If you were losing your mind, how would you know? If reality is just our perception and our brains are how we perceive our reality, how would we know if what we’re seeing is actually happening? If your brain is sick, how could you know?
Take Shelter was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the writer and director of other great movies like Mud and Shotgun Stories.
The question of reality and whether we can trust ourselves is asked throughout the length of the movie in Curtis, played by the amazing Michael Shannon. He’s plagued by visions and night terrors of a catastrophic storm that will kill many people. Are these visions a prophecy of an inevitable storm to come or is Curtis losing his mind like his paranoid schizophrenic mother did around the same age?
One thing that writer/director Jeff Nichols does better than any filmmaker I’ve ever seen is to make excellent movies using very normal characters. Mid to low income families located in Anytown, USA. He excels here again showing the struggle of Curtis, his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf daughter, played by an actual deaf girl, Hannah (Tova Stewart).
The movie follows Curtis as his visions increase in frequency and clarity. He soon devotes his entire life and income into making a storm shelter for his family to ride out the squall in. Throughout the entire film I found myself on the edge of my seat as I watched this man breakdown and his wife try and make sense of it all. While I certainly won’t spoil anything, I was begging the movie to show that his visions were a prophecy. That he wasn’t losing his mind. That his actions will eventually be justified.
One scene at a local VFW was particularly heart wrenching. This guy only wants to protect his family, but can’t be sure if he should protect them from the storm or himself. Where’s the real danger coming from? I still get choked up every time I see Curtis’ wife, also a person breaking under the stress of his behavior, reach out and try and pull him back in such a loving way.
The soundtrack by David Wingo is borderline magical. It’s quite subtle, but with streaks of grandeur. Much of the soundtrack reminds me of wind chimes. What? Did I really just say wind chimes? Yes! Yes I did! When thinking about how storms generate wind, the driving force for a wind chime, and that Curtis’ mind is actually in its own storm, it couldn’t be a more genius design choice. I’d like to think it was done purposefully, but I have no idea. Or maybe I’m the only person that thinks “wind chimes” every time I listen to the soundtrack again.
I’ve seen the movie several times now and each time I find a new nugget of information I missed from the previous viewing. While some people I know felt the movie was too slow or long, I couldn’t disagree more. For my first viewing I found myself glued to my seat, eyes wide open as I watched the story unfold, trying to will it to the ending I wanted.
Would I recommend this movie? Only if you want to see astounding performances played out before you with a killer “what’s going to happen” story all wrapped up in a pretty and understated package.
Take Shelter is a movie that still gets me excited to talk about or watch. It consumed my every thought for almost an entire week after I first saw it. Making it one of only a handful of movies that has ever done that to me.
So go get Take Shelter and have your doomsday kit at the ready. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a little paranoid is there?