August 11, 2013

Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols, 2011

Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a hardworking man who suddenly starts having apocalyptic visions in his dreams. As the nightmares continue, they begin to spill into his waking life. It soon affects everything around him: his relationship with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain), his career, and his fathering of hearing impaired daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). He senses that the storms of his nightmares are coming, and he feels determined to prepare.

Jeff Nichols is once again in his familiar rural American landscape, although this picture is set in Ohio and not Arkansas like Shotgun Stories or Mud. While Mud and Shotgun have many similarities with each other, this film really carves its own niche. The film also pairs Shannon with fellow Boardwalk Empire star Shea Whigham, who plays his co-worker/buddy Dewart. Shannon's character Curtis is a dedicated husband, an introverted man whose emotional needs are secondary to his providing for his family. As soon as the nightmares start to haunt him, he keeps them to himself. He doesn't let Samantha in on it. It's painful to see, because she is desperate to communicate with him - if only he could let her in. Curtis is sympathetic, because all of the changes that materialize are really based on the need to protect his loved ones.

It's hard to determine whats behind the nightmares, and sit with the same sense of mystery as Curtis does. Is it actually a prophetic vision? Or is it early signs of Curtis inheriting his mothers mental illness? Nichols relies heavily on characters in his work, giving them time to develop. He really succeeds in creating the detail here. There's an obvious empathy to Curtis' predicament, but also a sense of exhaustion as you relate to Samantha's mounting impatience. It has a damaging effect on the marriage, and as a viewer you are sitting in the room watching it unfold. The obsession of expanding the tornado shelter, and the ultimate deterioration of his life is similar to D.B. Sweeney's character Mike Rogers in Fire in the Sky. He is experiencing something that nobody but him understands. He becomes the crazy guy in town, and the loneliness of it is devastating. Nichols has been consistent in creating heavy pieces, films that have an emotional resonance to them and creating identifiable characters.

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