Ebertfest 2012 – Take Shelter

There are several hot topics in American right now.  One, because it’s an election year, is the up-coming election.  Two, because she’s questionable, is Sarah Palin’s ability to do anything but look MILFy.  Three, is global warming.  Although it’s not inherently obvious or overtly stated, I believe the film Take Shelter is all about number three.  Just so you know, number three here was extremely well received at Sundance and Cannes.

Right from the opening scene, hard-working, blue collar Curtis (Michael Shannon) is having nightmares about a coming doom.  Most nightmares involve an oily rain, a funnel cloud, and faceless people trying to get him, his home, and/or his family.  He often wakes up shaking, upset, sweaty, and one time with something beyond sweat.  Curtis is both smart and dumb.  He’s smart enough to draw a connection to a possible mental illness, such as what has infected his mother who is in an assisted living home.  While her illness or debilitation is not specifically named, it pains Curtis to learn that she was having symptoms as young as 35, which is right about where Curtis is.  He’s also smart enough to seek professional – or semi-professional help.  The dumb comes into play when he does not tell his wife what he’s dealing with.  However, the movie is a good part family drama.  If he were honest, there’d be a lot less drama.  When Curtis’s friend and co-worker tells him, “You got a good life,” everybody knows that something is going to go wrong.

Curtis and friends drill wells in the Midwest where tornadoes are not uncommon.  They’re so not uncommon that he’s got an underground shelter in his yard, but it’s been neglected.  Now that Curtis is having premonitions, he fixes it up and expands it enough for his family to have an extended stay, that after stocking up on a ton of canned goods, installing a toilet, gas masks, and oxygen tanks.  He goes so far as to borrow a backhoe from work and dig up enough yard to drop a box container that triples the size of the shelter.  Unfortunately, he also gets himself into work trouble, which jeopardizes his health benefits, thus jeopardizing the planned operation so that his deaf child will be gain the ability to hear.  This understandably pisses off his very cute girl-next-door strawberry blonde wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain).

So, about global warming.  Some, or most people see this as a family drama about believing and faith in your spouse, standing next to him or her at times when it’s most difficult, which will be when they’ll need you the most.  I see this as a movie that forecasts a coming environmental danger for which we need to prepare.  Curtis’s nightmares are strong and consistent.  He doesn’t seem politically involved enough that he’s studying the issue.  He’s more like the outdoorsman who sees what’s real.  A few years ago I attended a lecture at my local library at which my neighbor, a farmer, talked to kids about farming.  Afterward, I asked his opinion about the issue.  I said, “You work outside.  You’ve gotta have an opinion.”  He said, “Here’s all I can tell you.  We used to have summers where it would rain two or three times a week.  Now we get rain once a month, but it lasts three days straight and it’s two months worth all at once.  I don’t know what’s happening, but I know that something is happening.”  Farmers and fireman.  They don’t get enough respect.

Take Shelter reminds me of the Hitchcock movies like North by Northwest, in which we know the man is innocent, but every sign points to him and nobody believes him.  In this case it’s not a man who’s been murdered, it might be the whole planet.  The biggest problem is not the issue or the actions taken by a man on a mission.  The story took a very long time to develop, and at times it seemed as if Curtis’s feet – or mine – were stuck in some mud and not allowed to go as quickly as everyone wanted to go.  I blame the director for making such a slow pace, but I do not blame him for a very ambitious film made during a time when the Republicans could easily label this film as “Liberal Propaganda.”

4 thoughts on “Ebertfest 2012 – Take Shelter

  1. As we were watching it, I took it as a general “prepper” film for whatever disaster you think is coming. A “SHTF” movie. Global Warming. The collapse of civil society due to our inevitable insolvency. Whatever.

    I think people have, as the director did, a general sense of foreboding about our future right now. Lot’s of scary stuff to imagine, which the director played with here.

    I rented the DVD when I got home just to watch one scene. It’s the scene where Curtis has a seizure, and then opens up to his wife. Jessica Chastain is riveting in that scene.

    • i sometimes wonder who gets the credit for a performance like chastain’s. do we credit her for not going overboard with her reactions and staying poised, controlled, but still clearly upset? or do we credit the director for keeping her that way?

  2. Hmmmm … I don’t like slow movie films … family stories are good … political documentaries from either side are not worth the price nor my time … So … should I see this one?

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