*NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW*
Take Shelter is written and directed by Jeff Nichols and stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.
This film tells the story of Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) who keeps having visions of a horrific storm approaching. After his first dream of his dog attacking him, Curtis goes to work only to have a pain in his arm from where the dog allegedly bit him. Though thoroughly confused by this, his dreams only become more vivid and seem to pose a threat to his beloved family. In order to protect himself, Curtis takes action against these threats. Thus sheltering himself from those who appear in them, or the events that are approaching. It is his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain) who becomes most confused by his actions. Caring parents of their hearing-impaired daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), Samantha notices that Curtis is not himself. In a scene where Curtis begins to have a seizure in bed, Samantha cries out in fear as she calls 9-1-1. Curtis dismisses the medical team, but not before the EMS technicians ask if Curtis would like the cuts in his mouth patched up. Her fear for her husband’s health escalates with this scene as Curtis finds her curled up on the couch, her face red from crying. Though their relationship is met with harsh times throughout the film, Samantha’s ongoing support for Curtis is simply remarkable. But Curtis’ struggle with his dreams goes far beyond that of his home.
When Curtis yet another dream of the storm. This time it consists of acid rain falling from the sky, while ominous clouds linger above him. This latest dream leads to Curtis spending an exceptional amount of money on a storm shelter. These actions put a great amount of stress on Curtis and Samantha’s marriage. Curtis’ actions begin to confuse his friend, and fellow employee, Dewart. In a time period when people clung for dear life to their jobs, because you didn’t know when you would find another, this film does a beautiful job of illustrating that importance. When Curtis becomes obsessed with the idea of a storm shelter, he risks both his and Dewart’s jobs. Amongst the ongoing chaos, Dewart and Curtis’ relationship crumbles. Due to their falling out, the rumor mongering around town leads up to one of the most striking scenes in the film.
In the climax scene, Samantha insists that the family attend a local Lions Club dinner. You can feel the stares of the people watching Curtis file his way through the buffet line. However, when Dewart confronts Curtis about their jobs, all hell breaks loose. Shannon does a beautiful job in this scene. As all the other attendants shy away, you feel as though you shouldn’t look at what is going on, but you stay. You watch as this man finally breaks. He tells about the storm that in no way has ever been illustrated to us prior. The scene is pure genius. Apparently, the extras in that scene were in no way expecting Shannon’s outburst. They were told they would be in a film, and that there was free food. Therefore, the expressions on the extras faces are genuine.
But as Curtis continues to suffer with these visions, you find out more about his personal life. One doctor, after Curtis tells about his symptoms, asks if Curtis has gone to visit his mother (Kathy Baker). Curtis’ mother was put in a home when Curtis was only 10 years old, due to her schizophrenia. When Curtis goes to see his mother, it becomes more of an interview than a regular visit. At this point Curtis starts to realize that what he might be suffering with is more mental, as he asks his mother a series of serious questions. And you wonder…maybe there is no storm after all. Maybe mental disease just runs in his family. What I do have to say about this film is the outstanding acting by Kathy Baker. Baker often plays minute parts, but she adds so much to the characters that she plays. As she plays Curtis’ mother, her mannerisms, as well as her speech, are so beautifully done.
The Ending: My Theory
However, though you might come to a certain conclusion, the ending leaves us in a shroud of ambiguity. After Curtis and Samantha’s meeting with a psychiatrist, they decide to give Curtis the help he needs. But before they do that, they decide to spend one last family get away to the beach house. In the midst of Curtis helping his daughter make sandcastles, Samantha comes to patio of their beach house, only to see tornadoes swirling in the distance. As the orange slime rains from the sky, Samantha looks at Curtis, thinking that maybe he was right all along. Though faced with what looks like impending doom, it does throw us off by thinking that maybe Curtis was right after all. Or was he?
Though I want to believe this optimistic ending, I can’t think but believe that it is only a figment of Curtis’ mind. After the doctor agrees to one last family getaway before treatment, we are suddenly transported to the beach house. There is no story about getting here or even how our characters got there. We’re just there. In the film Inception, when Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page are sitting in the café, DiCaprio wants Page to explain how they got there. She can’t, therefore, it means they are now in a dream world. Though the dream seems real, it is only imagination. Much like real dreams we end up places, and we don’t know how or when we got there. But also, earlier in Take Shelter, we see Curtis outside his home as the the orange rain starts to come down on him. We immediately think that Curtis is in another one of his dreams. But why not now? Much like earlier in the film, the orange rain is often a symbol that tells us that we are no longer in reality, but a part of Curtis’ dream. Although Nichols refuses to give a clear cut answer to the ending’s out come, he does say that the point of the ending is that once Curtis and Samantha both see what is happening, that’s the only thing that matters. Whether it’s a dream or reality, the point is that they are both able to connect at that moment.
I wish that Michael Shannon would have won, or at least have been nominated for an Academy Award. Shannon’s portrayal of Curtis struggling with mental instability while also trying to be a loving husband and father, are beautiful to watch. This is a film which takes our cast to the beginning of their careers. Having only directed one film prior to this, Take Shelter really started to make Nichols a more well known director. Also, having only had small parts, and had yet to become the well known star she is today, it became one of Jessica Chastain’s jumping off points in her career. The chemistry of these actors portraying their characters is perfection. With a beautiful storyline and wonderful direction, Take Shelter is a simple yet important film we should never forget.