That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Take Shelter

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011 4:39 pm—Film

Take Shelter (USA 2011, Drama), Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols

In my teaser about Melancholia and Take Shelter, I mentioned being curious about the two films because of their exploration of impending apocalypse and mental illness, and the question of perception vs. reality. As it turns out, I only made it to Take Shelter during the films’ theatrical runs, so Melancholia will have to be a rental for me. But Take Shelter absolutely didn’t disappoint. It’s a fabulous film—one well worth seeing and, if you’re into the nerd thing, analyzing.

To recap from the teaser, Take Shelter assumes the point of view of Curtis (Michael Shannon), an Ohio construction worker who’s beleaguered by the sudden onset of disturbing dreams and visions about a violent storm that promises to bring about murky acid rain and possibly the end of the world, at least as we know it. Curtis’ episodes are so powerful that they leave a physical mark that carries over to the rest of his waking life.

Making matters more complicated—or perhaps simpler, for everyone but Curtis—is that he has a family history of paranoid schizophrenia, with an onset age right around his. While everyone in his life seems to arrive at the conclusion that he’s simply presenting the first symptoms of the disease, Curtis seems to know better; rather than just accepting that medication and therapy are the answers, he begins building a storm shelter, using money his family really can’t spare.

One of the things I was interested to see in Take Shelter was the treatment of Curtis’ perceived reality in contrast to the reality presented through the rest of the characters, and whether it would really matter whether or not Curtis was right or delusional, given that his experience would always be framed by his perspective. As presented in this film, if not everywhere else, the difference between what may “really” be out there and what’s in our minds starts to matter when we’re no longer able to function alongside the people around us—even when we’re right.

The film also offers an interesting study from a mental health perspective, both of the symptoms of the disease and of people’s tendency to dismiss any difference as something “other”—they’d rather label Curtis as diseased, even without a proper examination, than try to understand what’s foreign to them or face something they may not want to.

I can’t say enough good things about Take Shelter. The script is among the best, with impeccable dialogue that never reveals too much and rings utterly true. The film features a great score that’s suitably spare and haunting. Its imagery is demurely beautiful, and its performances are superb. As Curtis’ wife Samantha, Jessica Chastain doesn’t have a lot to do, but she’s lovely in the role and provides a solid platform from which Shannon is able to anchor his exceptional portrayal.

Shannon is racking up the Best Actor nominations for his work here, and deservedly so. He’s fantastic. From quietly tense moments to those filled with frustration and rage, he’s always perfectly on key. There’s a scene in the storm shelter when he holds the camera’s attention for several beats, and each time, his inner turmoil is so plainly, perfectly conveyed. I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of Shannon after this.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols does a formidable job of bringing the viewer into Curtis’ world, and then of turning it around and making it our own, giving us something very big to reflect on. It’s a deeply impactful film, with wonderful glimpses of the good in humanity (the bond between Curtis and Samantha is especially beautiful, clearly built on trust, respect and kindness), and important questions about the darker choices we’ve made and continue to make, and what the potential consequences may be.

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