Roland Emmerich can bite me. The guy’s been making disaster films since time can remember, yet for all his besetting humans with floods, fires, and earthquakes (and the occasional alien invasion), he’s never managed to make something as resonant, affecting, and powerful as Take Shelter. A film that skirts the line between vivid fantasy and straight drama, it tells the tale of a loving, working-class husband and father (Michael Shannon) suddenly overwhelmed by visions of impending doom and torn between the compulsion to protect his wife (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart) from the onslaught and the fear that a family history of schizophrenia may be making itself manifest. This is director Jeff Nichols second feature (and his second with Shannon), and in weaving a scenario that balances vivid imagery with nuanced observation — and is highlighted by moving, vulnerable performances from Shannon and Chastain, among others — the film speaks compellingly not only to the power of familial love, but to a sense of creeping helplessness that’s overtaking American society.
Click here to hear my interview with Jeff Nichols.
….from the onslaught and the fear ….a sense of creeping helplessness that’s overtaking American society.
If that aint apropos recent demonstrations in NYC.
I thought Take Shelter was very solid. Amazing lead performance. One of the best acting jobs I have seen in a while. It dealt with the isolating nature of mental illness- or potential mental illness – in a vivid, authentic way. The film stuck with me for a day or two.
SPOILER SPOILER ish. I have a problem with the end, and so did the audience I saw it with- you could hear it deflate. I think maybe it should have ended at what you might call the “first ending”, but then that might take away from some of the meaning, so I am torn. I just felt the ending did not work as well as it could.
I could not hear the podcast because I am at work, pretending to work.
I loved the film as well. I think this is definitely a polarizing film though, for the reasons Two Plus Two mentions.
I saw the film on Friday and I still haven’t decided how I feel about the ending. You’re right, the first ending (when he comes out of the shelter) is where I expected the film to end. And in hindsight, it would’ve been a powerful ending to the film. But yeah, cutting off that second ending would’ve changed the meaning of the whole film, at least on the surface.
I’m not yet convinced though that having that second ending negates the mental illness thing. I don’t know, I’d be interested to hear other people on this. Is it possible that he still could have schizophrenia? Or are we just to assume that he’s not crazy but instead is somehow psychic?
Regardless, I think the first ending is really what it’s about and everything in the film is leading to this point – where he has to make the decision to overcome his (perceived) illness. Whether or not he is or isn’t doesn’t really matter, does it? Tacking on that ending at the beach doesn’t change the fact that at that moment in the shelter he chose to open that door himself.
This is an interesting film and the questions it poses make it a nice step forward for Nichols. I still prefer Shotgun Stories but Take Shelter is an impressive piece of cinema and I agree that Michael Shannon went for the fences on this one.
SPOILERS SPOILERS. my interpretation of the beach scene when watching the film was that it signified that his madness was actually a genuine premonition of something very bad coming (because his child and wife confirmed the vision). In other words, a lot of the disasters mankind may or may not be facing (global warming, population explosion, pandemics) seem like visions of paranoid mad men, but … what if they are true? Later I realized the beach could signify that his schizophrenia had finally completely conquered him, as his wife and child were now “complicit” in the hallucinations (in his head). All these things make for a great ending, but somehow the director lost me and the audience at the late show. Perhaps it was a “storm too far?” The first ending was fantastic- not to mention the haunting scene before the end- the sleeping in gas masks scene.
@ Two Plus Two -
I didn’t occur to me that the wife and daughter were hallucinating on the beach. I took that the mean that indeed the storm was real. But maybe you’re right; that’s certainly another interesting angle.
@ Santino- What I meant to say was – SPOILER CITY- that he was so delusional at the beach that his mind no longer let his real wife “in” or his real daughter “in” - these last two lifelines were gone, because he would forever project his paranoia on them… no matter what they did or said. I think this is the weaker interp and I agree that the more intentional one was the storm was real…
Oh, I see what you’re saying.
I’d be interested to hear what Nichols has to say about the film. I really enjoyed his commentary on the DVD for Shotgun Stories and I’m sure the one he does with Michael Shannon for Take Shelter will be very enlightening.
Why aren’t more people talking about this film???
It’s so good – one of the best films of the year and easily one of the best currently in theaters.
Still hasn’t opened wide. We’re not getting it here until early November.
Here’s Glenn Kenney’s review for MSN movies:
“I’m afraid something might be coming,” devoted family man Curtis LaForche tells his wife, Samantha, about two-thirds into “Take Shelter.” “Something that’s not right.” It’s a painful admission for the construction worker, who’s been trying hard to keep himself together in the face of near-suffocating terror — terror that may just be the product of his own imagination. Or, perhaps, may not be.
The second feature film directed by the prodigiously talented young American filmmaker Jeff Nichols, “Take Shelter” represents a very impressive imaginative and technical advance from his admittedly excellent debut film, 2007’s rough-hewn and deeply felt parable of violence, “Shotgun Stories.” Here Nichols delves into the realm of psychological horror, and makes the victim of that horror a would-be archetypal patriarch. The film begins with one of Curtis’ nightmares: evocative shots of leaves at the very ends of a tree’s branches getting pulled out by the wind, massively gloomy gray storm clouds gathering and looming, Curtis standing outside his garage, impassive, helpless, and then the rain beginning slowly, in big thick drops that, shockingly, reveal themselves to be the color of diluted motor oil as they ker-plop onto Curtis’ brow and cheeks.
But, for the longest time, he keeps his visions to himself. He’s got a lot on his plate at home: His young daughter, who’s deaf, is in line for a cochlear implant, so he’s got to keep his eye on the ball at work, for the benefits and whatnot. But what he’s keeping an eye on instead is his once-beloved dog, from whom he’s estranged after a particularly vivid dream in which the canine attacks him; and then on the small and mostly unused tornado shelter in his yard, which he becomes obsessed with upgrading. All the while the dreams get more vivid, and pieces of the larger puzzle of what might be ailing Curtis start to come together. Their daughter wasn’t always deaf, although the cause of her current condition isn’t revealed. It is revealed that Curtis’ mom was removed from the family scene when Curtis was a boy, on account of having been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. And now Curtis, a decent, honest man, grapples with the painful notion that he might have inherited his mom’s mental illness. But he grapples, as does the film itself, with another possibility: that his dreams and visions do not represent madness but an actual potential future.
It’s in this realm that the film gets particularly tricky, and throws the viewer some very provocative, unsettling curve balls. Nichols shows remarkable dexterity with his scare scenes. He’s clearly learned lessons from Val Lewton, Wise’s “The Haunting,” and Polanski’s “Repulsion,” not to mention the films of Tarkovsky (some of the more intense nightmare imagery could come from the Russian filmmaker’s “The Mirror” or “The Sacrifice,” and the deaf daughter here brought to mind a similar character in “Stalker”). However, he uses them in a way that’s completely in tune with the film’s Midwestern milieu (the film seems to be set in Southern Ohio). There’s absolutely nothing affected about the film’s perspective.
And the wonderful cast is in perfect accord with Nichols’ vision. Michael Shannon plays Curtis with what some will call trademark intensity, but something more, too, and in fact I find the actor even more impressive here in the scenes where Curtis tries to rise above the madness encroaching his consciousness and act as the steadfast and gentle man he truly is. Jessica Chastain has started receiving critical brickbats for no other sin besides having appeared in a good number of high-profile movies this year (including “The Help,” “The Tree of Life” and “The Debt”). Well, the snipes who think they wanna give her a hard time over this can carp as they wish; her performance here, in a part that could have been window-dressing had not Nichols put in the effort of writing it so well, is superb. Kathy Baker is quietly affecting as Curtis’ quiet, not-quite-out-of-the-woods mom, and Shea Whigham is similarly impressive as a work buddy of Curtis’.
The film builds to moments of dread, sadness and possible redemption with incredible sure-handedness, and if Nichols (and music composer David Wingo) possible overplay one of their hands at the film’s climax (and I have to admit I’m not entirely sure they do — this is a picture that warrants more than one viewing, I think), they do it in honest pursuit of genuine and unusual feeling. As impressive as the film’s scares are, there’s a lot more to “Take Shelter” than the sensations is so successfully evokes.
“Still hasn’t opened wide. We’re not getting it here until early November.”
Blargh! You need to move somewhere more cool!
I hear the smog is lovely this time of year.
Michael Shannon was pretty much the best part of the “Revolutionary Road” adaptation, IMO, so this is definitely on my radar.
@ Matt – The smog is lovely all year!
Just saw this. I’m going to post my thoughts and questions and then go back and read the thread:
1. Maybe people will disagree with me, but I felt like this is a film where I just needed to see the ending (assuming I knew the general plot—a modern day Noah’s Arks—sans God). I’m interested in hearing thoughts on the purpose of the scenes prior to the denouement—specifically, I’d like to hear some support for the length of the film. (Surely it could have been 90 minutes, and maybe even shorter, like a Twilight Zone episode)
2. My sense is that this isn’t a straight drama-thriller—i.e., there is some underlying subtext or symbolism. I feel that way because as a straight thriller or drama—taking the story at face value—won’t make for a very interesting story. If people agree with that I’d like to hear some interpretations. The ones that first come to mind: reason vs. faith; or the way Americans (and other countries affected by the economic crisis) don’t realize the imminent trouble that’s coming their way, even though there is some anxiety for this. To me, that makes sense put using some apocalyptic event to symbolism social and economic catastrophe seems a little trite.
3. There seems to be two key important scenes. First, the way the Samantha (Chastain) forces Curtis to open the shelter door. The second is the final scene when we see the oncoming destruction and Samantha says, “OK.” What do people make of this last bit? and what do people think the film is saying in these two scenes?
I haven’t spent any time reflecting on the film so maybe I’m way off base here, but I’m interested in hearing what others have to say.
Oh, as for Michael Shannon. I thought he was fine, but not necessarily great. (I’ve seen him in Bug and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and he was solid in those. I got the sense that he was the new Chris Walken.) I must say that while I haven’t seen Shannon in a lot of films, I’m already tired of his psychotic schtick. The guy just oozes crazy and when he has that outburst it was predictable and just underwhelming. (It made want to see someone else cast in this role.)
JazzAloha: Some of your questions are answered in my interview with director Jeff Nichols. I invite you to give it a listen: http://mightymoviepodcast.com/blog/2011/10/01/jeff-nichols-on-take-shelter/
I’ll check out (and the rest of the thread) later. Thanks!
First I’m a bit surprised at your reaction to Michael Shannon. I think this is the first time I’ve heard someone say they’re tired of his schtick. For me, that scene in the dining hall wasn’t predictable and was actually one of the more emotional scenes in the movie. I actually got goosebumps watching it. Given the somber tone of the film up to the point, it was a welcome emotional release.
I think you are right that the scene when he opens the shelter door is one of the most important scenes in the film. In fact, I believe the whole film is leading up to the point and the film could’ve ended when he opens the door. The moment when Chastain says that he has to open that door, when she refused to do it herself, that was so unexpected to me. That was such a powerful moment to see her give him that moment, to force him to take that opportunity. The point of course is to symbolize that he is overcoming his illness (or at least attempting to overcome it).
There are lots of theories about the ending and what it means. I’ve heard people say:
1. The storm is real, everyone sees it, and his hallucinations are justified as not being hallucinations but more like premonitions and that he really isn’t crazy.
2. The ending is just another one of his dreams and the storm is not real, and they didn’t go on vacation (remember his is unemployed and the daughter needs an operation so the mother would’ve never spent their savings on a vacation).
3. The storm is real, the vacation is real, but he still could be crazy.
I tend to lean towards the third argument. I think you can have the storm be real but not negate the fact that he is sick. I don’t really buy the idea that the ending is just another one of his dreams – what would be the point of that? To show that even though he overcame his fear and opened the shelter door, he is still sick? I guess that makes sense, as I do believe that he is still crazy. But I’d have to see the movie again to verify whether the end was a dream.
What I don’t buy into is that the end storm justifies his hallucinations and proves that he isn’t sick at all. I think this theory negates the whole movie, the whole journey that this character takes.
Regardless of the ending, I think the real ending is when he chooses to leave the shelter. He made the decision to try to overcome his fears, his sickness, and that’s really all that matters. In spite of everything, he was able to see this decision for what it was. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that he’s still deeply sick and it will only get worse.
So I don’t see this film as a thriller so much as a character study.
For me, that scene in the dining hall wasn’t predictable and was actually one of the more emotional scenes in the movie.
Shannon is like Walken, Nicholson or De Niro (and to a lesser extent Gosling). If any of those actors played the lead, wouldn’t you be waiting for them to do “crazy?” Once Shannon is in the film, I expect something like that. There’s a lack of subtlety with him as he exudes creepiness and psychotic edge.
The point of course is to symbolize that he is overcoming his illness (or at least attempting to overcome it).
That he’s willing to acknowledge that he’s been deluded, so his opening the door would also signify joining reality with his wife and everyone else.
To show that even though he overcame his fear and opened the shelter door, he is still sick?
But, as you said, what would be the point of that?
Regardless of the ending, I think the real ending is when he chooses to leave the shelter. He made the decision to try to overcome his fears, his sickness, and that’s really all that matters.
So if the cataclysmic event is real, what is the film really about? How does it square with your reading that the film’s key event is him opening the door?
Here’s the best interpretation I have for the film. The film critiques the reliance and faith that we have in rational thought and the modern world (the aspects dependent on rational thought, science, technology, etc.). By listening to his wife, Curtis gives and embraces the rational approach—while rejecting the intuitive or supernatural. The ending—signifying that Curtis’ premonitions were correct—repudiates or criticizes this view. The significance of the final scene might also suggest the way we have loss of control over things. Thing of the current financial crisis. Despite a lot of intelligent people overseeing the transactions, the finanical collapse occurred and still hasn’t been resolved. We might experience something similar with regard to climate change.
Interestingly enough, the film doesn’t seem to advocate embracing the supernatural, God or religion. But it does seem to say our human knowledge and capabilities aren’t fully dependable, either.
I like your interpretation of the film. It’s an interesting notion to consider, whether the crazy people are really crazy or if it’s really the rational ones that are nuts. I tend to believe in the rational side of things, that if his mom was sick and he’s having these issues, he’s probably sick to. Although if we question whether he’s crazy, maybe we need to question whether his mom is crazy too. Regardless, I thought it was a powerful performance that deals with this issues in a pretty thoughtful way. The fact that the ending can evoke so many interpretations and the film can encourage such discussion makes this a welcome step forward for Nichols. I still believe Shotgun Stories is a better film (although it’s themes are much more conventional) but Take Shelter shows that Nichols is clearly interested in trying different things.
It’s an interesting notion to consider, whether the crazy people are really crazy or if it’s really the rational ones that are nuts.
FWIW, I don’t think this jibes with my interpretation. My sense is that the film isn’t really making a case for “crazy people,” so much as showing the limitations of rational ones. (I’m not sure if this is the best interpretation, either—just the best I could whip up so far.) We—the viewers—as well as the characters, including Curtis, should wonder if he were crazy and when the storm stops and his wife says so, Curtis is sensible for believing her. And yet, the dreams turn out to be true—i.e., the most rational decisions are sometimes wrong.
I thought the film was much more a representation of basic domestic anxieties than anything else. Curtis has all kinds of domestic pressures on him – pressure to provide for his family, pressure to interact with (and repress his feelings about) his schizophrenic mother, pressure from his in-laws to go to church, etc. But he can’t bring himself to discuss his anxiety about them. He and his wife are fairly uncommunicative (at least until the later part of the movie), and his best friend offers nothing more than a compulsory “are you OK?” after Curtis has a pretty severe hallucination and walks off of a job. His anxieties and his lack of a vent for them converge into a kind of general anxiety that something terrible will happen and that he won’t be able to protect his family. I took the ending as saying “bad things WILL happen and you WON’T be able to stop them or protect your family… it sucks, doesn’t it?”
I think I’m stretching some things fairly liberally and ignoring others, but I enjoyed the film as a depiction of anxiety on a general level, and feel like the apocalyptic themes are more a means to express that anxiety than a suggestion of actual apocalypse. I think that the ending was “real” in the sense that the storm represents all the things that Curtis is anxious about.
I personally loved the ending, but can understand why people would want to settle on the all-assuring ‘opening of the door’ scene. But since he’s taking aim at a feeling of end-times that’s still ongoing (and getting worse!), how can Nichols be re-assuring?
For him to brazenly shove everything the film had worked towards (that everything is psychological) out of the picture, seemingly out of nowhere, I think he doubles-up on the film’s metaphor. It’s like Nichols is saying; “yes, the storms are representative of his anxieties and illness and he had to work through them in order to reconnect with his family blah blah blah, but seriously, storms exist and we have all the reason to be anxious.”
I don’t think it’s as much of a sweeping statement on cosmic indifference as Jazzaloha + Drunken Father Figure seem to think. That sounds like something much more in the faith/rationale territory of A Simple Man. I think Nichols is aiming for something much more tangible and readily felt. Who knows if they end up surviving.
I just saw this film tonight at the local art theater and I thought it was a pretty amazing film. I was riveted by Shannon’s performance…..he underplayed which was so refreshing…..his outburst at the luncheon was shocking because it was unlike anything that he had done previously in the film…..
It’s a perfect film for a world in turmoil….there are threats all around…some real…some imagined….
The end? I got to think through that a bit….is it possible that it’s just another dream of Shannon’s? That he completely disappeared inside his hallucinations and paranoia?
I took it as literal….at first. But I’m wondering……….the film opens with a dream sequence…..might it not be ending on one as well?
My immediate reaction to the ending when I saw the film two months ago was that Curtis’s paranoia was so intense and so pervasive it literally transferred to the two people closest to him, his wife and child. It’s a metaphor for being surrounded by anxiety and the possibility of imminent danger, and how fear projected by others very often can be adopted by those who see themselves as sane. Quite a bit like our current socioeconomic climate.
Curtis has all kinds of domestic pressures on him – pressure to provide for his family, pressure to interact with (and repress his feelings about) his schizophrenic mother, pressure from his in-laws to go to church, etc. But he can’t bring himself to discuss his anxiety about them.
From what I recall, the pressure largely comes from the dreams—not providing for his family, etc. And what Curtis primarily can’t discuss with Sam are his dreams.
Can you explain what you mean by “cosmic indifference?”
…his outburst at the luncheon was shocking because it was unlike anything that he had done previously in the film….
Doesn’t he have a similar moment in Bug? For me, I just felt like that outburst was inevitable—given his film persona and his vibe. The guy oozes creepiness, maybe even mental instability and a sinister vibe.
.is it possible that it’s just another dream of Shannon’s? That he completely disappeared inside his hallucinations and paranoia?
I’m open to this reading, but I wonder what would be the overall effect or point, if this reading was accurate?
It’s a metaphor for being surrounded by anxiety and the possibility of imminent danger, and how fear projected by others very often can be adopted by those who see themselves as sane. Quite a bit like our current socioeconomic climate.
So do you think that the ending is a hallucination—so the paranoia that spreads to Sam and the daughter is really unfounded? If so are you suggesting that most of the fears and concerns about global financial stability and socioeconomic problems aren’t really substantive? (These are genuine questions—not confrontational challenges. I’m just wondering what you think.)
I’ve heard other people suggest the ending is just another one of his dreams. I guess that would explain why they went on the trip – in real life she was so freaked out about spending extra money because of their daughter’s procedure that if the ending was real, it seems odd that she would agree to go on this trip.
“I’m open to this reading, but I wonder what would be the overall effect or point, if this reading was accurate?”
It proves that he’s still sick.
“The guy oozes creepiness, maybe even mental instability and a sinister vibe”
You really need to see Take Shelter. This might change your perception of Shannon.
Well, doesn’t the doctor recommend some vacation? The tricky part is that they really didn’t have a lot of money, so maybe the ending is a dream. But what would be the point or value of the film if this is correct?
And…? To be blunt—so what? What’s the value of the film if he’s still sick? I’m not saying the film has no value or isn’t meaningful if this reading is accurate. I’m saying, “Help me understand how the film is meaningful, if this is the correct reading.”
You’re saying he didn’t have that creepy vibe at all in this?
“Well, doesn’t the doctor recommend some vacation? The tricky part is that they really didn’t have a lot of money, so maybe the ending is a dream. "
Exactly. If she has to choose between spending money to help her daughter get an operation or spend money on a vacation so her husband can get some rest, she’s going to choose her daughter. So maybe this is a dream? I don’t know, I’m not saying I buy this interpretation but it’s something I’ve heard from other people.
“What’s the value of the film if he’s still sick?
Well, I’ve felt all along that the climax of the film came in that shelter, when she forces him to confront his illness. Instead of succumbing to it, instead of refusing to open the shelter, he took a leap of faith and acknowledged that he could be wrong. There could be nothing out there. And so he made that choice, he confronted his illness, which is really what the film is about. However the ending could just reiterate the fact that just because he confronted his illness that doesn’t mean he overcame it. Anyone who knows someone suffering from schizophrenia or dementia knows this ain’t gonna get better – it’s just gonna get worse.
“You’re saying he didn’t have that creepy vibe at all in this?”
Well no, but he’s not nearly as explosive (at least in the overt, physical sense).