Philosophy professor Dr Cataldi examines trust through ‘Shutter Island’

Philosophy professor Dr. Sue Cataldi has examined trust through by analyzing both the book and film Shutter Island. In the philosophy colloquium presented on Oct. 14, 2016, Dr. Cataldi delivered a presentation titled “Trust in Cinema through the Lens of Shutter Island.

Though the film was her main scope of interest, Dr. Cataldi cross referenced the book with its cinematic representation. In doing so, she compared the different messages one could take away from either portrayal. For instance, the book – written by Dennis Lehane – leaves certain aspects of the plot, namely the ending, on a more ambiguous level than does the film.

The story takes place in 1954 and follows two U.S. Marshals – Edward “Teddy” Daniels and Chuck Aule – who have been sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate by the name of Rachel Solando, who was incarcerated for drowning her three children.

Crucial to the plot is Daniels’ deceased wife, Dolores Chanal, who was killed in a fire set by one by the name of Andrew Laeddis. As it turns out, Daniels is delusional and he is in fact Laeddis. Through a kind of dissociative state, he imagined himself as a different person to cope with memories of killing his wife after she drowned their children.

After being confronted with the painful truth, Daniels/Laeddis ultimately decides to undergo a lobotomy, rather than live life rehabilitated. This aspect of the film led Dr. Cataldi into her philosophical endeavor regarding moral integrity and “monstrous” disturbances. Put in another way, it could be argued that receiving the lobotomy was a moral resignation to atone for his crimes, rather than live with the monstrous disturbance of knowing what he had done.

When analyzing the film and the topic of trust, Dr. Cataldi looked to philosopher Annette Baier and her interests of trust and care as an ethical philosophy. The film itself deals with trust in multiple aspects and from multiple viewpoints. For example, Daniels trusts Aule as his partner, the audience trusts Daniels and his back story, and the patients both trust and mistrust their physicians to varying degrees.

Dr. Cataldi also addressed the complicated issue of trusting the words of those deemed insane. If one is deemed mentally incompetent, how can another put trust in their word? The audience trusted Daniels’ narrative until it was shown to be a delusion. Additionally, Daniels trusted Aule as partner, when Aule was actually the lead psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley.

A final point to consider is the therapeutic aspects of trust. Dr. Cataldi believes that being able to trust in others, though it does allow for a sense of vulnerability, is ultimately therapeutic through camaraderie. In the words of Baier, “There are few fates worse than sustained, self-protective, self-paralyzing, generalized distrust of one’s human environment. The worst pathology of trust is a life-poisoning reaction to any betrayal of trust.”suecataldi

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