These are uncertain times. Even if you don’t embrace the ramblings of Glenn Beck and a handful of other doom-and-gloomers, there is a lot speculation about the future of our nation and world; it isn’t optimistic.
But what if you knew something was coming, something that would disrupt whatever stability you had strived to maintain in uncertain times? And what if you were the only one who knew it was coming?
If you sound the alarm, you will be viewed as unstable or worse. And what if you are not sure whether you know a truth no one else yet knows or you have lost your ability to separate reality from your dreams?
These are the questions of the great new film “Take Shelter.”
Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a husband, father and hard-working employee who lives a relatively simple life in rural Ohio.
Shannon, an Oscar nominee for his small role in “Revolutionary Road” in 2009, is perfectly cast. He’s an Everyman or Anyman. This story could happen to anybody, anywhere.
Curtis begins having dreams that foretell bad things. At first, he seeks medical help to suppress these nightmares, but soon they start invading his waking life.
Mental illness exists in his family; he visits his mother who was institutionalized when Curtis was only 10. He wonders if he has inherited the same problems.
And then he begins to allow the visions to control many if not most of his decisions. We watch this man spiral downward into the delusions, and one cannot help but wonder, “Has he lost it, or could he be right?”
And what will his wife, Samantha, do when she finally realizes what is happening to her husband?
What makes “Take Shelter” such a special film is that writer-director Jeff Nichols and Shannon create a character who is so believable that we yearn to help him; we hope everything turns out right for him.
There are moments when you want Curtis to make the right choice, and moments when you sigh because you know he didn’t. Then there are scenes that play out in a completely different way than expected, yet they seem authentic. That is always a joy in any film.
And there is the tension. Like a good horror movie, this film builds anxiety, but does it without any gore or violence.
Is Curtis crazy or right? Will he tell his wife the truth, or keep it from her? Will he go through with his plans? Will anyone be able to help him? And do the dreams mean anything? These questions and others keep you guessing and anxious for the answers.
This film also succeeds because it rings true. All the actors seem like real people, living in the real world. Simple details like women gossiping, extended families sharing Sunday lunch, and folks attending a fund-raising fish fry all set this story in a reality not often shown in today’s movies.
Then, finally, it works as a commentary on our times. In the midst of this one man’s struggle with reality, there are conversations about the danger of credit cards, living without health insurance and losing one’s job or home. For many, perhaps most, Americans today threats loom on the horizon.
Curtis believes something is coming, and he prepares for it. Is he right or crazy?
MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon: Curtis; Jessica Chastain: Samantha; Shea Whigham: Dewart; Katy Mixon: Nat.
The movie’s website is here.