He feels guilty about neglecting to get his wife help, which could have saved their children, and guilty about killing her as well; the two of these add up heavily on his conscience, so much so that he creates an alternate personality (Teddy Daniels) to get away from the terrible reality that is his life. I will refer to him as Teddy throughout my character diagnosis. Scene one: Teddy experiences a nightmare about his wife. The fire symbolizes not only how she first tried to commit suicide, but also the death of his sanity.
The nightmare begins with his wife scolding him about his drinking problem, which is a repressed regret that only comes out in his dreams where he is vulnerable. She says she never left, and she walks to the window where you can see the lake; the one where she drowned her children and was murdered (by Teddy) at. She tells him he needs to wake up, but she really means he needs to see reality, she says she’s not really there, and that he needs to face that. She says “Laeddis” is still there, which is who he was before he invented the Teddy persona to avoid feeling the guilt, since he would inevitably blame himself for their deaths.
Shutter Island Wife Scene
Scene two: Teddy has a flashback about his traumatic experience in Germany during World War II. He has post-traumatic stress disorder from his time spent there and his repressed memories span from killing guards to seeing thousands of innocent people turn to frozen corpses. He has guilt, shame and self-hatred induced psychosis from his involvement in the war. He sees his nurse (he replaces the image of his wife with the image of his nurse because it’s easier to handle) and his deceased daughter, she is a symbol of his guilt for neglecting his wife’s mental problems.
If he had have done something about his wife, his children would not have died. Scene three: Again Teddy replaces his wife with his nurse to avoid further pain and she asks him to help her. He picks up his daughter and she once again is a symbol of guilt as she asks him why he didn’t save her. He said it was too late by the time he got there, meaning physically to the scene where his children were murdered as well as meaning that he was too late in getting help for his wife who was visibly losing touch with reality.
Scene four: Teddy talks to his old friend, who he remembers, but he does not understand still that he was a patient at Shutter Island along with his friend. He does not remember beating up his friend, even when his friend says he looks so bad because of him. Teddy stays stuck in his other personality, which is a common trait of borderline personality disorder. When he is in one identity, he shows a complete amnesia for his other identity. He created a fictional life for himself, with fictional characters to go along with the story.
He tells himself his wife died in a fire, when he really murdered her. He blames “Andrew Laeddis” (who is himself) for being the one who lit the match that killed his wife, which is a metaphor for him being at fault for her death, and the children’s deaths. He is in a constant search for Andrew Laeddis, saying he’s the secret patient at Shutter Island, and his imagined wife tells him to kill Andrew. He wants so badly to get rid of his past self, because he would rather live without feeling the guilt.
His friend says he can’t deal with the truth and kill his old self at the same time, he makes the point that he’s fighting against himself. When his friend mentions his deceased wife, and repeats saying “let her go”, Teddy hallucinates that she is present in the room. His friend knows he’s seeing her, and is clearly distressed, he knows his delusions will be the death of him. He snaps out of his alternate personality for a moment and says that he can’t let her go. Knowing that Teddy was and still is technically a patient of Shutter Island, he warns that Teddy will never leave the island.