Over the three full days of my visit to Croydon, the Gods, yours, mine, and everyone else’s, smiled down exceptionally kindly. I also made several good choices and the mistakes were limited. In the first the part of this series nine hundredth piece of writing I reported the decision to go by bus to Teddington, having discovered that the one planned to Sutton continued to Kingston and over the Thames Bridge to Teddington, where I lived for over two years from 1967. After a quick lunch at Tesco’s and a good walkabout along the High Street to towards Teddington Lock and then southwards, I had visited the outside of house, and armed with the information gained from local estate agents calculated that it was worth in the order of £650000 to £750000, given the difference between its neighbours in terms of the additional floor space added to them over the years, the market price of the property next door five years ago and that of other properties in road and immediate area.
I had then taken the bus to Kingston, passing Hampton Wick Station, onto the road leading to Hampton Court and into Kingston to explore the development of the Bentalls’ shopping centre and only then decided to find the nearest cinema and find out if there was a film which I wanted to see at a time which enabled me to get to Wimbledon in time for a hot meal and a relayed performance of La Boheme from Covent Garden. I mention Hampton Wick station and Hampton Court, the place and the Palace because two days later I was to take a bus which passed through Ham, the village with its common, on the way to Petersham and Richmond, also on the Thames, and its Green, Theatre and enormous Parkland.
On the Monday I had then discovered that two or three years ago a new Odeon Multiplex, a Bowling alley and restaurants had been built close to the station and across from the Bentalls’ store and centre. There was a showing of Shutter Island, commencing within three minutes, sufficient time to buy a ticket, tell two assistants of the adventure I was having and once inside the area of theatres take the escalator up instead of down, found myself back to one of the assistants again, had a laugh at myself, took the escalator down and found myself a good seat in the allocated row just as the advertising changed to the trailers of forthcoming films.
It has been my practice to give a detailed account of films as well as my reactions and judgements but for the first time in memory I propose not to reveal ending of this film, only to say at the outset that film concerns illusion, hallucination, belief and reality and could be said to be based on those lines of T S Elliot, I think from one of his plays, possibly the Cocktail Party in which a psychiatrist type figure explains that human beings cannot cope with too much reality.
I am of the opinion that this film is one of the cleverest and technically accurate films about the roles of patient’s and doctors in an asylum for the criminally insane, the USA equivalent of Broadmoor. I will provide clues which are numbered to the outcome of this film.
The Martin Scorsese directed film has some violence and vivid gore and overall is not for the feint hearted or those concerned about their mental health. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as US Marshall Edward (Teddy) Daniel, sent to the institution, which had requested external help following the disappearance of a prisoner Rachel Solando(1) from her locked room in the female section and is not to be found within the prison run facility where the warden and his armed men are responsible for security within and outside the prison which includes a forbidden castle like inner prison for the most violent and disturbed category of insane offenders. We meet Teddy on the ferry boat on his way to the Island located in Boston harbour, and it is only on the ferry that he meets his partner for the investigation, US Marshall Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffulo)(2). Teddy is feeling unwell from the crossing(3). The island is uninhabited apart from the prison complex with an electrified perimeter wall, and inner wall with two sets of prison gates with armed warders before reaching the internal grounds where is located the two contemporary for the period, late 1950’s early 1960’s accommodation/treatment blocks, one for men and one for women, the palatial accommodation for the senior Prison Psychiatrists and other accommodations, and the separate gothic and forbidding fort like structure. They pass a gothic like cemetery on the way from the landing stage and during the whole film which lasts 138 minutes there is no reference to the wardens, medical and nursing staff having families or homes on the island.
The film was shot in a number of locations including Peddock’s island, a recreational facility in Boston Harbour and which does contain a former military Fort with many internal buildings all now in ruins and closed to the public for safety reasons. The Lighthouse which has great significance is in a different location as are the internal facilities and grounds of the institution where existing medical facilities for prisoners held by the state in Federal facilities.
The two Marshals meet hostility and suspicion from the moment of their arrival and are required to hand over their weapons(4) which they point out is contrary to their statutory position, but a condition of their access into the prison complex, and Teddy is refused access to all the personnel files(5) which as a consequence leads him to call off the investigation at an early stage. The medical director, played by the always outstanding Ben Kingsly appears reluctant to discuss the situation with him until they meet for cigars and drinks after dinner and where the Marshals encounter Max Von Sydow, a German Psychiatrist who advises the Medical Director on behalf of the governing Board.
There are several developments before and at the meeting which governs understanding of what happens in the rest of the film. It appears impossible for the missing prisoner to have escaped although one nurse admits he had a toilet break without being replaced(6). This does not explain how the prisoner appears to have managed to have then got through the two gates managed by armed warders at all times. The woman is said to have killed her three children but does not believe she has done this or that she is in prison and still acts and talks as if she is continuing to live in her former community(7).
Teddy is haunted by one memory and on hallucination. The hallucination is the presence of his former wife who we learn was killed in a fire at their home caused by the janitor, called Andrew Laeddis(8) who escaped normal prison because of insanity and who Teddy believes was admitted to the institution but which he could not find any record prior to the visit. This leads his new partner and audience to have the suspicion he has come to seek revenge. However he is also haunted by visual memories of liberating Dachau concentration camp and a child about seven to nine years who he found frozen clutching her mother among the piles of bodies and who now asks why he arrived too late to save her(9). Teddy explains that he and the other soldiers went berserk at one point and lined up the guards before shooting them. He tells his partner he has enough of killing and intends no physical harm to the janitor.
He explains that the reason for seeking the assignment is different, He had encountered a former inmate of the prison medical centre who has escaped but come to attention of the police authorities. He claimed the establishment was using mind changing drugs on behalf of the government to make them into secret assassins, something which incensed Teddy because of his knowledge of what the Nazi’s had been experimenting and then Russians and Koreans(10). The medical director has explained that he is opposed to the traditional way of quietening violent people. Lobotomy surgery which involves cutting into the brain memory, eliminating memories and making the individual docile and zombie like. The other method is to use medication which relies on constant dosages and which has addictive consequences.
I have previously written of my knowledge of psychotropic drug use in the 1960’s as a means of regression therapy by the county psychiatrist for Staffordshire. I cannot remember at what point in the film the use of such drugs is mentioned but the medical director has explained that his approach is to use psychotherapy, role play and presumably regression therapy as an alternative to the lobotomy(11).
Teddy’s plans for abandoning the visit and report the medical director for his non cooperation are thwarted when a storm arrives of hurricane proportions. During the storm there is a loss of power with the consequence that some of the highest category of prisoners escape from the fort during which time the two marshals have changed into nurse uniforms because their suits became wet when they went on an outside investigation taking refuge in a building in the cemetery. They go on an explore of the Fort where Teddy become separated from his new partner and is attacked by an inmate on the loose who he half kills in retaliation (12). He then discovers the man who he claims had revealed to him the ongoing activities at hospital, George Noyce is back in the fort, badly beaten and blaming Teddy for his predicament(13) claiming he will never get out again.
There is the growing feeling created that Teddy is the victim of a plot to silence him from discovering and revealing what is going on at the centre. This is reinforced when first the missing prisoner is said to have been found outside the prison and returned to her cell unable to explain what happened to her. His partner then disappears and when later he encounters the medical staff they challenge that he was ever with a partner(14). Before this he investigates a cave in which he finds someone who says she is the real Rachel Solando, a former Psychiatrist at the establishment who has been committed because she would not go along with mind changing experiments.(15) She warns that they are out to get him.
It is at this point Teddy in effect becomes a fugitive on the island and blows up the car of the Medical Director(16) as a hallucination of his wife urges him to leave the island and not go and investigate the Lighthouse where it is believed dark things are taking place. The concentration camp girl also reappears at this time.(17) He makes his way to the Lighthouse where he disabled a guard and makes his way to the top where he find an office with the Medical Director expecting his arrival. For what happens next and why the film has to be experienced firsthand