Sunday, December 11, 2011

Helter Shelter

On to another writer/director, Jeff Nichols and his film, Take Shelter. I'd been looking forward to seeing Take Shelter for months now; I wasn't familiar with Nichols (I am now and am a big fan; Shotgun Stories was added to my queue immediately), but I was really looking forward to seeing Michael Shannon play the lead, especially in an interesting project like this one. Shannon is barely in Revolutionary Road, but he steals every scene that he's in. I've already praised his work in Boardwalk Empire on here; he's a guy that many people don't know, but always seems to take on each role with everything he's got. There are a couple of moments in the film that show you why Michael Shannon is perfect for the role of Curtis: The Lyons Club dinner, and the shelter scene near the end. Again, these might be obvious scenes, but I still can't get over either one of them. After the fight with Shea Whigham ends at the dinner, Curtis turns to his neighbors and confronts small-town gossip. His face suggests a man possessed; the look in his eyes is heartbreaking. You really feel for his wife, his daughter, and for him. No one wants to see a loved one like that, and no one wants to be perceived in that way by a loved one. Not only does Take Shelter allow the audience to connect with Curtis' financial concerns/problems, but I feel moments like the aforementioned scene, in which Shannon confronts his community, also fully fleshes out this story and this world.

The shelter scene near the end is probably one of my favorite film moments of the year so far. Curtis spends so much time talking about and preparing his shelter, that I almost forgot the fact that we would eventually be treated to a scene in which he goes down in it with his family. And once they do, it doesn't disappoint. In a lot of ways, it is difficult to watch, but it's impossible to look away. Another aspect that I enjoy about is the limitless possibilities. I knew the film was ending soon, so my mind raced through the different scenarios that could happen. I was almost pleading in my mind with Jeff Nichols to spare Samantha and Hannah (Curtis' wife and daughter). I didn't think that Curtis was necessarily going to kill them, but I thought we were going to be treated to a twisted version of a Twilight Zone episode in which Curtis traps them down there for the rest of their lives. Another scenario was a Meek's Cutoff ending. I probably would've liked this, but in a way, I'm glad Nichols didn't end the film that way. You needed something more.

As far as the ending goes, I'm not exactly sure what to make of it. I'm glad John shared with Jeff and myself what Jessica Chastain said about the ending - the look that Curtis and Samantha exchange is what makes the scene. I love that interpretation because it means that even if the ending is just another one of Curtis' dreams, at least he and Samantha are in it together. He no longer sees her as a drenched woman standing next to a knife. This is extremely crucial, because one of the most unfortunate things about Curtis' character is that he seems to abandon the people closest to him who had hurt him in his dreams; his dog and his best friend are the two casualties. Of course, we can't blame Curtis too much for this, after all, he's a man with mental problems. I touched briefly on schizophrenia in my Melancholia post, but with Shelter, Curtis' mother has actually been diagnosed with it. This helps in setting the mood for the film and in allowing the audience to feel for Curtis and his mother.

And speaking of mental problems, I like the fact that that's the reason for his visions of doomsday. He isn't a religious nut; he isn't a Mayan Calendar guy. The script has all of these compelling storylines and still maintains a secular, apolitical feel. I was reminded of this point when I tried to track down a picture for this post. I eventually pulled the photo above from the Christian Science Monitor review (their critic loved it, in case you were wondering).

The motor oil rain at the end leads me to believe that it is one of Curtis' dreams, but of course that's just a theory. Yes, we did get Inception'd. I love the first glimpse of the storm in the reflection of the beach house window. Brilliant shot.

The dream sequences themselves are all fascinating in their respective ways. Some of them almost make the film seem like it fits in the horror genre. The dream in which birds start falling from the sky was horrifyingly twisted and extremely well-done. I also love the shot where the furniture in the house shoots up into the air.

I need to acknowledge Jessica Chastain, because between this and The Tree of Life, I am absolutely smitten with her. She's incredibly beautiful and photographs so well. The trailer makes her seem a bit like a nagging wife, but there really is a lot of subtlety that she provides to truly make her character multidimensional. She looks fantastically creepy in Curtis' dream where she's standing by the a zombie or something. My favorite scene with her is when she's explaining to her husband that she wants to go to the pot luck dinner because she needs to do something normal. The look on her face was memorable.

Also, Tova Stewart (playing Hannah) is a cutie. There's an instant connection between her and the audience and she does a great job. And some might point out that Hannah being deaf is an obvious attempt at symbolism, but I don't care. As a plotpoint, it's one of the reasons why Curtis' can't lose his health insurance. But moving away from that, I feel that the fact that Hannah is deaf allows the audience to really root for/connect with this family. Jeff is correct, the crayon lipstick scene is captivating and enjoyable.

Overall, I was in no way disappointed by Take Shelter. It was extremely effective and it caused a response in me that only the important films seem to do.

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