Let me just get something out in the open, I am in love with Jessica Chastain. After “The Tree Of Life” and now this, I can safely say that I am mesmerized whenever this stunning actress is on screen. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about “Take Shelter”. This is a truly fantastic film that looks at mental illness and the effects it has on a family when one of them is dealing with it.
The film is about Curtis (Michael Shannon), a working man with a young family: his wife Samantha and their four year old deaf daughter Hannah. Curtis has just started suffering very vivid nightmares that always seem to begin with a wild and violent storm. The dreams continue to get more potent and after waking up one morning with his bed-sheets covered in urine, Curtis begins to seriously worry. His mother was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in her thirties and was forced to leave her family to be looked after properly. He has always sworn that he would never leave his own family, no matter what, but it gets harder and harder as the madness continues to take hold of him.
Curtis starts to believe that his nightmares are actually a prophecy of some kind and starts to go about fixing up and extending their tornado shelter. This causes amazing tension between him and his wife, because he does all of this without her consent and by borrowing more money on their mortgage, which is money they just cannot spare. Curtis is self-destructing and looks like he may end up breaking his promise, but is he able to stop his descent into madness and still be with his family?
This is an amazingly visual film and is just stunningly directed. The expert craftsmanship on display is just awesome. Especially fantastic are the dream sequences that Curtis has which are incredibly inventive (especially the zero gravity one) and quite scary. When they begin you are never actually sure if what you are witnessing is reality or not.
As great as the visual element is in this film, it is the emotional beats it hits that make “Take Shelter” an absolute standout. Imagine how scary it must be to think you may be going mad, knowing that there is history of it in your family. Knowing also that you have no power over it and that you are unable to stop it would be terrifying. There are a couple of brilliant and heartbreaking moments between Curtis and his wife that are the core of this film. One is after Samantha initially finds Curtis making the shelter, another is at a party with his friends after Curtis has had a breakdown and finally there is another moment near the end. All these moments show exactly what true love is all about as well as what it means to be a family.
All of the above scenes, and the film as a whole, are expertly acted and full of powerful emotions. Michael Shannon plays Cutis and is usually an actor I react against. I’m not sure why but he has an ability to just rub me the wrong way, but he is outstanding here in “Take Shelter”. I’ve already mentioned Jessica Chastain who plays Samantha, Cutis’s wife, and again, she is outstanding too. She has a tough role because there are times when she knows Curtis’s behavior is destructive to her family but ultimately she must stand by the man she loves and never wants to lose.
I just want to briefly mention the finale of the film, which I both love and have questions about. Without context these thoughts will mean little, and I am not going to ruin the ending, but I also just want to make a note of it. Anyway, the ending, I love it because it is such a beautiful and emotional moment especially between a father and his daughter, but at the same time I’m not sure if it goes against what the rest of the film is about.
Overall, I was blown away by “Take Shelter” and look forward to revisiting it again soon. I think director Jeff Nichols is a talent to watch and I am now going to search out his debut film “Shotgun Stories”.