Shutter Island, and How Hollywood Continually Misrepresents Mental Illness

Shutter Island, and How Hollywood Continually Misrepresents Mental Illness

Shutter Island is a fantastic depiction of what Hollywood believes mental illness is like. While very entertaining, the movie presents a very exaggerated, uninformed, and unrealistic view on mental health. I recall the movie being sold as a psychological thriller being about schizophrenia, which couldn’t be farther from the case. Schizophrenics are confused, clouded individuals, whereas the protagonist (played by Leo DiCaprio) is clearly a very intelligent, high functioning individual who functions within societal norms. In actuality the main character suffers from a highly unique and extremely unlikely form of Delusional Disorder and PTSD.

This movie soaks itself in the old world psychological horror of ice pick lobotomies and pre-1970s horror asylums, which, while terrifying, are not wholly representative of the wide margin of psychological institutions at the time. I too find it odd that we are lead to accept by the end, that Teddy is one whom has received mental help after the terrible fate of his family, and that this strong, successful person with no history of mental disorder, is wrought to the point of not only developing his own reality, but that his treatment has priorly been successful; that he dips in and out of recover. Depicting mental disorders as something one jumps in-and-out of like a pool of water, without an acknowledgement or understanding of the basic genetic ramifications and importance in possessing a disorder, is flawed at best. The likelihood of someone like Teddy developing these disorders after his tragic events seem less and less likely the further you study his scenario.

Overall, we can’t assume Hollywood has anything more than a very basic understanding of psychology as a whole. Hollywood simply possesses enough information to create a very misinformed, imaginative story that in the end does more harm than good in public perception of the mentally ill. So no, the issue at hand was not portrayed well, much as the marketing material and initial film reviews mislabeled Teddy’s disorder completely. But it was wildly entertaining, I’ll give it that.

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