Thursday, October 27, 2011

Take Shelter [2011]

MPAA (R) Roger Ebert (4 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Take Shelter (written and directed by Jeff Nichols) is an independent film that has been getting rave reviews from critics.  As such, it may be a film that becomes significant come Oscar season.  However, I have my difficulties with it.

The film is about a man named Curtis (played by Michael Shannon) from rural Texas.  He has a farm house, and holds a steady job in a nearby quarry.  He's married to a young woman named Samantha (played by Jessica Chastain) and together they have a young daughter named Hannah (played by Tova Stewart).

It's a good and honest life, except that Curtis himself is starting to suspect that his mind may be going, that he's slowly going insane.  And he has reason to believe that this could be happening.  He starts being tormented by increasingly terrible dreams, mostly about a storm unlike any other -- wind, tornadoes and a downpour of thick oil-like rain.  At work, he starts to freak-out his best friend and co-worker, Dewart (played by Shea Wingham) by frequently hearing strange noises and seeing strange formations of birds that no one else sees.  It turns out that Curtis' mother (played by Cathy Baker) had come down with schizophrenia when she was his age, and during the course of the film he does go to visit her at the psychiatric assisted living facility where she lives to this day. 

So the setup of the film is very good and it is clear that Curtis himself suspects that something not right is starting to go on in his mind.  Further, in as much as he can -- he and his wife don't have a lot of money and he does have a full-time job -- he does seek psychological help.  But the dreams don't stop him from doing some increasingly disturbing things.  Notably, he takes money that he and Samantha had been saving for a vacation (or more probably to use for their daughter, who has her own medical problems, she's deaf) and spends it on radically expanding the storm shelter that they already had in their backyard.  He also becomes increasingly erratic (and absent) at work, at stake there being not just Curtis' income but also his health insurance.

So faced with increasingly erratic behavior of her husband, Samantha has to increasingly step-up and step-in, to confront him and try to keep him in line.

All this would make for an _excellent movie_.  What I did not like about the movie, honestly, is its ending.  It is open to multiple interpretations, but IMHO the most obvious interpretation really cheapens the rest of the film.

I saw this movie, Take Shelter, several weeks ago and had refrained from putting-up a review of it until now, because I so disliked the ending of the film.   However, another independent film Martha Marcy May Marlene (starring Elizabeth Olsen) is also about a character losing (her) grip on reality.  So it probably serves to provide a review the film now because the two films could be interesting to consider together.  In any case, my favorite film of recent years about schizophrenia is A Beautiful Mind (2001) which starred Russell Crowe.

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  1. Dear Dennis:

    Your review was instrumental in getting me to my local art-house cinema where this film started today. Music was superb as was acting and direction. The ending did not trouble me. I don't propose to understand the resolution entirely, but if I had to guess I would say that the psychosis was contagious. This could be justified by virtue of the fact that Curtis' wife and child loved him dearly. I believe this is the most palatable and charitable hypothesis. Thank you for getting me to the theater.

  2. Hi George, thanks much for your comment. Yours is a good interpretation of the ending. I see a couple of other ones, the better one (if more tragic) being that just changing location doesn't make his illness go away. There's another far more obvious interpretation that I don't like and if that one were the intent of the film-maker I do believe would really undermine the seriousness of the rest of the film. I'd prefer almost any other interpretation than the obvious one.