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Is Shutter Island Based On A True Story?

Back in 2010, audiences were hooked by Martin Scorsese's noir mystery "Shutter Island," based on the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane. The story follows deputy U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the disappearance of a young woman, Rachel Solando, at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. With some mind-bending clues that eventually build into a shocking revelation, it's an excellent thriller. It debuted to mixed reviews from critics, with The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calling the shocking twist "Silly."

The revelation that the film teases throughout worked well for many audiences, though, and it's much more rewarding after multiple viewings, knowing who Andrew Laeddis really is, as well as the meaning behind Rachel Solando's name. It's best to stop reading if you haven't seen the film because this is going to get a little spoilery. 

By the end of "Shutter Island," it's revealed that the entire mystery is a large-scale role-playing game designed to force Andrew Laeddis to confront his own inner demons by pretending to be a marshal, Teddy Daniels. He was incarcerated for killing his own wife (Michelle Williams) after she drowned their children during a manic episode. Admittedly, the reveal is a little confusing at first because of all the sprawling pieces in the psychological puzzle. But with the 1950s period setting and the intense atmosphere threaded throughout, was "Shutter Island" based on a true story?

It's based on a real island

Unfortunately, "Shutter Island" isn't based on a true story, and author Dennis Lehane came up with the mystery of his own accord — however, that doesn't mean there aren't elements of truth thrown in for good measure. It's widely known that Lehane based the titular island of the story on Long Island in Boston Harbor. The now-restricted island was home to a hospital and a treatment center for drug addiction, as well as the Nike missile system in the 1950s.

Lehane apparently visited Long Island as a young teenager in 1978 with his family during the infamous Northeastern Blizzard — undoubtedly inspiring the chaotic hurricane which prominently features in his book, supposedly "trapping" Teddy Daniels on the island. So although it's not based on actual events, it's interesting to see how the experience eventually gave birth to the popular novel. So no, Teddy Daniels was not a real person in the 1950s who struggled with mental illness after killing his wife and losing his children. But that's probably a good thing, really.