Cannes Movie Review: Take Shelter (2011)

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Are you worried the end is coming? Do you suffer from a sense of anxiety based on the world around you? Are you doing anything about it or are you just going about your life on a day-to-day basis as if nothing’s wrong? Whatever you’re doing, stop it and listen up.

Grab your loved ones and prepare for panic as writer/director Jeff Nichols has packed all his personal anxiety into a two hour slog called Take Shelter, a story about Curtis LaForche (played by Michael Shannon who seems to be able to do no wrong no matter how bad the film is), a man slowly drifting into schizophrenia… Or, is he actually a prophet able to predict the end of days? Is there a metaphor to be found in the oily rain that falls from the thunderstorms of his apocalyptic visions, or is he just crazy? All will be answered soon enough… or will it?

Problem is, no matter what you think, this double-speak snoozer is too unsure of itself to make a case. Instead, it cops out by appeasing both sides of any argument on its way to being a transient-man’s version of the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man. To that point, it’s a wonder Nichols didn’t play Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” over the final scene to really hammer home his nearly invisible “real” message.

Take Shelter is the apocalyptic counterpart to Field of Dreams. However, instead of building a baseball field, Curtis is compelled to build an addition to his tornado shelter in his backyard after seeing visions of storms on the Ohio horizon and birds moving in unfamiliar patterns along with threatening dreams that are only getting worse.

Appearing to be in control of his faculties, the thought Curtis may be crazy doesn’t really jibe as Nichols attempts to mix genres by turning this otherwise drama into an all-out thriller any time Curtis begins seeing visions. And while I didn’t like the film I can say he’s quite successful. There are definite moments of tension and intrigue and the filmmaking is quite good. The problem is the muddled story that never gets across a clear message and falls apart under closer examination.

Is Curtis going crazy? Well, the rule says crazy people don’t know they’re crazy and Curtis is trying to evaluate his level of schizophrenia. Is Curtis really seeing visions? Well, if he isn’t crazy something has to account for the things he’s seeing. However, perhaps I’m focusing on the wrong thing. Maybe the answer lies with Curtis’ wife and daughter.

Seemingly, the only reason other problems in Curtis’ life exist is to make his schizophrenic path a little bumpier. His daughter Hannah is deaf and scheduled to have cochlear implants, which means his costly new shelter isn’t exactly a hit with his wife (Jessica Chastain). However, as the problems continue to mount for Curtis his wife continues to stand by him. Message anyone?

Perhaps this idea of family and a support system is what you’ll take away from this film; the idea that no matter what problems come before us we all need a support system of some sort. No matter how much life gets us down, we can pull through as long as we have love. Again, I suggest you watch A Serious Man before exploring these themes here because Take Shelter takes these ingredients and mashes them into an unrecognizable stew that is just as contradicting to explore as it is boring to watch.