A hallucinatory thriller, Take Shelter builds a suffocating knot of tension around a compelling Michael Shannon, who plays Curtis LaForche, a devoted husband and father who works in construction and raises a middle class family. His young daughter is hard of hearing, and his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) sells woven items for a feeble sum of money, hoping that one day they might be able to afford surgery to help their daughter.
“You’ve got a good life, Curtis,” says Dewart, Curtis’s best friend and co-worker. A sinister analogy to Dewart’s simple truth might be that the greatest fear a man can experience is that of losing the good life he has. It is this apprehension, which afflicts Curtis in especially destructive form which defines the atmosphere of Take Shelter.
Out of nowhere, Curtis begins to find his life plagued by apocalyptic visions, fearing that a storm of incredible proportions is approaching. To the confusion of his wife, he begins to build a storm shelter in their backyard, which slowly begins to put strain on the family's financial status as well as inner relationships. Curtis goes to great expense to expand this storm shelter, borrowing heavy and dangerous equipment from work and a lot of money from the bank. Curtis begins to believe that he is paranoid, but part of him also strongly believes in his visions. Assuming that you interpret Take Shelter as a film about a man struggling with a psychological disorder, this is an important insight into a painful paradox of mental illness which rarely shows up in movies: Curtis suspects that he is sick, and is both ashamed of his condition and determined to fight whatever it is that he is experiencing. A practical man, Curtis’s first impulse is not to reach out to anyone, especially his loving wife, who remains a helpless observer – but to withdraw: first into himself, then into his abandoned storm shelter. All this said, Take Shelter appears to tell the story of troubled masculinity in an increasingly troubled world. Curtis' refusal to share his fears with his wife is infuriating, however everything he does is motivated by a determination to do all he can to protect his family. Shannon’s reticent, haunted performance manages to be both heartbreaking and terrifying.
Throughout the entire film, Jeff Nichols asks us a key question: "Are Curtis' visions true, or is he suffering from a mental illness?" Not only is the audience drawn into caring about the family and Curtis, but we are constantly seeking the truth. As it is told entirely from Curtis' perspective, we're never really sure exactly what is real outside of his mind, and for the most part neither is Curtis himself. The fear of not being able to trust your own mind is played out brilliantly by Nichols' fantastic screenplay.
Written by Victoria Mackenzie