So we’re diverging from our Jean Harlow retrospective for the day (yes, I know it’s early for that and no, it won’t last weeks!) but I wanted to include a post so I figured I’d put up one of the best movies I should have seen last year. Take Shelter is a film that we all should have seen at this year’s Academy Awards. Stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain should have been nominated for their turns in this, and yes I know Chastain was nominated (it was for the wrong damn film!). This film is a drama but also looks at the deep horrors of mental illness. I’d be more than happy to debate the ending of this film in the comments…go out and rent it today!
Curtis (Shannon) is a mild-mannered family man who is plagued by violent dreams of the apocalypse. Fearing he’s succumbing to the mental illness that destroyed his mother, Curtis becomes compelled to turn a backyard tornado shelter into a safe house for the coming storm. As he tries to get treatment for his illness, his dreams force him to start pushing away his friends and wife (Jessica Chastain).
Take Shelter is a beautiful movie that tells of the struggles of mental illness. You watch Curtis come to the slow and upsetting realization that his mother’s illness has passed on to him, you see him attempt to keep it under control as it consumes him, and ultimately you see his breaking point. Shannon is put through the wringer and gives a performance that never, ever feels over-the-top (maybe that’s what limited his Oscar potential…if he had a physical or mental disability maybe he’d have gotten a nod!). He’s a loving family man as evidenced by the sweet scenes he has with his wife, and deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). When the illness becomes too much you see the pain and anguish, especially as he tries to convince his wife and others he’s not crazy and that a storm is coming.
The coming storm, and Curtis himself, are all symbols of the economic depression and the world post-9/11. Curtis’ bomb shelter idea is not far-fetched and hearkens back to the mass of people loading up on duct tape and bottled water after the terrorist attacks in NYC. The questions arise of what makes Curtis different from anyone else planning an emergency, and when does it become an obsession? The storm itself mirrors the financial difficulties in Curtis family. We watch them struggle to come up with the money for Hannah’s ear surgery, as well as face issues with health insurance. Once Curtis tries to seek treatment, the high price limits him even more. When the storm starts to manifest itself physically you can’t help but see it as a manifestation of the financial burdens on the family. This film really touches on several universal fears of Americans today, especially Americans coping with a medical issue they can’t afford. The choice between getting better, and potentially starving becomes painfully obvious.
Alongside Shannon’s amazing performance is Jessica Chastain as Curtis’ wife Samantha. She’s a graceful, elegant woman who is so nice she can’t even negotiate properly while selling her goods at a local flea market. When Curtis starts to fear her as his dreams get worse, the toll is placed more on her. They are a true acting duo in this film, and without both being strong the whole movie would have faltered.
Take Shelter is an FANTASTIC movie! It got robbed of its accolades at the Oscars (put it up alongside Drive and Shame!). We’ll be back with more Jean Harlow tomorrow, but I’ve given you a movie to watch in the meantime!
Grade: A+ (a first I believe)
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.