Shutter Island

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Shutter Island Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Twisty, disturbing Scorsese thriller too intense for most.
  • R
  • 2010
  • 138 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 35 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 89 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie deals with the limits of the human mind and the sheer amount of horror and torment it can take before it snaps. It also examines the extent to which humans are capable of violence and evil. Some characters may or may not have good intentions, but the movie deliberately blurs this behavior in the service of the story. Some conversation about belief in God.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The hero is not much of a role model. He has twin goals: One of them requires bravery and selflessness and the other, selfish revenge. But whether he achieves either of these goals is up for debate. He also exhibits violent and erratic behavior throughout and does not play well with others. (On the other hand, he does risk his life in one sequence to save his partner.) Other characters do not seem trustworthy or reliable either.


Quite a few disturbing flashbacks and nightmare sequences, with piles of dead bodies in the Dachau concentration camp, a failed suicide attempt (the victim lays twitching in a puddle of blood), drowned children, a woman's body burning, shooting victims, and more blood. One scene shows the mass slaughter of Nazi guards by American soldiers; their bodies are riddled with bullets as they collapse, one by one, in a line. There are also scary images, such as prisoners grabbing through prison bars at the hero.


No sex, but in a flashback sequence we see a little kissing between an affectionate married couple. Brief flash of unclothed male prisonors.


The words "f--k" is heard about a dozen times; "s--t" a few times. We also hear "dick," "prick," "cock," "screw that," "dammit," "Jesus Christ," and "Goddamn it."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke cigarettes often, and one character smokes a pipe. The main character once had a drinking problem, but now abstains from liquor. We see him drinking whisky in flashbacks. Other characters drink in a social way. The hospital uses various sedatives and other kinds of drugs on the patients. The hero takes aspirins and there is a suggestion that they might be laced with hallucinogens or other drugs. We see the effects of these drugs through the eyes of the hero.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shutter Island is a very intense thriller, with some highly disturbing imagery, including drowned children, Nazi concentration camps, piles of corpses, blood, guns, dark prison corridors, and bizarre, scary nightmares and hallucinations. It contains strong, but not pervasive, foul language, smoking, and suggestions of various medical/experimental drugs. The movie's surprises and twists, while somewhat transparent, might appeal to older teens, if they can stomach the strong stuff. Younger kids and teens are strongly warned away.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bychristian2011 July 23, 2017

Plot-twisting, intense Martin Scorsese film that brings its own interesting perspective on mental illness.

Shutter Island is one of Martin Scorsese's most unique films that not only showcases Leonardo DiCaprio's highly versatile acting skills but a very wel... Continue reading
Adult Written bywonder dove May 3, 2013

Truly exceptional!

The first time I watched this movie, it was quite confusing. I had to search movie reviews to better understand what the story was about. After knowing more, I... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byretrobans33 November 1, 2020

Leonardo DiCaprio Kills Nazis; It's Not Fun

I think this movie is amazing. I knew of the twist before going in, yet it was still awesome to see it play out. The ending is ambiguous and shocking, and you q... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old September 20, 2020
This movie is AMAZING!! It has a great cast, great director, and great plot. It’s such a well thought out psychological thriller, and if you’re child can handle... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1954, federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive on Shutter Island, a treatment facility outside of Boston for the criminally insane, to search for an escaped murderess. Haunted by past images from Nazi concentration camps and visions of his dead wife (Michelle Williams), Teddy has another, more personal reason to visit the island. Unfortunately, he soon discovers that there might be far more sinister things going on, and that doctors Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max von Sydow), may be involved in some kind of hideous experiment. But even if Teddy can find proof, will he ever get off the island?

Is it any good?

SHUTTER ISLAND is a great-looking, highly stylized, very intense thriller in the vein of Martin Scorsese's earlier Cape Fear (1991). The film was directed by the legendary Scorsese and adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone). While Scorsese is very good at creating strong images and exploring powerful characters head-on, though, he's not particularly good at sneaking around, planting clues and red herrings, and springing surprise plot twists.

Experienced moviegoers will likely be two jumps ahead of the story, but that doesn't take away from the pure, exciting, physical experience of the movie itself. Individual moments and the performances of an excellent cast can take your breath away, regardless of the whole. As with many of Scorsese's movies, the imagery can be of a highly disturbing -- even nightmarish -- nature, and younger viewers are strongly warned away.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violent nightmares, visions, and flashbacks. How did they affect you? Did they make you feel angry, edgy, or curious? Why do you think that was? Did you notice your behavior change after the movie?

  • Talk about the methods of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), which include listening to and empathizing with his patients. How is this better than treating dangerous patients with drugs and locking them up? Is it easier, or more difficult, to listen?

  • According to the movie, the human brain has the capacity to block out memories of horrible or tragic events. What effect would this have? Would it make life easier, or more difficult?

  • The movie is set in 1954 and portrays a lot of era-accurate smoking? What has changed about how people think about smoking since the 1950s?

Movie details

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