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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  Take Shelter


Directed by Jeff Nichols (2011)

There's a storm coming, and it's no ordinary storm. The sky will turn apocalypic like a John Martin canvas, the twisters will be drilling down like spears from the gods and it's going to start raining brown, slicky oil.
This is according to the dreams Curtis (Michael Shannon) has been having, and he's taking them as a serious omen. He's extending the old storm shelter out back.
People think he's mad. Even Curtis himself thinks he's mad, which is supposed to be a symptom that you're actually sane. But the nightmares are reaching out of sleep into his waking reality. When one dream storm sends his soft old dog Fred crazy and it clamps its jaws around his arm, the waking Curtis can still feel the teeth in his flesh hours later.
So he gets rid of Fred and, after he attacks him in a different dream, his best mate Dewart (Shea Wigham). In another nightmare wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) glances down at a kitchen knife. We think we know what’s going to happen, but Curtis’s love overcomes his fear and he sticks with her.

Early on in Take Shelter Dewart admires Curtis for the “good life” he’s made, meaning his family. But like most things in this intriguing picture that goodness is fraught with ambiguity.

Curtis and Samantha have a young deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), which gives them an opportunity to be extra “good”. They plan to use Curtis’s health insurance from work to pay for treatment – but his obsession to protect his family from the coming storm could lose him his job.

He’s also taken out a risky loan from the bank to build the shelter, worrying his brother Lewis (Scott Knisley). “In this economy, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball,” he warns.

While Curtis constantly looks to the danger from the skies, it’s the economy that threatens to undermine his world from below.

The current crisis was triggered, basically, by a surfeit of imaginary money, a mutually reinforced delusion that everything will be all right. The economic storm came when that belief collapsed.

Michael Shannon expertly and movingly walks Curtis along the fine line between madness and sanity. And what’s interesting about it is that he seems to have a choice. That he could make the effort to conform to everyone else’s worldview if he wanted.

But perhaps he’s right. Perhaps he’s the one making the rational decisions while the rest of us go on blindly trusting that everything’s going to be all right.

Take Shelter. That’s an order, right? Either that, or it’s no more cheese before bedtime.

December 1, 2011

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