Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a good man with a good life, a man who loves his daughter and his wife (Jessica Chastain). He has a job, and while it may not pay a whole lot, it has good benefits, which is a necessity, because his daughter is deaf and needs cochlear implants. On top of all this, he has good friends and he’s active in his community. Curtis is a good man with a good life.
Then Curtis starts having dreams that fill him with a sense of dread. He dreams of impending natural disasters and being attacked by both animals and people. These visions give him anxiety and paranoia that cause him to worry for the safety of his wife and child. Based on this newfound, deep fear, Curtis then begins to make a series of choices that alienate him from those he loves and endanger his wonderful life.
The intriguing question at the center of Take Shelter, one of my favorite movies from last year, is whether or not his dreams are prescient or delusional. The director gives the visions a feel both visceral and surreal; no horror movie last year could match the horror in Take Shelter. The thrills in his visions translate into dread in Curtis’s real world. This dread is accompanied by Curtis dealing with gas prices, insurance problems, and unemployment. The director has given us a picture of our own dread in our world of financial troubles and far-off wars that are gradually losing their distance thanks to the Internet. Our culture breeds this dread; sometimes it seems as if the end will come, as Curtis fears, some crisis that will completely change life as we know it. The director has tapped into something very real, and he brilliantly paints it onto the screen.
But there’s a deeper theme in Take Shelter than cultural anxiety. The thread that connects all Curtis’s strange decisions is his deep love and devotion to his family. It drives everything he does to the point where he almost loses them. Michael Shannon is great for this role. His face always has a haunted, weathered look to it (much like Willem Dafoe), but that deep devotion is apparent in his quiet scenes and his one very loud one, when he snaps at a community luncheon. Jessica Chastain adds to her considerable 2011 resume with this distinct role. Her face conveys a complex mix of love, concern, and anger. She gives us a beautiful picture of a loving wife.
Great, great movie- it steadily builds in suspense till the very end. We pull for Curtis the whole time, feeling his confusion and his need to protect his family, and especially feeling his dread. The final scene is perfect.