Quiet, subtle and sometimes without much warning- that’s how some of the most devastating storms sneak in on us. TAKE SHELTER is a similar type of storm as it is very subtle and patient and eventually it just explodes with the rage of Michael Shannon’s fantastic performance.
Many times in the course of our lives when something bad happens to us a support figure then proceeds to say, “Well it’s not the end of the world.” Curtis (Michael Shannon) struggles with that ideology quite literally on a daily basis in his head here in TAKE SHELTER. Curtis has a lot on his plate outside of his job as he has a daughter that is deaf and the insurance from his job has afforded them the possibility to make things easier on them as a family. Approaching the middle years of his life he begins to have dreams and visions of an apocalyptic storm and even his loved ones turning on him- so Curtis indeed feels as though the end of the world could be coming. The visions take their toll as he begins missing a lot of work and makes the decision to build out the storm shelter in their back yard in preparation for the storm he feels is coming. The result is a financial burden and Curtis feels as though he can’t explain what he’s going through for fear of people believing he’s crazy including his wife and surrounding family.
I love this film and to expound on why I will do my best to avoid huge spoilers but just be warned that some of my thoughts could give a few things away. For the majority of the film Shannon’s character is facing each of these visions and the consequences thereof by himself because he doesn’t feel people will understand which is why he chooses to not tell anyone about them. When those visions involve people he loves turning against him he in turn tries to subtly deal with the thing or individual by finding a way to get them away from him or put a barrier between them. As the film progresses and the family has huge financial concerns placed upon them he struggles more and more and his wife (Jessica Chastain) struggles to find out why he’s doing what he’s doing and does her best to support him but is not fully on board with what he’s feeling she just knows she has to try and be there for him. As you move into the final few scenes how you interpret the ending weighs heavily on how much you connect with Shannon’s character that the film either works or it leaves you with an ending you’re not sure what to do with.
I was on board 100% with Michael Shannon’s character which made the emotional journey he goes through so devastating at times. He’s a nice guy that loves his family unconditionally but is soft spoken enough that he doesn’t want to burden them with stuff he feels he can handle. I identify with that type of character through and through and when people don’t understand why he makes the choices he does I find myself on the opposite side with an understanding of why he would do it. It’s an understanding that as the film winds down the perfect storm of his wife feeling as though she’s left in the dark and finally being let through the walls Curtis has put up just left me floored right up to the decisive ending which only sealed the deal of how much I adore this movie.
TAKE SHELTER is a slow film and takes quite a bit of patience to carry the viewer to the end. Despite Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain’s fantastic performances the film is a slow burn comprised of small moments that build into an overall picture that has a great deal of emotional depth. The ending proves to be polarizing and has a few different ways to interpret and I feel that no matter the interpretation the film is easy to recommend to others just to see how they viewed the ending.
There’s a sense of dread that carries through the entire film as we experience Curtis’ “delusions” and nightmares when no one else either sees or hears what he does or can feel what he feels from his nightmares. The nightmares have a tendency to make the film come off as a horror/thriller just by how frightening they are and how real they feel to Curtis. On the other side of the relationship you can also connect with the frustration of Jessica Chastain’s character because of how bizarre her husband’s actions are and the fact that he gives no reasonable explanation for any of it. Chastain also doesn’t come off as an overbearing shrew when she lets her frustrations out but as someone genuine in their concern and as a woman who despite her reservation cares for what struggles her husband is going through. I felt the two leads played their characters as perfectly as they could to create an engaging relationship that you fear for and can connect with on an emotional level.
As “losing my mind” movies go, TAKE SHELTER is one that doesn’t attempt to hold your hand from beginning to end by explaining one way or another of a character really is crazy or not. The film washes over its audience in a subtle way while its actors give knockout performances. TAKE SHELTER is haunting at times, sweet and funny at others and overall for me a deeply emotional experience. The ending has potential to split audiences, but in the end I couldn’t have thought of a more brilliant note to end the film on.