Take Shelter – a descent into madness or a catastrophe thriller?
If you look up Take Shelter at IMDb you’ll see that it has two category tags: “drama” and “thriller” and if you read the forum, you’ll find people fiercely defending both of the interpretations.
What is undisputable is that Curtis, the young father and husband in the centre of the film, has nightmares about a storm of apocalyptical dimensions
[Warning: What follows might be considered mildly spoilerific]
Half of the lot think that those dreams point towards reality and that the man is a prophetic rather than insane. That’s the “thriller” team.
Personally I’m with the other team, the “drama” supporters, who think that Take Shelter all the way through is about a man – father and husband – who slowly realizes that he is suffering from a mental illness and how this affects himself as well as his family.
Perhaps the writer and director Jeff Nichols made the film a bit ambiguous and open for interpretations on purpose.
According to an interview I’ve seen quoted, it seems as if he doesn’t think it’s particularly important if the oily rain that is falling or the threatening tornadoes are for real or if they’re just products of Curtis imagination and something we see through his eyes only.
What is more important is how the relationship between Curtis and his wife develops over time, from the initial exclusion, secrecy and denial into a new level. The film isn’t about how you protect yourself from a storm, at least not a physical, weather related one. If there is a storm, it’s the one that is affecting the family.
To be honest I don’t think I’d like this film very much if I was in the thriller team. There are more thrilling films out there about people fighting desperately to survive against the raging elements.
As a drama theory supporter I loved it though and it’s the second film I watch in a theatre this year that will get a 5/5 rating from me. The first one was We Need to Talk about Kevin, and I think those two movies are connected in how they use powerful images with a surreal touch to help us to get access to chambers of a person’s mind on a very emotional, intuitive level. They use images rather than words to tell what’s happening on the inside.
We Need to Talk about Kevin had Tilda Swinton doing an amazing performance. In Take Shelter it’s Michael Shannon who shines. He’s not doing a stereotypical portray of a lunatic; he manages to give a very nuanced portray of someone who is paranoid and has delusions, but who also is a loving and caring father and husband, who tries to do what he thinks is best for the family, even if his actions sometimes are misguided.
Resonating with me
Take Shelter may be considered ambiguous by some, especially the ending. I’m not ambiguous in my appreciation for it though. I have the feeling that it’s going to stay with me for a long time.
It probably resonates a little bit more than it might have done otherwise since the daughter of a friend of mine has been diagnosed with mental illness and they’ve been going through a very rough time over the last couple of years handling this. It feels as if this film helps to bring me a bit closer to them.
It was a long wait for me from the launch in US until it finally reached my hometown this week, but I’m glad I finally got to see it. If you like movies that don’t write everything on your nose, but leave a bit of room for yourself to think and react, I recommend this one strongly.
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, US, 2011) My rating: 5/5