I remember the anxiety I felt the first time it dawned on me that the world can end. I may not remember the specific moment but I do remember that feeling. That feeling has never gone away. It lingers on as I watch world events from afar and see scientists talk on T.V. almost too jubilant about the end of mankind. The only thing that is reassuring is that I’m still here. The time I spend on this earth is small and so I play the numbers game to put those thoughts to the back of my head so I can become ignorant of the potential that tomorrow has. That ignorance keeps me moving forward; that ignorance keeps me sane.
I don’t know if our main character, Curtis (played by Michael Shannon), is bat crazy or is really seeing the coming apocalypse but what I do know Is that whatever it is, it will destroy him. Take Shelter begins with our introduction to Curtis who is a good dad, good husband, and just one of the boys around town. One night Curtis has a dream about a massive storm. The dream is ignored at first but more come and they become increasingly deranged and freighting. Curtis starts to become fixated on the visions and starts to prepare for what may or may not be coming. As he prepares for something only he understands, the whole community starts to turn against him. His erratic behavior and his unreasonable actions caused by his anxiety and fear of a giant storm puts his family and their way of life in jeopardy. The rest of the movie is a slippery slope leading into an ending that can mean many things but is certainly tragic in nature.
Jeff Nichols directed and wrote Take Shelter. If you just look at the script you see what a masterwork it is. The balance between the dreams and ordinary life is put together well and the progression of the story is excellent. The idea here is interesting enough to warrant a script but it is Nichols execution, which is truly impressive. Take Shelter dabbles into two distinctive genres; that of drama and of horror. Nichols doesn’t let the movie get crowded with both genres but beautifully fuses them together. Nichols creates the mood perfectly. The dreams compliment reality and reality compliments the dreams. Nichols keeps the intensity up and creates a feeling of uneasiness all throughout the film. This isn’t the first time Nichols has impressed. He impressed me with his first film, Shotgun Stories (which also starts Michael Shannon). If Shotgun Stories got my attention then Take Shelter smacked me in the face. This is Nichols Memento, a film that will break things wide open for him. He is somebody to take notice of now instead of somebody to keep an eye on.
I love Nichols’ two films and I really hope he doesn’t change his formula, which includes his leading man. Michael Shannon is one of the more underrated actors around. His performance here is the hinge on which the film pivots. His nuances and his movements convey a lot through out and work as red flags of a man that is doomed. His performance is a teetering act between sanity and insanity and when that seesaw finally falls to one side, Shannon’s performance burst open to reveal the anxiety within. His performance is a tour de force. Shannon is a big and tough looking dude but when he finally has to choose between the acceptance of his mental illness or indulge in his fear of the storm, his face is just down right heartbreaking. His performance is only complimented by the performance of Jessica Chastain who plays Curtis’s loving and supporting wife, Samantha. Chastain can also be seen in The Tree of Life but her performance here is more down to earth. She plays Samantha as a strong female character that shows compassion when it is needed and anger when it is justified. She doesn’t annoy the audience but is more of an outlet of their frustration. Samantha is probably the hero of the story. She is a character that takes on the impossible in hopes of saving the man she once knew and Chastain is excellent in the role. She balances eloquence and despair perfectly.
Take Shelter’s ambiguous ending will disappoint some but it is an ending that kind of had to happen no matter which way the story went. On a literal level if you follow all of the rules of the visions then you will get a definitive answer at the end but something tells me that things aren’t what they seem. Whether or not Curtis is crazy, that fear has now become apart of his life. Curtis’s fear reminds me of the fear of our modern age. Every since the recession and 9/11 it seems like the main attitude of America is that of pessimism. The future doesn’t look as bright and our leaders seem to be leading us to destruction. Looking at the stars and listening to CNN, it’s hard not to think that things have gone bad or question the control we have over our own fate. But what do we do? Do we try to prevent things that have not happened or do we sit and wait to see what happens and believe in our sense of invincibility? That storm has ruined Curtis’s life no matter whether it will come to pass. If only he could’ve taken shelter from himself.
Take Shelter is an excellent and daunting ride. It is a movie that never lets go of your jugular and never ever feels at peace with itself. The anxiety of it fills the screen. It is a movie that never shouts but is more of a disturbed piece of work. When I left the theater though I couldn’t help but feel bad for Curtis. He is somebody who is helpless to the visions in his mind. He acts like an ant trapped in a maze with no exit and to watch him try to escape his own mind is gut wrenching. Curtis goes through a lot here and unfortunately I feel that the worse is yet to come. The credits may save us but they don’t save Curtis from an unknown fate. Take Shelter is a brilliant look at somebody dissolving in front of our eyes from forces beyond their control. Do yourself a favor and go see it. Trust me, you don’t have to be a movie snob to enjoy this engrossing tale of man vs. mind.