A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.