Take Shelter DVD Review

Right from Take Shelter’s opening scene, an undercurrent of omens rumble overhead.

Curtis, a hard working husband and father of one, his wife Samantha and their six year old deaf daughter live in a small Mid West town in the good ol’ US of A. Life seems pretty rosy for all concerned, only there are some clouds on the horizon.

Our blue collar protagonist has recently been plagued with nightmarish visions of growing intensity, where the physical pain endures long after he has woken from these.

Curtis’ nightmares suggest a biblical storm is coming, threatening his family and the entire community they live in. Reluctantly, he seeks medical help to deal with these visions where it transpires that paranoid schizophrenia runs in Curtis’ family tree.

Are his visions for real, or is Curtis’ future going to be beset by the same demons of his family’s past?

Despite the initially cheery set up, Take Shelter is essentially a metaphor for mental illness and, in particularly, one man’s confrontation with accepting this from the onset.

There’s a serious communication breakdown within Curtis’ family unit; his daughter is unable to hear him and, more damagingly, Curtis feels unable to talk to his wife about these visions until an unfortunate incident pushes them to breaking point.

Directed with careful pace by Jeff Nichols, the film also touches on the shortcomings of America’s health system approach to treating mental health issues. Curtis is stunned by the cost of his medication and leaves in frustration after realising his counsellor has been suddenly relocated; meaning he would have to start his healing process again from scratch.

In addition to his communication breakdown, Curtis acts like most men would and seeks a practical solution to his problem. On arriving at a counsellor’s office, he’s already armed with his own self-diagnosis and plainly asks what he can to do to fix this.

In reality, both the problem and solution are greater than he can currently comprehend. The storm shelter into which he pours his effort and finances serves as an external, tangible remedy for a very internal problem.

There’s also a strong religious thread running through the film, juxtaposing Curtis’ lack of faith with Samantha’s devout family roots even as his own narrative arc increasingly corresponds to Noah and his.

Performance-wise, Michael Shannon as the eponymous Curtis is excellent. It seems like only yesterday he was that bloke enthusiastically thanking Bill Murray for wrestling tickets in Groundhog Day, but he has since come to fame in films such as Revolutionary Road and TV Show du jour, Boardwalk Empire.

And no doubt his villainous turn in the upcoming Superman reboot will see his star ascend even further.

Shannon gives a measured performance here; treading the fine line between inner turmoil and external outrage. Jessica Chastain as his wife Samantha is simultaneously assertive and strong-willed, yet ultimately her efforts are futile.

Take Shelter suffers slightly from a false ending and a longer-than-necessary running time, but this can be forgiven for its subtle yet strong meditation on the fragility of inner and outer peace and its eventual, thought-provoking conclusion.

Conor Brennan

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March 2012
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