Monday, November 14, 2011

Take Shelter

Take Shelter - ***

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Review:  Everyone has those moments when they know its coming.  You wake up in the morning and your throats a bit scratchy.  You’re coming down with a cold or flu.  Each day until it fully hits you feel your body trying to fight it off.  After your throat hurts, you develop a cough.  After the cough comes the achiness.  Finally, you can’t fight it anymore and you succumb to the sickness.  You lie in bed for a day or two and then you’re back to normal.  Being sick is not enjoyable but it may be even worse when you know its coming but it’s not there yet. 

‘Take Shelter’ is about that feeling.  When you know something is coming and there’s nothing you can do but accept it.  In the case of Curtis (Shannon) what’s coming is a storm, a very big storm.  He sees visions of this storm in his dreams.  Eventually, he begins to see visions when he’s not dreaming.  Someone or something is trying to tell him something, a storm is coming and he needs to be prepared.

At this point he has decides to build a storm shelter.  Whether he actually believes the storm is coming or not might not be his motivation.  With this impending disaster holding his thoughts captive, on some level Curtis just wants to be left alone.  His hope is that by building this shelter he can remove the thoughts from his mind and won’t have to deal with them anymore.  He will be prepared when it comes.  He will have piece of mind.

Curtis’ wife Samantha doesn’t take kindly to this development.  From the beginning we sense a little unease about Samantha.  She’s not terribly unhappy but things have happened, that we are not privy to, that make her weary about her situation with Curtis.  Perhaps just like a mother’s intuition Samantha can sense the impending issues with Curtis.

What we find out later in the film is that Curtis’ mother was stricken with paranoid schizophrenia when she was about the same age Curtis is.  Curtis is afraid and embarrassed to talk about this.  He doesn’t want people to know about his mom’s past because he knows that people will assume the worst about him as well.  Curtis is very aware and we get the sense that he has the ability to fool everyone around him.  Curtis plays the strong silent type well and he uses that to his advantage to convince others he is in control.

He is not in control.  He is losing the battle with his visions and they are taking him over.  He is consumed by the idea of this storm and how to protect his family. 

His daughter is deaf and we never find out how that happened.  She could have been born that way or it could have happened later.  We get the sense that perhaps it happened later and the guilt from that is driving Curtis to continue to protect his family at all costs.  The mind is incredibly powerful and it would not be a surprise to have a subconscious, protective desire be the motor propelling his possibly schizophrenic thoughts.

Eventually the movie starts to bleed together.  We are not sure if what we are seeing and hearing is real.  Is it a dream, or a vision, or reality?  The lines begin to blur.  This parallels the actual disease itself.  This is what makes ‘Take Shelter’ such a good movie, that it is truly able to put the audience in the state of the main character.  We have no better an idea of what to think or do than he does.

It’s hard to capture mental illness on screen without bordering on caricature.  This films does it better than any I have ever seen.  There is nothing supernatural going on just a man dealing with deep issues.  There are slight moments where we can feel disconnected as an audience.  After all, at some point it’s hard to relate to somebody who is experiencing things you can’t imagine, even if the movie does it better than any before it. 

The acting was superb in this in and Shannon and Chastain deserve kudos.  They are basically in every scene and have to carry this movie.  There is a feeling of weight and depth of this movie that is hard to put onto just two actors.  Fortunately, Shannon and Chastain are up to the task.

All in all, this is worth your time.

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