Release date: March 19th, physician 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 120 minutes
Writer and director: Jeff Nichols
Composer: David Wingo
Cast: Michael Shannon, malady Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart
I heard the roar of thunder and looked up at the sky to see a claw of lightning tear across it a few seconds later. The smell of rain hung densely in the air and for a moment I wondered if the clouds themselves were about to swoop down and scoop me up in their ash coloured arms.
I was 7 years old and about to witness a cyclone that would bear down on our small island with all its might.
Now at the age 33 I’m as anxious as ever that we’re about to witness changes unlike anything our modern age has ever known, both geological and economic.
Take Shelter is a film that was born out of such anxiety; that we have everything to lose. Written by Jeff Nichols as we were entering the 2008 Financial Crisis, it was released at a time when financial experts were trying to warn us that we were on the brink of not just another crisis but a complete and total collapse. What kind of fears does this spark in us?
For those who sense something is on the way, our natural instinct is to protect our loved ones and do everything we can to ensure their survival, should the worst happen. For Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), a working class man with a loving family, his fears manifest in a series of nightmares warning that a terrible storm is on its way.
These nightmares become so intense that he wakes to find he’s wet the bed but he also begins to worry that what he’s experiencing could also be the early symptoms of schizophrenia, passed onto him by his mother. Real or imagined, as he tries to get help he continues to follow his instincts to protect his family by building an underground storm shelter. It’s fully equipped with running water, electricity, gas masks and an oxygen tank for his young daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf.
Nichols has tapped into something palpable here and in doing so he’s made a film that highlights many of the problems in our crumbling society, not just with its economic state but also the failures in mental healthcare and this is all against the backdrop of an impending disaster, or at least one that’s real enough for Curtis to act on.
For his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), that’s a lot to cope with. At first she’s unaware of Curtis’ nightmares, his difficulties at work and with people in the community but as soon as he shares this with her, as hard as it is, she’s willing to listen and to support him. They face losing his health insurance cover which pays for Hannah’s medical bills but she’s desperate to get both of them whatever help they need. Nichols makes this a very personal story about how an ordinary family deals with problems which any of us can face. Take Shelter is by no means an off-the-shelf apocalypse movie, but in saying that, it is one about an unfolding disaster, inside and out.
Like Curtis, I do feel huge changes are coming. I think deep down everyone senses it; the mood of souls passing each other on the streets reek of it. They can’t quite put their finger on what they’re feeling exactly but for those of a sensitive disposition they can smell it, sense it and see it. Is this what it was like before previous civilisations on Earth fell? Is this what the Mayans felt? In the time leading up to the destruction of Mu and Atlantis, were there those like Curtis who were in tune with those frequencies to such a level they saw it too and like Cassandra, who foresaw the destruction of Troy, were helpless to stop it?
I think Take Shelter is an important film, but its importance will only be grasped decades from now, along with movies such as Melancholia, Another Earth (2011) and Tree of Life (2011). They will only be understood and appreciated when humanity looks back on a time when its artists, philosophers, storytellers and filmmakers were trying to tell us of changes coming and to listen, see and feel it coming.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .