“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?”
No, I don’t meant to imply socioeconomic problems are not substantive – I think they certainly are. What I mean is that it just shows how easily fear can spread, how issues (reasonable or not – and remember, many of Curtis’s issues were delusions or otherwise irrational anxieties) can impart themselves on others and spread like a pandemic. A culture of fear.
I was just referring to your points that even the most sensible decisions a human can make are still at the will of indeterminate and unpredictable occurences. (I assume the term “cosmic indifference” is an organic phrase that came hand in hand with the philosophy of nihilism, but Wikipedia seems to have conflated the phrase with the beliefs of HP Lovecraft?! Go figure.)
The final scene could very well indicate this, but “rational/primal” interplays weren’t the most prevalent concerns in the bulk of the film. I’d say the discussions were much more concentrated around the dichotomy of “psychosis/reality”.
Also I do think A Simple Man exhausted the conversation on “rational/primal”, or whatever you want to call it, through the prism of storms and apocalypse and suburban America, and is probably more in tune with your theory.
Pierre, I think you mean “A Serious Man.” ;)
Or does he mean, “A Single Man” ?
Another random observation….Curtis’ wife, Samantha is never in his visions or nightmares except for one time and she is perceived as a threat in that particular dream. It is only his daughter, Hannah, who appears in every dream.
haha I always mix the titles up. I did mean Serious, unless Take Shelter had a gay subtext I was missing!
lol – maybe you need to see it again.
It’s pretty obvious he’s gay, isn’t it?
Of course! The shelter = the ‘closet’. It all makes sense now!
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what Ehrenstein has to say on the matter. His gaydar is out of this universe.
You’re right. The film mostly kept viewers in suspense about whether Curtis is crazy or really clairvoyant. However, I’m not sure if that necessarily means that the film isn’t—or can’t be—dealing with rational/primal (or reason/faith) dichotomy. If the film is primarily concerned with the former, what does the ending (i.e., Curtis’ visions were real) signify?
Santino said, It’s pretty obvious he’s gay, isn’t it?
Did you guys listen to Daniel’s podcast interview of Jeff Nichols. Daniel mentions an anti-gay marriage ad called, “The Gathering Storm.” So the storm could be the gay marriage that is about to be accepted and the impending destruction that follows. Nichols categorically rejects this interpretation, but it’s a funny moment at the beginning of the interview.
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.
But what do these people say is the implication or meaning of the film if the ending is a dream?
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.
Right, but the fact that his daughter and wife see the storm seems to confirm that it is real and not a hallucination, so…It seems like you want the film to be a character study, where the character the film is about the way the character deals with a certain challenge in his life. But don’t you think the thematic and symbolic elements of the story are really important—especially given the times we live in?
I have come to the conclusion that the ending is meant to be taken literally…because, the daughter actually brings Curtis’ attention to the impending storm…it is the only time in the film where Curtis was not aware of the storm clouds gathering….
Just saw it this evening. I wouldn’t take the ending literally but more like how Jon sees it. I take the ending as a “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean their not after you” type symbolism. Or, if not, it’s a dream sequence (the yellow, oily rain) The film beautifully captures that paranoid schizophrenic mindset that’s taken over American politics with its conspiracy theories, persecution complexes, and end of days that’s a product of all the uncertainties that the film depicts (from climate change to economic crises to health care). But the paranoids are in some sense “correct” – however, you look at it, that particular American way of life that the characters represent is dying so even though they don’t understand the causes, they can still see the end. Would the film have been stronger without that ending? I’m on the fence there. It may have pulled the rug out from under the feet of viewers unnecessarily but it shows that the filmmakers want to take the apocalyptic present seriously.
…that particular American way of life that the characters represent is dying so even though they don’t understand the causes, they can still see the end.
What way of American way of life do you mean, Ari? Do you mean the paranoid way of life, or a certain comfortable lifestyle that many Americans enjoy?
Or, if not, it’s a dream sequence (the yellow, oily rain)
I interpreted the yellow rain to signify that his dreams were coming true—especially if you couple this with the fact that both his wife and daughter also see what he sees.
I think the film taps into the Zeitgeist. However, I’m not sure the film does or says anything interesting about this.
“or a certain comfortable lifestyle that many Americans enjoy?”
Yeah, the diminishing prospects for many blue collar workers especially in rural areas, that unsustainable way of life, American decline, etc. It hits all those notes.
Oh shit! I didn’t see when this was bumped five days ago!
Anyway, Jazz said “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.”
Yeah, I think that those anxieties are not bluntly expressed, but the fact that they have a deaf daughter who needs surgery but don’t have a ton of money is enough cause for anxiety in and of itself. The film doesn’t have to show Curtis being anxious about those things – primarily because that wouldn’t be in keeping with his “bottle it up inside” character, but also because there’s almost no way he wouldn’t feel anxious about that.
It’s also highly possible that I just took too personal a view of the movie – as a soon-to-be-engaged 20-something entering the workforce and trying to build up my life, I do feel anxious about the things that I mentioned, and, generally, entering that mode of life. That’s why I was a little disappointed in the movie – for me, the much more interesting part was how it exploited those fears – not Curtis’ struggle with actual mental illness.
I agree with some of the sentiments here that the film doesn’t play those specific anxieties out very cohesively and leans more on the redemptive story arc of Curtis and his illness. Nichols does bring up those zeitgeist-y fears through his bank loan/job loss/healthcare etc., but it never felt too resonant with the real world for me because all those things happen out of the main character’s mental instability (the bank worker actually advises him to not take the loan, etc.), and not necessarily because the world was actually conspiring against him or failing to help him.
Totally with Drunken Father that a film that mined those anxieties a little more would’ve been more interesting, but I can’t complain with what Nichols has here. It’s a great character drama in itself, contemporary allusions or not.
My take on the ending is a little hard for me to articulate as it’s a little rudimentary and not-well-thought-out! But I view it as an addendum of sorts; an almost unrelated vignette that adds something to the film without changing any of the fundamental lessons learnt in the main part. i.e. Nichols has had his dramatic, near-traditional story arc involving a protagonist overcoming an obstacle, in the process saving himself and his family. In this the storms represented his state of mind; they were all simply manifestations of his paranoid psyche as implied by his family history of mental illness, textbook symptoms etc.
But when Nichols reintroduces the storms as actually real, it’s almost as if he’s reaffirming the secondary function of the storms; that they were also a metaphor for the very real worldly concerns that involve family security, financial security, environmental security etc. and THOSE anxieties are actually very real, and thus translate to reality within the movie.
So considering the artifice in which this all takes place; The storm is, firstly, a metaphor for the character (and so fake), and secondly a metaphor for the audience (and so real for Curtis, still fake for us … … hopefully).
Please tell me this makes sense to SOMEone or am I too hallucinating?
Yeah, I like what you’re saying Pierre – the indeterminateness of the ending sits absolutely fine with me. Storms – nature- generally represent either moral or religious judgment but also the forces raging around us that are out of our control.
I think Nichols’ embraces the storm in the latter sense (though the characters more in the former – and that’s the tension in the film between the religious and secular). So he is able to “save himself and his family” but he still isn’t able to control what’s around him. The “storm” is still out there and no matter how much we try, our lives are not in our control.
I intermittently appreciated the film and I respect the filmmaker’s attempt to craft an allegory of contemporary American anxiety. But I knew we were in trouble the first time Curtis woke up in a panting panic from a bad dream. Not even Michael Shannon can save that old cliche. The film continued to grind its psychodrama axe until there was no way out but the old: he’s crazy….or is he? I was expecting “The End” to come flying at me and a question mark to pop in after it. It’s a shame, since this could have been a much better film if it had been more patient and not felt the need to psychologically contextualize every single anomaly.
Second most annoying cliche: the wife who spends most of the movie chastising the poor, browbeaten husband whose effectiveness as a father is in question. Did Steven Spielberg ghost direct this movie? (At least he allowed Roy Neary to find a confident exuberance in his visions.)
Third most annoying cliche: the only black character is a state employee serving up advice to the white protagonist. I’ve noticed that the black advice-giver (whether as therapist or friend) is rapidly becoming the contemporary equivalent of the maid role.
By the way, can anyone tell me what Curtis said at the end before his wife says OK? I didn’t understand him.
Can I suggest a totally different approach to opening up the film? One word will do it.
He works by day drilling oil out of the ground. In his nightmares he envisages storms in which rain, like fresh engine oil (his words) falls from above. In the final scene the oil really does fall. His wife feels it on her hand. His shelter is dug into the earth from which the oil is drilled at his work, and by the same tools. He is caught, therefore, in a symbolic vicious circle. When he opens the door he frees himself from that vicious circle but the truth remains, the outside world really is sick. And the sickness is oil – or is symbolized by it..
His shelter is ostensibly a storm shelter but the film makes clear that it is really intended to protect against a wider holocaust. The gas masks are nothing to do with storms, after all. The idea for those came from a news item seemingly about a chemical plant accident, another allusion to environmental abuse. The storms – you can take a literal view that they arise from climate change or just take them as symbols – are deeply linked with oil. I prefer to take a looser view and say that the oil represents unthinking environmental abuse, an addiction to oils which might have consequences which are environmental, or military (the shelter reminds us of nuclear bunkers). America is already fighting oil wars, remember. At work he is shown against a scarred landscape.
Let’s look at the community in which they live. It’s pretty awful. People are hard, cynical and very bad at communicating. Their religiosity is small minded and ungenerous. We are certainly not intended to see these people as beacons of light. At first he is of this community, though more thoughtful. By the end he is no longer a part, not just because he’s at the coast. At first he is like them, he shares their fears. His first act of paranoia is to imprison then give away the dog. And what is the dog called? The dog is calle Red!!! The dog has absolutely nothing to do with the problem but reds would be the first thing that community would suspect of being behind anything untoward. The dog’s name is not a coincidence. Names in films never are. Someone has to invent them. The subtext on dreadful American helath care provision is certainly more red than blue…
The hero’s name is LaFourche. The film goes out of its way to deliver this information at the right time. Does it just mean ‘the fork’ as in the split personality? Or does it mean that the main family are at a turning point.?
Of course they are. They walk out of the shelter together.
The meaning of the second ending is to show that they have stuck together and now share a vision. Trouble really does lie ahead. They have turned away from their old community which did not see it coming.
It was my wife who opened my eyes to the obvious link between the oil-rain and his work. Stupidly I hadn’t see it.
Weird dream scenes do not make a Film
Hey, that’s an interesting reading of the film. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced, but I’ll have to think about this some.
The meaning of the second ending is to show that they have stuck together and now share a vision. Trouble really does lie ahead.
So what they’re seeing is not an actual occurrence, but a vision, right? How and why do the family share this vision?
Also, are you suggesting that the the man and his family have an awareness that the disaster stems from oil? I don’t really get that sense. The man isn’t a prophet warning people about disaster that stems from environmental abuse. The visions reveal some impending destruction, not it’s cause or if there’s anything that can be done about it. The cause may be linked to the overreliance on oil, but I’m pretty sure the man and his family are not aware or even make this link. (Making that link might not be so crucial, though.)
I don’t think the family know what is going on regarding the enironment, no. At the end they are left staring in wonderment and confusion. I think the writer wants us to work it out. If the script makes the famliy aware then it has to spell it out to us too and the idea is not to do that. The idea is to make us think.
When analyzing film I try to remember that film is not like life. Nothing happens by accident. If a character has to make a phone call ‘collect’ it isn’t because the actor has no coins in his pocket!! (In the case I’m thinking of, Duel, it is because the writer wants the character to have to give his name. The name will, therefore, be important..)
So there has to be a reason why the rain resembles oil. (OK it could be because his imagination runs naturally to oil because he’s an oil worker. But that’s a bit thin.) He could have extended or improved the shelter without using the very same gear that was used for oil drilling, and without the help of his oil co-worker.
The recent oil rig disaster killed thousands of sea birds by oiling them. Initially when we see the birds flying strangely we think of them as a menace, as in Hitchcock’s The Birds. But the last time we see them we realize they are victims falling dead from the sky. They have been killed by the oil.
I wouldn’t try to take the oil thing too literally. It is a loose symbol but American literature is built on symbols. It’s been said of American lit that ‘symbol replaces idea.’ The oil symbol in this film includes oil the fuel but it is also intended to embrace a wider disregard for the environment. Maybe in twenty years we’ll look back on a whole series of ‘global warming movies’ or ‘climate change movies’ and see that this is one.
Nice talking to you.
Your extrapolation on oil and birds in the film is compelling, but I wonder about your take on the question of whether the visions are real or if the man is crazy—a question that seems to be at the heart of the film. In other words, how does this issue relate to the global warming warning?
I’m quite certain that in the final scene we are meant to believe that the whole family see the storm and oil-rain. The camera work really goes out of its way to show that he is NOT the one who sees it first, it is the little girl. All the timing and editing labours this point.n You almost want to scream at him, LOOK ROUND but he is so slow to do that. This is surely to bang into our heads that this time his vision is not alone.
Is it a real ‘oil-storm’ – the biginnings of a real disaster? Or is it just that they are sensitized as he is to an impending disaster? I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. The message that matters is that trouble is coming and that one family knows it 5or senses it) while back home the rest of the world doesn’t. But the audience are with the family who do know…
PS sorry about the typos. I’m on a tiny screen!
He isn’t crazy, he’s visionary. That’s the main thing. And his vision is spreading,… to his family and, more importantly, to us…
I’m quite certain that in the final scene we are meant to believe that the whole family see the storm and oil-rain.
Is it a real ‘oil-storm’ – the biginnings of a real disaster? Or is it just that they are sensitized as he is to an impending disaster? I don’t know. I don’t think it matters.
I think it does matter—since the central drama of the film involves whether the visions are real or not. Or do you disagree with this? Throughout most of the film the man is uncertain about these visions. He seeks out a psychologist and later goes to his mother to compare his symptons with hers. Ultimately, he becomes convinced enough to actually build a shelter. But near the end, he doubts and rejects the vision—symbolized by walking out of the shelter. This back-and-forth struggle seems to be at the heart of the film—and I’m having trouble linking this to the environmental message you’re suggesting.
Your interepretation of the oil and birds make sense, but I’m wondering if these mainly describe and support the nature of the disaster rather than indicate that the film is primarily about warning people of climate change and environmental abuse.
I pretty much agree with your opinions about the oil/environmental aspect, but think it’s just one part of the multi-faceted paranoia that engulfs him. There are lots of other aspects like money, security, fatherhood and mental-sickness that are arguably just as important. I like that the oil-rain is almost biblical too, along with the birds and the giant storm. It really hammers home the point that this story is really an old-fashioned, grand allegory masquerading around as a dramatic character piece.
I think the central psychological drama – am I crazy or am I not? – links seamlessly with the allegorical drama about trouble ahead. (Pierre, yes, it doesn’t just have to be environmental trouble. It can be a whole lifestyle that is at risk from economic as well as climate change.) Someone is craazy here, but who is it? Is it the person who senses the impending disaster or is it the stolid little community with its head in the sand? The message of the end is that it is really the family who have ‘awakened’ who are the sane ones.
This inversin of who is sane and who isn’t is a standard of Americal let and fillm. Think of Yossarian in Catch 22; ‘That crazy B…….. may be the only sane one left.’ Or The patients and the staff in Cuckoo’s nest, etc etc.
Someone is craazy here, but who is it? Is it the person who senses the impending disaster or is it the stolid little community with its head in the sand? The message of the end is that it is really the family who have ‘awakened’ who are the sane ones.
But are you saying that the “stolid little community” has their head in the sand because they don’t believe the man’s dreams? In other words, not accepting the man’s dreams as reality isn’t a matter of wilful ignorance or blindness—or do you disagree with that? The wife (or community) isn’t ignoring logical or scientific arguments made by the man, but reasonably conclude that the man is delusional (especially given his family history). To take the man’s warnings seriously would require a significant level of faith in the supernatural