After working closely with those impacted by and helping out with the aftermath of a devastating tornado I’m not crazy about watching films that have tornadoes as a central prop. Take Shelter is more about a man struggling with losing his sanity than it is about the storms around him, whether they be real or in his head.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a husband to Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and father to a young daughter who lost her hearing. He lives in a small town where your secrets are only well kept for a matter of minutes if not less. Everyone knows everyone. There is nothing extraordinary about Curtis. He works hard, appears to have a good relationship with his wife and child, and enjoys the friendship of those he works with. Contrasted with his relatively simple way of life are visions and dreams he has of deadly storms approaching along with strangers and loved ones threatening to kill him. The events seem so real that physical pain is inflicted. The torment this down to earth man goes through is hard not to feel.
After one too many painful dreams, Curtis realizes he needs to figure out what is going on. He knows there is a history of schizophrenia in his immediate family. This leads him to seek help though without letting his wife know. While desperately seeking help he also goes about securing a risky home equity loan in order to get funds for expanding the tornado shelter out back. It’s at this point that Samantha loses her patience. She has seen changes in her husband, mostly writing them off as one off oddities or physical illness. But when she comes home to discover Curtis and his friend from work tearing up the backyard to expand the tornado shelter she is at a loss for words. She can’t comprehend the project, the way she discovers it, where the funds are coming from – none of it makes sense. Since there is a sweet chemistry between Curtis and Samantha this grenade set off in their relationship by Curtis is painful to watch, even though we as viewers understand a bit more about what Curtis is dealing with it’s also hard for us to justify his self destructive behavior.
To go further into the plot development is to potentially ruin one of the components that makes the film so compelling. Take Shelter is sure to leave some perplexed, others enthralled, and almost everyone thinking for days about what it all meant in the end. Count me in the camp of those enthralled. The performances, the overall mood, and the contrast between an everyday life and schizophrenia are done in a near perfect manner.