Take Shelter

52 Movies: Week 8

Take Shelter

Take Shelter is a powerful and frankly terrifying psychological drama that effectively captures the anxiety of our times.

On the surface, Take Shelter is a slow burn drama about Curtis, a family man played convincingly by Michael Shannon, who seems to be struggling with the possibility of encroaching mental illness.  Curtis lives a modest, but happy life.  He and his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) have a healthy relationship and a six year old daughter.  While their daughter has lost her hearing, they are pulling together as a family to meet the challenge.  Curtis has a steady job with good benefits, a modest house and a dog.  Their lives are not without challenges but they live within their means and they meet these challenges together.

When Curtis begins to have terrible dreams about apocalyptic storms coupled with waking hallucinations, he fears the onset on Paranoid Schizophrenia, a condition which caused his mother to abandon him as a child.  Curtis is determined not to leave his family but, as his dreams and delusions become increasingly powerful, his obsessive behaviors begin to threaten everything he holds dear.  His job, the family’s health insurance, his home and, most importantly, his stable family are all threatened.

I have reached a point in my life where a movie of this sort is far more terrifying than a movie about zombies, ghosts or serial killers.  Curtis’s fears are my fears and anyone raising a family in these uncertain times must certainly share similar anxieties.  Take Shelter is, accordingly, a powerful zeitgeist film that transcends its surface level plot about mental illness to touch something more universal.

There are several factors that make Take Shelter such an effective and powerful movie.  Chief among them is the screenplay by sophomore director Jeff Nichols.    A movie of this sort is only successful if we believe in and care for the family in question and that is certainly the case here.  There is a veracity to these characters and the way they interact that really pulled me in.  Michael Shannon plays crazy well but, in Take Shelter, he effectively balances this madness with vulnerability, humility and caring.  Jessica Chastain is his equal, both as an actor and in her role as his wife and partner in the movie.  Together, their performances anchor the movie and drive it home on an emotional level that is gripping and powerful.

Ultimately, while this is a movie about the anxiety of our times, what moved me most was what it had to say about the power of families to support each other in difficult times.  This was a tough movie to watch and next week I am on to lighter fare but Take Shelter scores an easy five stars.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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