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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shutter Island and Johnny Panic

Sometimes things aren’t always as they appear, distorting reality in being an illusion. In literature, reality can be an illusion or distorted if the narrator is unreliable. Both the movie Shutter Island and the short story “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” by Sylvia Plath strikingly resemble each other in numerous ways, including the common gothic trope of an unreliable narrator.
 The story “Johnny Panic” is about a woman who works at a hospital typing up patient’s dreams.  Johnny Panic is a ‘hero’ whom she also secretly works for, writing all the dreams she types up at work in a book after work for him. She speaks of him obsessively and patriotically, staying loyal to his cult-like wishes of her recording dreams.  One night she is caught after hours at the hospital in the record room by her supervisor and it’s not until she is brought to a patient electric shock treatment room that we figure out she is actually a patient at the hospital.  In analyzing the story further, subtle context clues become evident to indicate that she is more likely a patient than an employee.
 In comparison, the movie Sutter Island is about a sheriff Marshall, Andrew Laeddis, investigating a missing patient at a mental hospital located on an isolated island.  Andrew goes around the island looking for clues and solving a mystery, which turns out to be his own.  Andrew is actually a mental patient on the island, and Andrew’s psychiatrist set up this complex ‘roleplaying therapy’ to help him rediscover reality. Andrew invented a fictional world he made up to justify murdering his wife for killing their kids. In the end, the viewer is left with a cliff hanging ending of whether or not Andrew accepts reality or not.

In both stories, the use of an unreliable narrator creates a captivating sense of suspense, mystery and dread.  When the audience is left in the dark, it only entices the reader or viewer to want more.

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