TAKE SHELTER, 2011
Stars: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Katy Mixon, Natasha Randall, Shea Whigham
Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.
If you saw someone point a gun at you, how would you react? You would probably cover up, run away, or try and stop him from harming you. Now, what would you do if you found out that man didn’t actually exist? He’s apart of an illusion brought on by schizophrenia. Even though you are aware that that man is not a threat, all of your instincts are still telling you you’re life is in danger. You still see, hear, and feel his presence as if he existed. How would you react then? A similar scenario happens to Curtis (Michael Shannon), but swap a gun for an apocalyptic storm.
"Take Shelter" is a psychological drama about a man named Curtis and his unrelenting visions of the apocalypse. Curtis is the husband to the supportive and caring Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and father to the deaf Hanna (Tova Stewart). He’s a generally well balanced man that keeps a solid relationship with his family and co-workers. His mental stability starts to thin as he has recurring nightmares of the storm to end all storms. The nightmares become increasingly more intense and the effects of those dreams linger with him throughout the day.
The dreams depict a massive storm that produces a rusted color rain that causes ordinary people to become aggressive and attack Curtis and his family. The dream sequences are shot just slightly differently than the rest of the film. The images are colored just a tad differently and the camera movement is so slight, that you may not even notice that the image is moving. It adds a certain eeriness, but it’s not harsh enough change to have you realize its a dream until it’s made abundantly clear.
Curtis becomes so afraid of the impending doomsday, that he starts building an underground tornado shelter in his backward. Having a family history with schizophrenia, Curtis is fairly aware that his fears are onset by a mental disorder. He even seeks medical aid, but medication only mildly subdues his disorder. His fixation with building the shelter is so impairing he is fired from work and loses his medical benefits. Those medical benefits would not only pay for his medication, but would get his daughter an operations that would give her hearing. The resulting stress only exacerbates his condition and his ability to distinguish reality and delusion.
"Take Shelter" is a well executed character study performed by the consistently good Michael Shannon. He brings subtly to a character who is losing his mind. Nuance is something that doesn’t usually occur in stories about insanity. The direction follows Michael Shannon’s performance as the film goes along at a leisurely pace and lets silence and thought tell just as much as the story as dialog and action.
There comes a point in this film where a storm does come and the shelter is used. It’s not the ultra death apocalypse storm that he’s been dreaming of, but it is severe enough to knock over a tree or two. The storm at this point becomes a therapy exercise as he is comforting what he believes to be the end of days. If he treats it as so, then his family will suffer, and that is a mental hurdle that he must attack on his own.
POSSIBLE CRAZY SUPER TWIST ENDING SPOILERS
He eventually overcomes his fear and leaves the shelter. He attempts to let his wife open the doors, but she insists that he has to do it. Anyone else but him would only perpetuate his condition. He then seeks medical and psychiatric help and his family is there to support him every step of the way.
Then, while playing with his daughter, Curtis sees a storm in the distance. It’s massive, swirling, and very much seems like something that could end worlds. Curtis would probably pass this off as a delusion, but his daughter is the one that pointed it out. Samantha even sees the impending doom and rusted color rain starts to pour. Curtis goes to his family as they all decide to face the storm together.
The rational side of me believes that this is another dream and a sign that Curtis is getting better. He is facing the storm with his family instead of confronting it alone. That’s what I’m assuming, but the movie doesn’t validate that. It is possible that Curtis had visions of the actual apocalypse and that a planet wide storm is going to pummel the earth with evil rain after the credits roll. I would actually like to see that movie.