Question: Effective settings assist the audience to gain a deeper understanding of the essential messages in a text
‘The less you spend time with truth, the easier it is to believe lies’, a quote by Lecrae which warns us against dwelling in a world of misconceptions. The longer you avoid what is real and true, the more likely you are to believe in the fictional fantasies and delusions conjured up by our imaginations. When the truth is characterised by pain and grief, it becomes even easier for us to fall into the trap of believing the lies which we conjure to comfort ourselves. Martin SCorcese explores this idea in his film ‘Shutter Island’, which makes use of effective settings to assist the audience in gaining a deeper understanding of the film’s essential messages. These different settings include the three alternative worlds which Teddy navigates through during the film. The three worlds are the past, fictional and the present, all of which allow the audience to gain a deeper understanding of the film’s important themes.
Through his film ‘Shutter Island’, Martin Scorcese explores the themes of ‘grief’, ‘perception vs reality’ and ‘truth’ through the utilisation of three alternative worlds. The protagonist, Teddy Daniels, transitions between these worlds as he no longer knows the difference between what is real and what is a lie. Teddy becomes so comfortable in the fictional world that he created for himself as it allowed him to physically remove himself from the pain of his past. This links to a dark tendency of our human nature which is our decision to comfort ourselves with lies in order to bury the painful sting of reality. Even though we are initially free of the torturous reminders, our past experiences will always resurface and find ways to occupy our minds.
An effective setting that assists the audience in gaining a deeper understanding of the essential message of ‘grief’ in the film is the alternate world of Teddy’s past. Teddy is a character whose past is characterised by grief and trauma. His involvement in World War 2 and the liberation of a Nazi death camp, Dachau, left him with brutal memories that haunt him throughout the film. This is highlighted through Teddy’s flashbacks to Dachau, which portray the death and tragedy that he witnessed within the death camp. A close up shot is used to show the horror and desperation painted across Teddy’s features as he first enters Dachau and sees the emaciated and dirty bodies of the Jewish prisoners. He feels pained to see humans in such a state of suffering, fuelling the grief that surfaces during his time on Shutter Island.
Teddy’s grief is accentuated by the tragic death of his wife and children, an event that he wishes to banish from his history forever. The true details of his tragedy are only revealed during the scene in the lighthouse, when Dr Sheehan and Dr Cawley reveal the truth of his past. Another flashback is used to show what truly occurred and how Teddy was the one responsible for the death of his wife. This fact is one which Teddy avoided to confront as the grief that it triggered became too unbearable. We all have painful experiences that we wish to banish from our past, but this is an impossible feat, as it is part of who we are. These experiences impact who we are as people and so by eliminating them, we remove a part of ourselves as well. Although harrowing, grief is proof of our unyielding love for others. As Queen Elizabeth II once said, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’.
The alternate world of Teddy’s fictional reality is an effective setting that assists the audience in gaining a deeper understanding of the essential message of ‘perception vs reality’. In order to handle the grief of his past, Teddy conjures a false reality in which he is the person he would rather be. The significant theme of ‘perception vs reality’ is introduced during the opening scene, when a close up shot displays Teddy gazing at himself in a mirror on a ship. The mirror is symbolic of the double-life that Teddy leads and it foreshadows that the Teddy we first see is only half of the person he actually is. In Teddy’s fictional world, he is a US Marshal who is intent upon finding a missing woman on Shutter Island. When he occupies this false world, Teddy can pretend that he is not a man who has been broken by the grief of his past. He hides behind the false placona which he has created, firmly believing that somehow this will shield him from his past pain. This can be linked to a dark impulse that people who are depressed tend to enact.The convince themselves that the only way to triumph over the darkness is to suppress it and hide behind a false placona. However, the danger with this is that we can become so used to our false identity that it can easily slip permanently into place. As Patrick Rothfess once said, ‘ We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be ‘.
Lastly, the effective setting of Teddy’s present assists the audience in gaining a deeper understanding of the essential message of ‘truth’. Teddy continually denies his true past as it is too painful to accept. It is the truth of his experiences during World War 2 and the truth of the death of his family that holds him back from accepting who he truly is. Teddy tries to cover up the wounds that the truth inflicts, believing that they will disappear. This is portrayed through a close up shot of Teddy’s face during the opening scene of the film, as it reveals a bandaid occupying the left side of his forehead. At first, the bandaid seems insignificant as the audience assumes that it covers some physical wound, whereas in reality, it is a figurative representation of Teddy’s tendency to cover up the wounds that are inflicted by his past traumas. Teddy physically tries to hide the truth of his past experiences and actions. He attempts to block it out as he believes that this will eliminate all of the suffering he endured.
Scorcese symbolises ‘truth’ with water, which Teddy has a profound fear of. This fear of Teddy’s is revealed during the opening scene, when he is sickened by the sight of the water that surrounds the boat he is aboard. Teddy’s aversion to water mirrors his aversion to the truth of his past and present. He is unable to accept the person that his past influences him to be in the present. It is only at the end of the film that Teddy accepts the truth, as represented by his action of diving into the water before he enters the lighthouse. Through Teddy’s actions in the present world of accepting the truth of his past, he assists the audience in gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of the truth in our lives. There is no easy way to suppress or cover up the truth so that it disappears as it is engraved into our being.
In conclusion, Scorsese utilises the effective settings of Teddy’s three alternative worlds - past, fictional reality and present - to assist the audience in gaining a deeper understanding of the essential themes of ‘grief’, ‘perception vs reality’ and ‘truth’. Teddy teaches us a lot about the importance of accepting our past and learning to love the person that it influences us to be. There is no point in trying to suppress our pain when the only way to triumph over it, is to accept it and move forward. As humans, we need to deviate away from our dark tendency to comfort ourselves with lies and instead learn from the mistakes or experiences that inflicted that suffering. As author Sonya Parker wisely said ‘A lie can hide the truth but it can’t change the truth.’