An engaging ride into the human mind’s psychological haunts, ‘Shutter Island’ is an enigmatic story with an elaborate plot twist. Based on Dennis Lehane’s eponymous novel, ‘Shutter Island’ tells the story of Andrew Laeddis, a mental patient at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Laeddis has created an elaborate character by the name of Edward Daniels, a US Marshal who is supposedly investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando in the institution.
Edward believes that his wife and children were murdered by Andrew Laeddis, who burned down his house. Stemming from great trauma, Andrew’s fantasy has created a dissociated identity that may become a conduit to let out his own guilt. Sensing an opportunity, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) decides to stage an elaborate role-play where Andrew can live through Edward Daniels’ character. In the end, many questions are answered, the most important one being the death of his wife. So how does Teddy’s wife die in the film? Did he kill her? Here’s what we know. SPOILERS AHEAD.
How Did Teddy’s Wife Die in Shutter Island?
Edward “Teddy” Daniels believes that he is investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando in the hospital. In a conversation with Chuck, he says that his wife and children were burned to death in an apartment fire. An arsonist, Andrew Laeddis, allegedly started the fire. Throughout the film, dream sequences show Teddy embracing his wife, who is slowly reduced to ashes. Fire becomes an important element in the dream sequence, which indicates Teddy’s story about his wife’s death. He reveals to Chuck that his ulterior motive is to find Andrew Laeddis, who apparently lives on the island. We are made to believe that Teddy’s wife has indeed died because of the fire.
Teddy finds a psychiatrist hiding in a sea-cave, who identifies herself as Rachel Solando. She tells Teddy that the hospital conducts unethical research on patients to develop mind-control techniques. As Teddy climbs through the lighthouse (the purported place of the experiments), he confronts Dr. Cawley. Cawley reveals a scary truth to Teddy. Teddy is, in fact, Andrew Laeddis, a war veteran who turned to alcoholism to keep his trauma at bay.
Andrew’s wife, Dolores, was a patient of depression who, in her manic state, murdered their children by drowning them. When Andrew found out about this situation, he killed his wife. Unable to deal with the horrific reality, Andrew withdraws into himself and creates an elaborate delusion to dissociate his guilt and transfer it onto a figment of the imagination. Andrew thus becomes the 67th patient of Ashecliffe Hospital.
Did Teddy Kill His Wife?
There are certain sequences in the film that show Teddy to be adept at kindling a fire. It can be implied that Teddy burned his own apartment and imagines Andrew Laeddis as the criminal. Another way of interpreting it will be that fire represents the truth that Teddy wants to believe. It is a hallucination that helps him deal with his guilt.
On the other hand, water plays a major symbolic role in pointing to the veracity of Andrew’s condition. Teddy’s hallucination of the storm and Dolores’ dripping wet appearance in his dreams indicate a different truth of his wife’s murder. In one particular scene, a woman patient who Teddy interrogates drinks a glass of water. As Teddy’s point of view is picked by the camera, the woman doesn’t seem to have the glass of water in her hand.
It suggests that Teddy consciously tries to erase water elements from his surroundings, as it reminds him of his wife and the drowning of his children. Teddy’s aversion to water and his sea-sickness make it clear that water is associated with his trauma. Given the ambiguous ending, it is difficult to ascertain the real cause of Dolores’ death. Nevertheless, it can be concluded with certainty that in both Teddy and Dr. Cawley’s narrative, ‘Andrew’ is the perpetrator of the crime.