' ' Cinema Romantico: Take Shelter

Monday, October 24, 2011

Take Shelter

Foreboding storm clouds gather. Rain begins to fall. Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) looks down at the drops in his hand. It's not rain. It looks like acid, perhaps even motor oil. Curtis wakes up in a panic, drenched in sweat. It's just a dream. Or is it a vision? And if it's a vision, is it true? Or is he potentially crazy, standing on the outer limits of schizophrenia? Curtis almost seems to believe it could be either.

He is a good man. A family man. He has a loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and they both love their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is six years old and deaf. This necessitates good medical insurance which Curtis has via his good job as a construction manager. His life isn't exciting or glamorous, just......good. His friend and co-worker Dewart (Shea Whiggam) tells him this and it is at this moment we know for certain that goodness cannot and will not last.

Curtis's dreams and/or visions get worse. The dog attacks him and gnaws into his arm. He wakes in a sweat. He puts their inside dog outside and erects a fence to keep it in. Tornadoes drop from the sky. He wakes in a sweat. He goes about re-constructing their shoddy old tornado shelter out back into a modern day Cold War bunker complete with canned food and gas masks. At the same time he visits a psychiatrist and attempts to work through his problems. He visits his mother (Kathy Baker) who was diagnosed a schizophrenic when he was merely ten and has been in assisted living ever since. He tries to glean from her the symptoms she remembers before losing it all completely.

The most brilliant and frightening aspect of Jeff Nichols' film is the way in which he both realistically tells a very fantastical tale and fantastically tells a very realistic tale. This is due in no small part to Nichols mostly un-showy direction but also due in very large part to the work of Michael Shannon who, if the movie gods are just, will land an Oscar nomination in three months time. He's always been a little off-kilter, such as in his pretty good 2006 film "Bug" with Ashley Judd that actually shares some things in common with "Take Shelter." Heck, even in Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" monstrosity he managed to inject a little off-kilterness into the proceedings simply by being himself. Here he carefully crafts a character that quite obviously is not right and is a little frightened that he's not right but not the sort of person who wants to alarm anyone that he's not right (he spends a great deal of time apologizing for any odd behavior) because he's not entirely sure why he's not right even though all the while he seems rather certain the fact that he's not right might just be a very real harbinger of something ominous on the figurative horizon. You're never quite as alarmed by his descent as you would ordinarily be in such a movie because he manages to convince you it's all in his head and he knows it's all in his head until it's not all in his head and he unleashes a scene of terror so authentic you momentarily feel as if you're in the room with him (and them).

Chastain, who spent most of Terrence Malick's "The Tree Of Life" merely being sumptuously framed, is his equal. As opposed to merely being the Suffering and/or Supportive Spouse she comes across as both but in a very real way, disturbed and confused by her husband's actions, angered by his strange decisions, but willing to stick it out and offer help because she genuinely loves him.

The third act is blistering, approaching over the top but avoiding it, and packed with a couple reversals that are shattering because momentarily the film seems headed for an open-ending before taking a switchback and opting for another open ending when it briefly seemed it might be headed for something else entirely. Two older ladies exiting the theater in front of me were quite audibly debating it and both hit on different interpretations. Then they asked me what I thought and I offered what I had concluded while watching the credits roll: You could read it a dozen different ways.

Maybe that's what it's like to have schizophrenia. Maybe Christopher Walken in "Blast From The Past" wasn't as much a kook as he seemed. Maybe one of these days Harold Camping will get the date right.


Castor said...

Can't wait to see this but I'm not really in the mood to drive 20 miles to see it. I will eagerly wait for the DVD though!

Nick Prigge said...

That would be a very, very somber 20 mile drive home, that's all I know.

Anonymous said...

I love the third act of the film more than the admittedly sleepy first and second. That's when he confronts his fears. That's where the audience gets their reward for sticking through.

Nick Prigge said...

Exactly. It is a reward. I like movies that trust their audiences to be patient. Not that I personally found the first two acts boring, I felt they had enough of that below-the-surface/you-know-bad-stuff-is-coming dread to maintain my interest.