Shutter Island vs. Inception

15 May

This entry is only intended to be read by those of you who have seen both Shutter Island (2010) and Inception (2010). I wouldn’t want to spoil one or the other for you, but if you have read this far then I have probably already ruined it for you since I am comparing the two because they are so freaking similar.

DiCaprio as Cobb in Shutter Island

Ok, so maybe I am overreacting a bit. Shutter Island is about Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall investigating the disappearance of "Teddy Daniels" in Shutter Island

a patient from a high security mental hospital for the criminally insane; Inception is about collaborative dreaming within dreams. And while I haven’t yet looked up on the interwebs anyone else’s opinion about the matter, does it not strike anyone else as odd how much Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters in both of these movies resemble one another? And unlike some movies that are similar yet span time and even genre, these two movies have the same main character and came out in the same year.

with Mal

So let’s get down to brass tacks, ladies and gentlemen…DiCaprio’s character in both movies is a mentally and emotionally unstable man. He is intelligent, but troubled because of the loss of the love of his life (Michelle Williams as Dolores [1. meaning pains in Spanish by the way] in Shutter Island and Marion Cotillard as Mal [2. meaning bad in Spanish, evil in French, fyi]  in Inception).  And these aren’t lost loves simply because they left him and broke his heart, but they both died in unconventional and haunting ways, leaving DiCaprio’s character(s) to lament and mourn through unhealthy and other-dimensional ways. Hallucinatory dream-like states reunite DiCaprio with his dead wives, and you feel sad along with him.

with Dolores

In the films you get little hints that he should not be visiting these women in the depths of his mind, but you initially don’t see what the harm is, he is just grieving as would be expected. Towards the end of the films, however, it is revealed that these women were crazy, and in one way or another (whether directly or indirectly) had a hand in their own demise. What is more, DiCaprio’s characters themselves also play a role in the death of these women, thus twisting the knife in the broken-hearted torment of his loss.

I have to say that I prefer Inception to Shutter Island, and despite my annoyance with the similarity of these main characters, I still rather like both movies for what they are. I can’t quite put my finger on what draws me to Inception more other than a.) I saw it first, b.) I love dream-things, c.) I saw it at a time that really gave the movie special meaning to me based on life events and d.) (I know this is a cinephile sin) but I am not exactly in love with Scorcese’s work. I know I shouldn’t generalize what makes a movie “masculine” or “feminine,”- and in general I don’t believe I prefer one “gender-genre” to the other- but I think Scorcese’s is just too masculine, rough and grizzled. Inception seems to me more artistic, delicate and lyrical. It doesn’t set out to scare the viewer as Shutter Island does.

Have you seen both? Let me know what you think.


4 Responses to “Shutter Island vs. Inception”

  1. Jeff Dickinson May 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    You’ve put into words what I felt watching Inception; Dicaprio played almost the same guy in both movies.
    Shutter Island is intense and enjoyably twisted but I don’t think it’s a great movie-Inception is. When I left the theater I was so excited to have seen something so different , ambitious and creative although I’ve talked to others who did not have the same reaction. I liked it so much I even did some drawings based around the ideas. Perhaps I was predisposed because I love books and movies about dreams and even practiced for months to achieve lucid dreaming(I eventually succeeded but it was so intense and disturbing I gave it up).
    I liked Inception so much I bought it on DVD which is a rare occurrence.

    • raspberry eskimo May 18, 2011 at 3:09 am #

      Jeff, so good to hear from you! I’d love to see your work inspired by the film and subject matter. It’s been a while since I checked your absolutearts page, but I don’t recall seeing something like that. Anyway, hope all is well. I don’t know how else to get ahold of you so I hope you see this!

  2. Jeff Dickinson May 24, 2011 at 4:06 am #

    You can contact me at I haven’t posted the Inception stuff on my Absolute Arts page because they’re only sketches but I am in the process of turning them into a poster.

    I stop in at your site once a month or so-your reactions to movies are more personal and therefore more interesting to me. Sometimes I’m more interested in hearing your reaction than in seeing the movie(ex.-the Human Centipede).

  3. seylus July 24, 2015 at 6:58 am #

    Hi there! Shutter Island and Inception came out a long time ago now, but I noticed the same thing. If you’re interested, I made some points that crossover with some of what you say here and looked into other connections:

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