SHUTTER ISLAND LINK TO OEDIPUS
Elements of an Oedipal Storyline
Oedipus was a character from an Ancient Greek play by Sophocles. (see story below)
In the course of trying to find a solution to the problem you find out you are the problem. The search for truth and meaning
becomes a search about yourself. This is what happens to Laeddis/Daniels’ character in Shutter island.
A character goes off in search of answers to a problem and finds out through the course of the narrative that they are the
source of the problem.
Freud & Oedipus
The Oedipus myth was also taken up in Freud’s work where in a ‘nutshell’ he felt that all little boys went through a stage
where they wanted their fathers out of the picture and just to be with their mothers. This is often used in analysis of
literature & media whereby analysts will say a film has oedipal tones when the new order wants to overthrow the
established order ie: young versus old, new vs tradition. (the film Footloose can be said to have these elements within it)
Basics of the Oedipal myth: So many stories, fairytales & film narratives have links to the basic stories
of Greek myths. Can you recognise elements of the Oedipus myth in other films and stories you have
Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes.
After having been married some time without children, his parents consult the Oracle of
Apollo(God of Sun) at Delphi about their childlessness. The Oracle prophesies that if Jocasta should
have a son, the son will kill her husband Laius and marry her. In an attempt to prevent this
prophecy's fulfillment, when Jocasta indeed bears a son, Laius has his ankles pinned together so
that he cannot crawl, and gives the boy to a servant to abandon ("expose") on the nearby
mountain. However, rather than leave the child to die of exposure, as Laius intended, the
sympathetic servant passes the baby onto a shepherd from Corinth and then to another shepherd.
Oedipus the infant eventually comes to the house of Polybus, king of Corinth and his queen,
Merope, who adopt him as they are without children of their own. Little Oedipus/Oidipous is
named after the swelling from the injuries to his feet and ankles. The word oedema (British
English) or edema (American English) is from this same Greek word for swelling: οἴδημα,
Many years later, Oedipus is told by a drunk that Polybus is not his real father but when he asks his
parents, they deny it. Oedipus seeks counsel from the same Delphic Oracle. The Oracle does not
tell him the identity of his true parents but instead tells him that he is destined to kill his father
and marry his mother. In his attempt to avoid the fate predicted by the Oracle, he decides to not
return home to Corinth. Since it is near to Delphi, Oedipus decides to go to Thebes.
As Oedipus travels he comes to the place where three roads meet, Davlia. Here he encounters
a chariot driven by his (unrecognized) birth-father, King Laius. They fight over who has the right to
go first and Oedipus kills Laius in self defense, unwittingly fulfilling part of the prophecy. The only
witness of the King's death is a slave who flees from a caravan of slaves also traveling on the road.
Continuing his journey to Thebes, Oedipus encounters a Sphinx which would stop all those who
traveled to Thebes and ask them a riddle. If the travelers were unable to answer correctly, they
would be killed and eaten by the sphinx; if they were successful, they would be able to continue
their journey. The riddle was: "What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and
three at night?". Oedipus answers: "Man: as an infant, he crawls on all fours; as an adult, he walks
on two legs and; in old age, he relies on a walking stick". Oedipus is the first to answer the riddle
correctly and, having heard Oedipus' answer, the Sphinx is astounded and inexplicably kills itself by
throwing itself into the sea, freeing Thebes.
Grateful, the people of Thebes appoint Oedipus as their king and give him the recently widowed
Queen Jocasta's hand in marriage. (The people of Thebes believe her husband had been killed while
on a search for the answer to the Sphinx's riddle. They have no idea of the killer's identity.) The
marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta fulfills the rest of the prophecy. Oedipus and Jocasta have four
children: two sons, Eteocles and Polynices (see Seven Against Thebes), and two
daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
Many years after the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta, a plague of infertility strikes the city of
Thebes; crops no longer grow to harvest and women do not bear children. Oedipus, in his hubris,
asserts that he will end the pestilence. He sends Creon, Jocasta's brother, to the Oracle at Delphi,
seeking guidance. When Creon returns, Oedipus hears that the murderer of the former King Laius
must be found and either be killed or exiled. In a search for the identity of the killer, Oedipus
follows Creon's suggestion and sends for the blind prophet, Tiresias, who warns him not to try to
find the killer. In a heated exchange, Tiresias is provoked into exposing Oedipus himself as the
killer, and the fact that Oedipus is living in shame because he does not know who his true parents
are. Oedipus blames Creon for Tiresias' telling Oedipus that he was the killer. Oedipus and Creon
begin a heated argument. Jocasta enters and tries to calm Oedipus, attempting to comfort him by
telling him about her first son and his supposed death. Oedipus becomes unnerved as he begins to
think that he might have killed Laius and so brought about the plague. Suddenly, a messenger
arrives from Corinth with the news that King Polybus has died. Oedipus is relieved concerning the
prophecy for it could no longer be fulfilled if Polybus, whom he thinks of as his father, is now dead.
Nonetheless, he is wary while his mother lives and does not wish to go. To ease the stress of the
matter, the messenger then reveals that Oedipus was, in fact, adopted. Jocasta, finally realizing
Oedipus' true identity, begs him to abandon his search for Laius's murderer. Oedipus
misunderstands the motivation of her pleas, thinking that she was ashamed of him because he
might have been the son of a slave. Jocasta then goes into the palace where she hangs herself.
Oedipus seeks verification of the messenger's story from the very same herdsman who was
supposed to have left Oedipus to die as a baby. From the herdsman, Oedipus learns that the infant
raised as the adopted son of Polybus and Merope was the son of Laius and Jocasta. Thus, Oedipus
finally realizes in great agony that so many years ago, at the place where three roads meet, he had
killed his own father, King Laius and subsequently married his mother, Jocasta.
Oedipus goes in search of Jocasta and finds she has killed herself. Using the pin from a brooch he
takes off Jocasta's gown, Oedipus gouges his eyes out.
LINK TO FILM NOIR
According to wikipedia film noir genre's hallmarks: are a cynical private detective as the
protagonist, a femme fatale, multiple flashbacks with voiceover narration, dramatically
shadowed photography, and a fatalistic mood leavened with provocative banter.
Shutter Island most certainly fits this idea of film noir and the detective story. All of these facets
are within Scorcese’s film.
In the opening sequence,
• the actual sequence(s) which make up
the opening segment
• situations, characters and settings
• narrative possibilities or expectations
• historical periods – past, contemporary,
future or a combination
• significance of setting in the narrative –
association with particular characters,
• the manner in which characters are
established and developed – what
they do & say, what others say about
them, their placement within the
frame, their dress and appearance
• the role or function of characters within
• type & range of characters – similarities &
differences between them
• relationships between characters
• central and concurrent storylines and the
motivations, conflicts or narrative
issue raised in them
• ways in which storylines comment upon,
contrast or interrelate with other
storylines in the text
Structuring of Time
• ordering of events – flashback, flash
• duration of events – expansion or
contraction of time
• frequency of events – how frequently are
events or scenes shown in comparison
with their presumed occurrence and
linear and non linear
Cause and Effect
• character motivation and the events it
• natural and supernatural causes and their
Point of view from which the narrative is presented
• story information given or withheld at different points in the narrative
• sequence(s) which constitute this segment
• relationships between the closure and the
narrative possibilities or expectations
established in the opening
• extent to which motivations, conflicts or
narrative issues raised throughout
the narrative are resolved.
• the angle and movement of a shot –
tracking shot, high angle etc.
• distance of shots:close-ups,mid-shots,etc
• lenses used and focusing techniques – soft
focus, depth of field, wide
angle lens etc.
• type of film stock used – color, B&W
• exposure & printing of film
• lighting effects – emphasizing objects,
characters or actions
• expressive, setting a mood
Visual Composition (mis-en-scene )
• setting & set design
• costumes & objects
• arrangement and movement within the
frame – where objects and characters
are placed and how they move.
• spatial relations between objects and
• framing – the choice of borders enclosing
• associations brought to the character by
• contribution of the performance by the
actor to the film
• placement, timing and rhythm of editing
• visual and aural relationship – image to
image, sound to image, sound to sound
• dialogue, music, sound effects
Note: there are three types of sound in film:
1 Diegetic Sound is any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating from a
source within the films world.
2 Non-Diegetic Sound is any sound such as music or a narrators commentary,
represented as coming from a source outside the space of the narrative.
3 Direct Sound relates to diegetic sound but where as diegetic sound can actually be recorded
separately, direct sound is music, noise and speech recorded from the event at the moment of
Word of mouth
Experience & knowledge of
Director & Actors
Purpose for seeing text