Sunday, September 16, 2012

Take Shelter

In my last movie blog I talked about symbolism in the Kubrick masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut, a film that seemed to be purely symbolic. Take Shelter is a film where the symbolism is also very literal. That is, it works both as a purely symbolic work and also a very real thriller aimed at the heart of America. Curtis LaForche (played by Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon) is a loving husband, a caring father to his hearing impaired daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), and has a decent job as a construction worker.  He is the everyman from Ohio and the contented soul many of us would envy.
This is all good until he starts having nightmares that seem so real they are more like visions. He dreams the family dog will attack him, that storms are coming, he wakes up with morning panic attacks. Knowing that the dreams might mean something, he makes a pen outside for the family dog. His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) is bothered by this because the dog is a house dog and has always been friendly with his daughter. His dreams of the storms persist and now he is seeing actual clouds gathering on the horizon - dark ominous and coming for his family. Director Jeff Nichols adds a stroke of brilliance by showing these clouds gathering above Curtis when he is awake and then drizzling and oily rain onto his hands, suggesting that what Curtis is sensing is real.  Also, Curtis lives in an area where people have storm shelters and tornadoes are common.

Much like the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Curtis is driven by something only he can see and something only he knows the importance of. 
Curtis begins borrowing equipment from work and getting loans to build out his storm shelter. He seeks help from local mental health physicians who aren't really qualified. We find out Curtis' mother was diagnosed with mental health problems, and now lives in an assisted living home. He visits her to find out if he some how has inherited this gene in his psyche. Nothing is making his visions go away and he is a man holding on by the threads of sanity. 
This movie is unique because the director doesn't harp on the usual melodrama that we would expect. Samantha is terrified but she doesn't turn on her husband even though the whole town thinks he is insane. Curtis doesn't become abusive or unidentifiable as he loses his grasp on reality.  This is a sincere film about something many of us are feeling right now, that the world  is not right. No matter what we believe, no matter what our political affiliation, we know there are storms brewing and we can see them as clear as if they were right on our door step. You don't have to watch the news to know this, this feeling is everywhere.

In Take Shelter there is a "twist ending", but not so much of a twist that you go "come on!" No, this twist ending is like the rest of the film, subtle and brilliant.  I for one am fed up with twist endings that seem to come from out of nowhere and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Does anyone else agree?? Also, this is not a depressing film. This is an aware film. There is a difference, to me anyway. Above all this movie is an enjoyable ride. The actors are brilliant, the directing and writing top notch, and no special gimmicks are needed to make this happen. Just pure marvelous film making - kind of like the old days before CGI.