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. What about if you discovered that man doesn’t actually exist? That he’s a part of an illusion brought on by schizophrenia? Even though you are aware that the man is not a threat, all of your instincts are still telling you that you’re in danger. What would you do? Swap the gun for the apocalypse, and you’ll have a vague idea of what Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) is going through.
“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 Hannah (Tova Stewart). He’s a generally well balanced man who keeps solid relationships with his family and co-workers. He seems fairly content with his life until his mental stability starts to thin. He begins to have recurring nightmares of a storm to end all storms. In the nightmares, a massive storm that produces a rust colored rain causes ordinary people to become aggressive and attack Curtis and his family. The nightmares start to become increasingly more intense, and they linger with him in his waking hours.
The dream sequences are shot slightly differently than the rest of the film. The colors a tad more saturated and the camera movement is so subtle, that you may not even notice that the image is moving. This adds a certain eeriness to the scenes, but it’s not enough of a change to make you realize they are dreams until it’s made abundantly clear.
Eventually, Curtis becomes so terrified of the impending doomsday, that he starts building an underground tornado shelter in his backyard. Having a family history with schizophrenia, Curtis is fairly aware that his fears are the result of a mental disorder. He even seeks medical aid, but medication only mildly subdues his symptoms. His fixation with building the shelter is so impairing, he is fired from his job and loses his medical benefits. Unfortunately, those medical benefits would not only have paid for his medication, but would also have allowed his daughter to receive an operation that would restore her hearing. The resulting stress exacerbates his condition along with his ability to distinguish reality from delusion.
“Take Shelter” is a well executed character study performed by the consistently good Michael Shannon. Nuance isn’t usually present in stories about insanity, but Shannon manages to pull it off. The direction follows Michael Shannon’s performance and the film proceeds at a leisurely pace. It allows silence and thought to tell just as much of the story as dialog and action.
So far, “Take Shelter” is one of my favorite movies of the year. It’s a solid culmination of photography, performance, and pacing. Watching a man descend into madness might not be the most entraining of films, but watching a man confront his madness is damn well inspiring. Michael Shannon has proven that he has an incredible range with insanity. “Bug” displayed him as boisterous and loud as “Take Shelter” showed the quiet side of insanity. What the hell’s he going to do as the superman villain “Zod” in “Man of Steel?”
POSSIBLE CRAZY SUPER TWIST ENDING SPOILERS
There is a point in this film where a storm does come and the shelter is used. It’s not the ultra death apocalypse storm Curtis has been dreaming of, but it’s severe enough to knock over a tree or two. The storm at this point becomes a therapy exercise as he is confronting what he believes to be the end of days. If he treats it as so, then his family will suffer, and that is the mental hurdle that he must overcome.
Curtis eventually faces his fear and leaves the shelter. He attempts to let his wife open the doors, but she insists that he 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 have passed this off as a delusion, except that his daughter is the one that pointed it out. Samantha even sees the impending doom, and rust colored rain starts to pour. Curtis goes to his family and they all decide to face the storm together.
The rational side of me believes that this ending is meant to be another dream and a sign that Curtis is getting better. He is facing the storm with his family instead of confronting it alone. On the other hand, 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. Even though the ambiguous route is fitting, I would have liked to see the apocalypse happen as a result of evil rain. I would watch that movie.