Take Shelter (2011)
November 1, 2019 3:20 PM - Subscribe

Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

Roger Ebert: Here is a frightening thriller based not on special effects gimmicks but on a dread that seems quietly spreading in the land: that the good days are ending, and climate changes or other sinister forces will sweep away our safety. "Take Shelter" unfolds in a quiet Ohio countryside with big skies and flat horizons, and involves a happy family whose life seems contented.

Rolling Stone: If you’ve seen Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road or HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, you know he’s an actor who means business. In Take Shelter, a film that prides itself for the distance it keeps from multiplex formula, Shannon gives himself over completely to a complex role and leaves you shattered. He plays Curtis LaForche, a crew manager for an Ohio sand-mining company, husband to Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and father of their six-year-old daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf. Lately, Curtis has been having visions of an impending apocalypse, disturbing visions that estrange him from his family and his co-workers. Chastain’s quietly implosive performance breaks your heart as she searches Curtis’ eyes for the man she married. Writer-director Jeff Nichols, who worked with Shannon on Shotgun Stories, seems to breathe as one with this gifted actor.

NYTimes: In trying to protect himself and his family from whatever it is that he believes is coming, Curtis risks making his fears come true, putting his job, his marriage and his daughter’s well-being in jeopardy. And in showing the potential dispossession of a working-class family, Mr. Nichols, without banging a topical drum, points toward a social catastrophe that is all too real.

Is Curtis mad, or is he prescient? You can debate this question when the movie is over — the brilliant final scene invites as much — but you are unlikely to find a comfortable answer. The real question is what difference it makes.

Collider: One could look at Take Shelter from a number of angles, and it’s hard to tell after one viewing just how many themes and ideas Nichols has woven into his film. A single pass reveals meditations on fear (fear of a parent passing along a crippling mental disease, fear of the unknown, fear of betrayal and scorn), paranoia (Are these visions the real deal, or are they just dreams? Might Curtis’ friends and family try to stop him from doing what he feels compelled to do?), commitment (witness Curtis’ determination to learn sign language for his daughter, his work ethic, his feverish drive to get that shelter built) faith, destiny—all kinds of stuff. This film is rich, layered, and will obviously be rewarding for those that come back for repeat viewings.

AV Club: So is the hero nuts or not? Take Shelter inevitably moves toward an answer of a kind—one that not every viewer will like. But the ending isn’t as significant as it initially appears. Even Shannon would probably acknowledge that it doesn’t matter whether his family is wiped out by a Biblical-style apocalypse or by his mental illness. Either way, the very process of preparing for the worst can constitute a devastating storm in itself.


Streaming on Sony Crackle
posted by MoonOrb (4 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A harrowing movie with very fine performances. For me, at least, the movie captures the raw feel of incapacitating mental illness, and not only for the immediate sufferer. It’s terrifying and confusing and annoying and tiring to live through your own or another’s illness.

Is he, the protagonist, ill or visionary? I was happy to accept both readings of the situation, though others may be put off, or even offended, by the apocalyptic and sci-fi (?) counter-narrative of the movie. The performances are really something, nonetheless, and the wan color scheme employed by the filmmakers works well to evoke the atmosphere of the Midwest, as I know it.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 7:05 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

This movie has stuck with me for a long time -- principally on the strength of Shannon's performance.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:31 AM on November 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love this movie so much. I was reluctant to watch it the first time, so missed seeing it in theatres and only caught it on, like, Showtime or something, but it was nothing like what I was expecting (the bad kind of unhinged Michael Shannon, not the haunting kind). Jessica Chastain was amazing, and the girl who played their daughter was really affecting.

It's weird but I too was honestly fine to imagine it either way--whether he's mentally ill or prescient about an impending disaster almost kind of didn't matter to me, to the whole movie, because I have always loved that kind of ending, even when it can be super frustrating to not know definitively what will happen (like Sayles's Limbo, for instance). The atmosphere of dread was more important, and both scenarios were filled with dread, so...mission accomplished.

The song at the end stuck with me so much I ended up using it in a fan vid. I'd forgotten about in between the times I'd watched the movie, and the second time around it just made such an impact on me. There was a version Ben Nichols performed live (I think he's the director's brother?) that has a really affecting extra verse in it that touched a little on the movie. I wish it could have been in the credits version.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:19 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if I failed to pick up on the movie's intended vibe or if the ending just betrayed that vibe, but I was not there for the conclusion of this at all. Love it up until then, though.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:55 PM on October 10, 2022

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