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In Shutter Island, at the end of the movie Teddy had a chat with Chuck, in that scene Teddy told to Chuck as,

Which would be worse: To live as a monster, or to die as a good man?

What's the implicit meaning of this dialogue? Who's the monster as Teddy mentioned?

And, who's a good man?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

To Live as a Monster

If he accepts his guilt and becomes sane he will become the Monster. His delusions are his brains way of removing this guilt and hiding the fact that he ignored his family, did not act on his wife's mental illness, allowed her to murder their children and then murdered her. By accepting what the doctors are telling him he will need to go on living in the knowledge that he allowed terrible things to happen and did terrible things. The doctors will be able to treat him without a lobotomy but he will be fully aware of the crimes he committed.

To die as a good man

In his delusion he is a good man. He truly believes that he is on the side of law and order and that he is doing right. If he chooses to continue to believe this he will be lobotomised and will no longer have relevant brain function to question what he did or did not do. The death is not literal as the other answer suggests. It is about the fact that if he continues to believe he is this good man he will be lobotomised and effectively "die" believing in this. He will not die in a literal sense until later, but he will do so in the belief he was a good man.

What is most exciting and cathartic about this decision is that this appears to be a moment of lucidity where he understands what has happened and is not in thrall of his delusions. He at this point of lucidity makes the decision that he can not live with his crimes and would prefer to lie to his doctor as he knows this will result in his lobotomy.

By making the statement to his doctor he makes him aware of this also and by virtue of this you could also argue that he is being a good man by electing to be punished as well as the belief in his delusion that he is good.

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He has been sane the entire time. He is accompanied by a new partner (which is suspect) and has migraines due to his PTSD from his experience in world war two. He is given psych meds from the institution which is a US experimental psych ward carried over from Nazi scientists. At the end he accepts his lobotomy because he would rather live than to die a sane man. This lobotomy also is his answer to forgetting his past which is his plague (the war and his lover whom he is no longer is with). He knows that he will never escape the island and would be murdered If he were to try. The government experiment would be compromised and he realizes his only option to true serenity.

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Both cases are Teddy, himself, and he lives this duality.

In one case, if he acknowledges he is the killer of his wife (and indirectly his children because he was away so long and often he never noticed his wife's depression), he is the 'Monster', but he can continue to live here on the island in peace, since he will accept the lobotomy. If he refuses to acknowledge his guilt, assuming the mantle of 'Good Man', and pursues trying to get off the island, he will certainly die during the attempt, since the island is remote, and the guards heavily fortified and 'itchy' to shoot someone (Remember that a prison is as much a prison to the guards, who spend long days languishing for something to do).

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+1 for the great answer. –  Vijin Paulraj Aug 1 '12 at 16:17
    
I really think the Phil the Bear's answer makes more sense regarding the "dying" part. He is not talking about actual death, but the lobotomy. He won't be lobotomised if he acknowledges what he did (as you suggest), but he has to live with the guilt. –  atticae Aug 2 '12 at 12:29

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