Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Take Shelter

I have been accused of loving every movie that plays at the Sundance Film Festival; however, that’s not true. I only review the movies I like, and there are plenty of Sundance films that I don’t review for one reason or another.

Here’s one that definitely is making my list. The film is Take Shelter and it debuted back in January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival. Take Shelter went on to win high praise not only at Sundance, but it also won the critic’s Grand Prix Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. It received only a limited release back in the Fall. What a shame.

Take Shelter deserved to be nominated for Best Picture of the Year. If there was any justice at the Academy Awards, it would at least have gotten a nomination. If I had a vote in the Academy, it would have gotten mine. It’s just totally ridiculous that it didn’t make the cut.

Take Shelter is an example of a perfect movie at the perfect time. It provides a commentary on contemporary American life. It absolutely plays on our fears—not necessarily an alien invasion, monsters, or zombies, but the real fear is losing our grip on reality. It also plays on our fear of losing the American Dream or what the movie called losing the “good life”.

We see it in our headlines every day—Global Warming, Economic Meltdown, Talk of War, Iran Obtains Nuclear Weapons, Political Unrest and Potential Terrorist Plots. The reason this film works so well is because on some level most of us believe that some looming disaster is forthcoming, whether it’s economic or environmental. And as a result, the life we now live could be a distant memory. For example, on one recent network, a new show debuted called Doomsday Preppers. The show follows the lives of average Americans who are preparing for some unknown future doomsday event. There’s no doubt that something has changed fundamentally within our society.

Take Shelter explores these themes that have crept into our subconscious that “something bad is going to happen”. The film examines the life of Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), an average American who is hard-working and loyal, as well as a faithful husband and loving father. Curtis, his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) live a quiet life in a small Ohio town.

The family is by no means well off. Curtis has a decent job and lives in a modest home. Family life is good, and his best friend and co-worker, Dewart (Shea Whigham), describes Curtis’s life as “the good life”. Unfortunately, all of that is about to change. Curtis starts to experience apocalyptic visions of a huge storm brewing on the horizon. It produces a brownish type of rain that may very well be toxic in nature. Neither Curtis nor the audience really know whether these visions are projections or premonitions. Is he hallucinating or losing his mind?

To make matters worse, Curtis’ mother started experiencing paranoia in her mid-thirties. He is completely aware of his situation and seeks medical help. He wants to know if the visions are real or if his fears have meaning. As the story develops, Curtis enters into a course of action that could have enormous consequences. He decides to build an expensive bomb shelter in his back yard. His wife and friends are convinced that he is becoming delusional and paranoid. His actions may very well cause him to lose “the good life”.

Take Shelter is a complex film on many levels. First, this film is unusual in its honest look at mental illness and the very things that keep us sane. Second, it plays on our fears of the unknown. In some ways, just like Curtis, we are all trying to hang onto the things that are precious to us.

In the film just as in real life, the loss of a job or the loss of health insurance have serious repercussions, which is a subtle theme running through the film. We are all one or two steps away from utter destruction, and most often we are not in control of our future. After all, isn’t life very fragile? I think each viewer will find something different to take away from this film.

Take Shelter is an utterly frightful film. There’s no blood, no explosions, and no creepy things jumping out at you. When we allow our fears to take control of us, I can think of nothing that is more frightening. Take Shelter is a “must see” film. It will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way to the surprising end. It’s one of those movies that has the ability to spark meaningful conversation.

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