series?
For installment 1, an Introduction to the series, click here.
For installment 2, a Structural Primer, click here.
For installment 3, the Opening Act, click here.
For installment 4, more on the Opening Act, click here.
For installment 5, Evaluating the Part 1 scenes, click here.
For installment 6, the First Plot Point, click here.
For installment 7A, overview of Part 2, click here.
For installment 7B, more on Part 2 and the Mid-Point, click here.
And… for more information about story structure (this will send you to a description of my ebook on the subject), click HERE.
Rather read more about building credible and compelling characters? Click HERE for that one.