Devoted husband and father, Curtis (Michael Shannon), is plagued by apocalyptic dreams, but he does not know whether to shelter his family from the coming storm or himself. Secrets lead to resentment, and fear leads to despair in Jeff Nichols’s latest film.
Take Shelter is the chronicle of a delusional mind, watched by the portion of the mind that still holds on to reality. Michael Shannon as Curtis is both hero and villain in Take Shelter. It is s though he is watching himself lose his grip on reality, but can do nothing to help himself. Somewhere inside, he knows that building an underground storm shelter is absurd, but he can’t seem to stop himself.
Curtis’s delusions present as nightmares; in each, a storm is approaching, clouds roll in followed by rain and squalls. Nature turns against him as his dog attacks and birds fall dead from the sky. The trouble is that once Curtis is awake, he is plagued by his dreams; his arm hurts from a dreamed bite from his dog, and he finds himself retreating further into himself to hide his disintegration. There are times that the audience may find themselves frustrated with Curtis; he is surrounded by loving friends and an adoring wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), but he refuses to confide in any of them. This preservation of the masculine, and reluctance to give something a name for fear of giving it power forms that basis of Curtis’s motivation.
It could be argued that by refusing the admit to what he is going through Curtis is, in fact, emasculating himself, but as soon as he confides in Samantha, she forces him to take his power back.
While Take Shelter is beautifully shot, carefully thought out and tightly scripted, it falls to Michael Shannon to carry it, and carry it he does. Shannon swings from the gentle giant who adores his family, to cowering child who believes his greatest fear is coming true. He is stoic, yet the characters thoughts, fears and motivations are plain for the audience to see… even though we may not understand them. Shannon’s performance is one of nuance and elegance in which he proves, once again, that he is the greatest actor you’ve never heard of, although that it set to change with his performance in TVs Boardwalk Empire and his upcoming role as General Zod in Man of Steel.
A balance of family drama and psychological thriller, Take Shelter is a film that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. It is a film to be thought about; is Curtis insane or a prophet? This is the question he struggles with, and the audience invariably will too.