The first question in your interview is the most absurd thing i have ever heard, how did you even come up with that ?
Well, it was actually meant to be absurd — Jeff’s response to it is wholly justified. In fact, I’d have been disappointed if he had responded any other way.
Basically, the screening nudged loose a memory of Stephen Colbert’s satire of the “Gathering Storm” spot (http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/224789/april-16-2009/the-colbert-coalition-s-anti-gay-marriage-ad — starts at 03:31), and so I figured, what the hell, let’s ask if the message of the film is actually, “There’s a storm coming, and that storm is the gay couple moving in next door.”
Hopefully you listened past that question and realized I was just funnin’.
All my best to you and the rest of the Mechanics,
Yes, I think the film tries pretty hard to show up the limitations of the stolid little community. They are small minded, dim, and uncommunicative. From the outset the script makes clear that they regard the main family as wiser. I think it’s clear that the central family are on a different level. After the opening of the door and breaking out of the symbolic vicious circle they are on a very VERY different level and have, quite literally, left the old community behind.
Don’t forget that, in a sense, there are two films. There’s the film that we watch in real time in which the hero seems crazy, then there’s the ‘hindsight film’ provoked by the second ending in which we are obliged to review our understanding of what we have seen.
Yes, I think the film tries pretty hard to show up the limitations of the stolid little community. They are small minded, dim, and uncommunicative.
And you’re saying this because the people didn’t take the visions seriously? I just want to be clear about this. The man’s in-laws seem rather uncommunicative and stern, but I don’t think this is a character flaw—at least in relation to taking the man’s visions seriously. Same with the wife and friend. Are they really being unreasonable for thinking the man is probably crazy?
…then there’s the ‘hindsight film’ provoked by the second ending in which we are obliged to review our understanding of what we have seen.
But I don’t think you can use hindsight to characterize the people as “putting their heads in the sand.” All they had was a man with a family history of mental instability who was having dreams that made him jeopardize his family by building this shelter. I think only people who are foolish or have strong faith and conviction would take the man seriously.
Sure, the community had no reason not to think h was crazy. He certainly seemed it and in a sense he was. Visions can be seen as a sign craziness even if they are prophetic.
But if the final message is not that there is something prophetic in his visions, what IS it saying? That all is well back at the small town community? I felt the director could have made them much more attractive if he’d wanted to imply that. They weren’t bad people, just limited. They didn’t, and don’t, see where their lifelstye is leading them. America, the land of cheap gas and certain prosperity…
But if the final message is not that there is something prophetic in his visions, what IS it saying?
Here’s the interpretation I shared earlier in the thread:
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 in 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. Think 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.
In general, I think the film tries to depict and tap into the current anxiety and uncertainty about the economy and the environment; there’s also this sense of helplessness and powerlessness—despite our knowledge and technology.
That all is well back at the small town community? I felt the director could have made them much more attractive if he’d wanted to imply that. They weren’t bad people, just limited. They didn’t, and don’t, see where their lifelstye is leading them. America, the land of cheap gas and certain prosperity…
My sense is that the film isn’t commenting on the small town—positively or negatively. Your interpretation would be more compelling if the people ignored the scientific and logical arguments presented to them by the man—but that’s not the case at all. They don’t believe the man’s visions are real, which is a reasonable response.
I saw the film last night.
I had only one interpretation of the ending right after watching it. Yes, he is still ill and his wife and child share his vision, in fact they enter his schizophrenic world the way he enters theirs by going out of the shelter. They really can see what he sees. And that’s what the film is about, they found a way to stay together and the beach is the narrow line all the three of them can co-exist between the storm coming from the sea and the solid earth. So I don’t see any two endings of the film.
But having read Olly’s interpretation, I think this explanation can very well stand on its own.
Indeed, first thing that came to my mind about Michael Shannon’s and Jessica Chastain’s performances was “solid” and some others in this thread used the same word. I even think, Shannon’s character is also “solid”, not the typical shaky crazy character. He is very consistent in what he is doing and I think this is in line with these two interpretations offered.
Did anyone else interpret the ending in a family values sense? What it seemed to me was that the wife finally decided to follow her husbands lead.
For the entire film, she doubts him, yells at him, even slaps him once. Heck, even his friends wife chews him out.
Then in the end the wife finally says ‘ok’. She trusts his judgement.
‘Did anyone else interpret the ending in a family values sense? What it seemed to me was that the wife finally decided to follow her husbands lead.’
Yes and no, for me. Yes, strikingly they do all stick together and are seen away form the home community, emphasizing their separateness from their previous life. (This is a film, so what we see is important. It’s not the point to say, ‘Ah but they will return from holiday next week.’)
However, I don’t thnk it will do to say ‘she follows her husband’s lead.’ She doesn’t,. If she’d followed his lead she’d still be in the shelter. In making hom take the critical decision to leave she was the true leader at that point. Three’s also a strong sense that the little girl is an active agent, binding them together. So family values, yes, with each member contributing to their final unity, which is stronger at the end that at any point in the film.
Has anyone thought about the girl’s deafness? It could be there as a way of introducing American health care as one of the brooding anxieties that lie ahead, along with the financial and environmental. But deafness? Why that? I’m an inverterate symbol hunter but nothing is jumping out at me here. However, communication is a big theme in the film – or lack of it. Thee are no good communicators in the film. A terrible inarticulateness grips the characters. The brother who can only manage to blurt out a threat and then manages a hug. The workmate, staring, chewing, sensing something wrong but powerless to express it. The councellors with their word for word formula. The hero having dreams but struggling to bring himself to articulate them to his wife. With their girl we see them learning sign language – learning to communicate – which might be a major subtext in the wider drama about mpending disaster. ‘We need to talk abut it’ being the message.
New to this forum, but here’s my 2 cents.
Too much over thinking, metaphors, etc. There is only one ending, and the entire movie is leading us to that final scene.
I must make comparisons to something I saw when I was about 10 years old on my black and white TV. It was on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (yes, I’m old). It took place on an old wooden bridge over a river. Union soldiers were leading a Confederate prisoner to sit down while they prepare a noose for his upcoming hanging. The solder sits down, closes his eyes, and awaits his fate. The Union soldiers then lead him to the edge, place the noose around his neck and push him off the bridge. The rope snaps tight, but it breaks and the soldier drops into the river. Bullets narrowly miss him as he unties his hands and swims with the current to safety. The next hour, we see him running through the woods, crossing swamps, and running down dirt roads. FYI, there was no dialog throughout.
Over a hill, he sees a large plantation in the distance and a beautiful southern belle in a gown standing in the garden. He sees her…she sees him, and the slow motion begins as they run towards each other. At the moment they are about to touch, we see the rope snap, but it doesn’t break, and the camera pans down as we see the soldier hanging.
Michael Shannons character is delusional. So much so that his delusions are effecting his reality. As with the Confederate soldier who escapes his fate until we learn otherwise, Shannon and wife make progress to help him with plans for a promising future. But Shannon doesn’t open the shelter door, although we think otherwise. What some consider to be the first ending, is in fact the beginning of Shannon’s lapse into insanity. The audience is witnessing another delusion as we have many times thoughout the film. We… just like Shannon, cannot distinguish reality from delusions until the final scene with the tornadoes in the background make it apparent. I was fooled into thinking a solution to his increasing insanity was forthcoming. I was fooled when I was ten years old watching Alfred Hitchcock, and I was fooled watching Terry Gillian’s “Brazil”, when Robert DiNiro repels downward to save the hero from his imminent demise.
Your thoughts please.
Hi Lenny, your analysis makes sense in terms of respecting the plot. It’s possible, or it’s one possible interpretation. But where is the ‘textual evidence’ for it? What indications does the director give to suggest that there has been a moment in the shelter where all link with reality is lost and insanity begins? I can’t remember any but that’s just me.
I don’t thnk that, in a fully deluded state, he woulld have had a delusion in which his wife stood back and made him leave the shelter and in which he actually did so. Surely his delusional self was locked into the shelter.
You say ‘too much thinking and too much metophor’ but I can’t agree. A film is MADE. Everything you see has been put there for you to see. This is not like real life in which things ‘just happen.’
Do you feel there is no real point to the fact that he drills oil from the earth, oil rains from the sky and he shelters from it in the earth from which he drills the oil? This is too conscious, too contrived, too constructed, not to constitute some kind of symbol or metaphor.
And the whole film is to be seen only as a psychological drama? It has no social comment to make? No allusions to environmental, economic, social events in America today? If it doesn’t it is a much diminished film for me. No, I’m going to carry on thinking.
Thanks for sharing you thoughts.
This thread seems to ask the question “what was the ending about?” My interpretation is that Shannon is insane. I didn’t mean to suggest that there were no metaphors in this movie. There are many, all subject to interpretation, and not relevant to the ending of this movie.
But I too choose to analyze the metaphors. I think however, that the director wanted us to be a part of Shannon’s journey into insanity, with messages to think about along the way.
The pivital moment for me between insanity and sanity takes place in the shelter when the wife refuses to open the door and insists that Shannon do so. He must decide at that moment. The director has blurred the line, and the audience can no longer distinguish reality. We want to believe that he opens the door.
But you are correct in believing that this may not be the moment. In fact, It could have happened well before that, and the storm that led them to the shelter may also have been a delusion. It’s the ending that confirms that it did happen, and the conflict in the shelter works for me as that moment.
If, indeed, every shot was done intentionally — as I believe they were — then the scenes from the moment they entered the shelter are not a dream. If you carefully watch each “hallucination,” there were patterns. The most important being that we only saw and experienced what Curtis saw. There were no shots from someone else’s POV. So, when Curtis’ wife wakes him in the shelter, we are not in a dream because the shot is from her POV before she wakes him. And when we see her cooking inside the beach house, we are not in a dream. And, when we see her POV of the oily rain on her hand, it is not a dream.
I, too, thought it odd that she agrees to use her money to go to the beach, however, her comments about using the money for bills and such was made before he had his breakdown at the dinner. I believe that in that same conversation she had made it clear that she supported Curtis and would do anything to help him. So, it doesn’t seem odd that they do end up at the beach since the doctor said it was so important.
Another thought: Hannah first notices something amiss when she runs out into the street, which ends up alerting Curtis to the birds. While it followed the “dream” pattern of not showing anything other than Curtis’ POV, it’s interesting. We’re never really told it is a dream. So, was it? Was that what he was dreaming before the tornado sirens went off? We don’t know, because the next scene is from his wife’s POV as she wakes up.
Mary Ann, that’s exactly the kind of close ‘textual reference’ to the film that I was looking for in my own memory and couldn’t find. Nice work and your observaton convinces me, certainly. No switch of POV in the dream sequences says it all.
== SPOILER SPOILER ==
The ending seemed abiguous at first. Could have been:
1. A huge storm is coming, he’s a psychic.
2. He’s so mad that he has halucinations about them joining him in his madness.
3. They became mad too.
That they all become suddenly mad (3) especially without medical background like for his wife is not likely. His daughter is also too young and her mother isn’t just looking at her daughter but at the clouds.
What about his dillusions getting stronger (2)? It might but that shot doesn’t match the “panic” dreams pattern. All panic dreams are like: He’s the focus, he starts to panic, everyone gets crazy and he has no control. Here it his wife that has some focus as well as his daughter. His wife that has the “oil” rain, like he “predicted”.
The director wanted to show us that second ending, the “holiwood movie ending” as a what if… (1) he’s psychic. Still the calmness is astonishing. His calmness especially; it’s quiet possibly to make a contrast between the mad panics and this real happenin. He’s now sane again but it’s happening.
We don’t get the full happy ending (his was a psychic and all his good neigbors are saved thanks to him, all others die taken horribly by the wind), simply because of the first ending: He has no more shelter to accomplish that.
The more interesting part is the “OK”. Is it an agreement from his wife of something they talked or planned earlier? Or is it an acceptance of his faite, the impeding doom like in all his premonitions? Will they survive?
Firstly, i just want to say i loved this movie. I can honestly say a film hasn’t affected me as much for quite some time, I really can’t wait for his next film Mud. I felt this was better than Shotgun stories so i hope the trend continues.
Obviously the final scene has provoked some debate, the only reason i’ve seen this is because i thought it was beautifully shot and the score was so spine tingling i wanted to read other peoples opinions, i thought i had the ends meaning pretty well covered.
Anyway, here’s how i took it. The oil rain in particular indicated his dream state all the way through the film, why would that be any different for the ending?
The only difference was his final dream showed that he felt he wasn’t on his own anymore, subconciously knowing he had the support of his family, a sign that he had come to terms with his mental illness and was prepared to face the future.
It was overtly over the top with a big tidal wave, receding shoreline and double tornados. Clearly intended to be another dream following the tone of the film.
This doesn’t make it an unhappy ending, it makes it real which is what the film captures so beautifully, people suffer from mental illness it doesn’t mean life is doomed. You learn to control and live happily with it.
Darren’s reading is attractive and makes the film a serious and sensitive look into mental illness.
However, there is more to the dream sequences than the oil rain. The’ visual grammar’ of the film emphasizes very, very strongly that he is not the one to see the last storm first. This point is heavily laboured in the cutting room. The camera pans round from the girl’s point of view to show him unaware of the storm. If this is not done to say that he is not alone in having the visions then what is it done for? If you wanted to say, ‘He is still having the visions but now he believes the others share them’ then a different use of camera and sequence could have done this.
In fact I think you can have Darren’s ending and at the same time retain the interpretation that they are all now sensitized to impending disaster.
This is my first time participating in a MUBI thread. I was mystified by the ending and had to read more. I read this entire thread and really enjoyed all the different interpretations.
I shared Mary Ann Boyd’s analysis (linked with OP’s) that the final scene is “real” not from his dream POV, but obviously edited to clearly show it’s being experienced by everyone else too. But then I think about the dream sequence where Hannah is looking out the window at the storm and most likely seeing a man there. A zombie? In fact why isn’t anyone talking about the zombies? What about the car scene with people reaching in and grabbing them. They were very zombie-like.
So when I think about everything-the whole environmental disaster/apocalyptic nature of his dreams, the ‘zombies’, friends (and family and dog) all turning against him… Well imagine what it was like to have his mother disappear at age 10—at first abandoned and then ashamed by the nature of her behavior. It haunted him all his life—his loss and his fear that he would become psychotic—esp. at that age. What is his biggest fear? not of a storm, or of being attacked by his dog, but of losing himself and his family to his own psychoses.
I think there is a theme of our true impending environmental doom (powered by his very own employment so he’s got to feel that doom)—so this apocalyptic event may be real someday; it’s a good trigger for psychosis and for actual true rational fear.
AND putting that all together, I’m still torn!
1. I’m seeing Darren’s interpretation as spot on. His family isn’t going delusional with him—they appear in his dream (it IS a dream – in the beginning and at the end) his family is seeing the storm first so that he can accept their help in the day to day reality of coping with mental illness (something like that). He knows he is ill but believes they will stick with him. (I’m not sure I would sorry to say)
2. (my first interpretation) Yes his family goes on vacation. The doctor clearly prescribes this. They can swing it, it’s important. While on vacation separated from the shelter he built out of TRUE premonition—that he carried out despite the very real fear that he may just be crazy—an actual apocalyptic storm has arrived and because of our reliance (their reliance) on rational thought (over premonitions) they are f*cked. (end of story—we’re all f*cked)
oh and one added thought for this interpretation—people who are psychic are a bit psychotic or perhaps at least come from families with mental illness—-that type of “sensitivity” often is interpreted as or could lead to madness?
oh ok, one more thing ~ to support the #1 (and Darren’s) interpretation. When he breaks down at the Lion’s dinner and is flipping out—he looks at his daughter, her fear grounds him and it brings him back to reality. Why? Because he remembers being little and afraid of his psychotic parent—it snaps him out of his illness long enough to connect again with his family.
It’s so obvious to me. One of the final shots (the final shot? I forget) of the film is on the wife saying ‘okay’.
So to me this is a big moment. She finally trusts her husband. Throughout the entire film she doubted him, now she trusts him.
In aboriginal cultures people with what we call ‘mental illness’ were not shunned, but were instead viewed as sacred, or as shamans. Perhaps this has something to do with it.
Did you notice that the birds are white at the end as opposed to the black birds before that? What are your thoughts on that?
There are certainly a lot of interesting theories on this film and I’m not sure my mind is made up on what was a dream and what was reality. The whole oil scenario would make sense if in fact they were drilling oil, but they weren’t. They worked in a gravel quarry. No oil drilling here. I don’t think the weather theme is a statement about climate change, but simply a device to show the state of mind of the father.
This ending is still haunting me :-)
What if the ending is a mirror image? We have the white birds peacefully on the beach as opposed to the black birds flying in the sky, we have the storm coming from the sea (kind of a big mirror?) as opposed to the previous storms over the land. Also other opposites like running in despair vs. standing peacefully in harmony…
“I must make comparisons to something I saw when I was about 10 years old on my black and white TV. It was on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (yes, I’m old).
Yeah. That’s an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge”, by the way (a French adaptation of the same story managed to air a few years earlier as an episode of The Twilight Zone )
“This ending is still haunting me . . . we have the storm coming from the sea (kind of a big mirror?)”
Yeah, water is the classic Jungian symbol for the unconscious.
Oh, and, about the yellowish/orangish rain, that’s actually a phenomenon with a simple enough explanation (most of the time anyway) that’s fairly widespread source of superstition/conspiracy theory/paranoid fantasy.
(The simplest scientific explanation for what the rain at the end of the film would be that some sort of algae in the water getting airborne and disperesed by the water spouts out over the ocean.)
Seemed pretty simple to me, it’s like of book from the Old Testament had been rewritten as Tim O’Brien’s The Nuclear Age.
Loved the film, took the ending literally, that his visions came true. I think it speaks to the fear that most of us experience when we imagine something horrible happening to threaten ourselves and our families when we are unable to protect them.
Seemed to me like there was sort of an Appointment in Samarra thing going on at the end of the film too.
So did you just see this one, Matt? What’d you think?
Thought it was OK, but a little thin. Like I said, a book from the Old Testament rewritten as Tim O’Brien’s The Nuclear Age . . . or maybe vice versa. It didn’t really build a sense of scariness or dread like I would think that you’d want to in this sort of film. I liked Shotgun Stories a bit better.
Thought it was OK, but a little thin.
I agree with that. What did you think the film was about? The film seems to be tapping into the zeitgeist—specifically the sense of dread towards huge cataclysmic events that seem imminent (financial collapse, global warming, maybe even the loss of majority status for whites, etc.). I also thought this tension between reason-intuition and the unreliability of reason and expertise—e.g., The financial experts didn’t know about the financial collapse and they seem impotent in solving the problem. This reading is similar to the dynamic in Meek’s Cutoff (or at least my reading of that film).
And were you impressed with Shannon’s performance? (I really wasn’t; just thought it was solid, but not exceptional—although this may due to script.)
Yeah, I agree that I think it felt to me like it was just sort of crackling anxiety over things that are beyond the average person’s control.
I didn’t love Shannon is this either. I think he’s been better in a lot of things (have you seen Boardwalk Empire, by the way?).