Shutter Island – Movie Review

Shutter Island 

Movie Review by Stacey Tuttle

Warning: Spoilers

“What would be worse?  To live as a monster or to die as a good man?”

That is the critical question, the pivotal point in Shutter Island.  The whole of the movie works to bring Teddy Daniels to a point of mental clarity and healing – and to that end there is success.  He does come out of his delusions and recognizes and confesses his guilt.  But the real turning point isn’t when he comes to lucidity and confession, though we expect that it is.  The real turning point comes shortly after when Teddy asks the question: “What would be worse? To live as a monster or to die as a good man?” and then consciously chooses to reject reality and enter again into the lies and delusions he has created.  His reasoning: he would rather die believing he was a good man than to face the reality of the monstrous things he had done, “to be a monster” in his words.

The example is an extreme one, to be sure.  However, I question if it is not something we all do to some degree.  How many of us lie to ourselves (and others), tell ourselves we were wronged, when the truth is we have some share in the blame?  Wouldn’t we rather believe we are a good people than face the facts that we, at our core, are sinful people, capable of monstrous deeds? 

Here’s the rub: Teddy was never going to truly heal as long as he was delusional.  This is why everyone worked so hard to help him out of his delusions.

We are no different.  The Bible says that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  The Bible tries desperately to help us face who we are, to bring us out of our self-delusions.  All the while, Satan keeps feeding us lies (he is the “father of lies,” remember?  John 8:44).  Satan fights desperately to keep us in our delusional state.

In Shutter Island, the picture is incomplete.  Teddy feels he has two choices: to be a “good man” or a “monster”.  The problem is that the good man is a lie he construed and the monster, while true, is insupportable.  The Bible presents a third option – a redeemed monster.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death” – death here isn’t just physical or even eternal death, but that internal death that Teddy faced from the hopelessness of knowing he was  a monster at his core and as such had done monstrous things.  The good news is Romans doesn’t stop there.  The verse goes on to say, “But the gift of God is eternal life” (emphasis mine).  Christ came to pay for our sins and to offer a gift: the gift is eternal life, beginning with the redemption and transformation of that inner monster into a good man.

Oh the beautiful hope of Christ!  We can look honestly at our inner monster; we need not live in delusion.  Neither need we fear our monster or even our monstrous past.  Instead, we look to Christ who is willing to work in us to kill the monster, pay his debts (our debts) and transform us into good men and women, holy men and women, a people in HIS image.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Have you ever been overwhelmed by your past such that you were tempted to recreate yourself to hide form it?  Or possibly a little more subtly, have you been tempted to lie to cover less savory parts of your past?
  • In what ways do you lie to yourself and/or about yourself?
  • Do you have any hope that God can transform the monster and make a good man?
  • Do you have any hope that God can transform your past (even the parts you are most ashamed of) and make something good from it?
  • Do you know Jesus Christ who died to pay the “monster’s” debt both for you and all mankind?