In Shutter Island (2010), Dr. Jeremiah refers to Teddy as a man of violence, not a violent man. What's the difference between the two? Aren't the men of violence violent?

Dr. Jeremiah Naehring: Men like you are my specialty, you know? Men of violence.
Chuck Aule: Now, that’s a hell of an assumption to make.
Dr. Jeremiah Naehring: No assumption, no, not at all. You misunderstand me, I said you are men of violence. I am not accusing of being violent men, that’s quite different.

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    I think perhaps he means a man "in" violence. As in there is a difference between someone actively seeking violence (ie: revenge) and being more or less accidentally violent (confused by state of reality). I haven't watched in while though to make sure there isn't further context in other lines of dialogue, because there could be deeper meaning. Dec 16, 2019 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


In the continuation of this scene, Dr Jeremiah explains that difference:

Dr Jeremiah: No assumption. Not at all. you misunderstand me, I said you are men of violence I'm not accusing you of being violent man It's quite different

Please, please, edify us, Doc.

You both served overseas

Not much of a stretch, Doc. for all you know, we were both paper-pushers over there

No, you were not. Since the schoolyard, I would bet neither of you has ever walked away from a physical conflict. Not to suggest you enjoy it, but because retreat wasn't something you considered an option

Men of violence are people who occasionally resort to violence when it is required - people like soldiers, police officers, bodyguards, or simply people willing to stand their ground. They all can resort to using force (i.e. in their line of work) but that violence is calculated as a necessity, not as an impulse.

In contrast, violent men act on an impulse and resort to violence even when it is not called for and often do this for the pleasure it gives them.

A man of violence will beat you up to restrain you, a violent man will beat you up because you looked at him funny.

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    I agree with the distinction this answer provides. This is the message the movie attempted to convey. Whether or not it is a true statement is a question for the philosophy SE site, but I would argue that it's a little iffy. They're essentially drawing a fixed boundary between justified and unjustified violence and suggesting that people will exist in only one of those groups (or not at all)
    – Brian R
    Dec 17, 2019 at 20:23
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    @BrianR I don't think anything in quoted text suggests that someone cannot be both. I think the implication is that a "violent man" resorts to violence quickly while a "man of violence" is capable of using violence. They can, but do not necessarily, overlap. As you say, whether this distinction is meaningful and real in the real world is another question for a different forum, but nothing here says they can't overlap. Dec 17, 2019 at 22:16
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    S.M. Stirling, in "In the Court of the Crimson Kings" had the Martians have one term,"Professional Practitioner of Coercive Violence", describe Cops, Soldiers and Bandits, with their culture making no distinction between the 3. Which just about describes "Man of Violence in this context. Coincidentally, Russian has a term, "Silovik" which means pretty much the same thing.
    – Eugene
    Dec 17, 2019 at 22:56
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    @TimothyAWiseman, a violent man can have a position of "men of violence", and quite often do because they are drawn to the violence, but that doesn't mean all people who serve in that role are violent men or women. There are plenty of cops and soldiers that are brutal, but they are not all that way. I was once a soldier, but no one would call me violent. My brother-in-law was once a cop, and no one would call him violent. There really is a distinction, even if people won't or sometimes can't see the difference. Dec 18, 2019 at 18:22
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    @computercarguy to be clear, as a former soldier myself, I absolutely think there is a meaningful distinction between the two terms. I just think that is a more properly a different question for a different forum. Dec 18, 2019 at 21:34

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