Saturday, March 03, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Take Shelter (2011) ****

R, 120 min.
Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker

I’m not sure that watching “Take Shelter” is really the best idea heading into severe weather season in the Midwest. The film follows a family man who begins to have vivid nightmares about impending disaster, all of which begin with a severe storm. He’s a blue-collar worker with a good job, enough financial security not to worry about paying for an annual vacation to Myrtel Beach. His daughter is deaf, but it looks like a surgery exists to correct her hearing problem.

Michael Shannon, in one of the best performances of 2011, portrays the man. When he begins to have waking visions of oncoming storms that aren’t there, he isn’t sure if he’s going crazy or if the visions are genuine signs of doom. His mother was institutionalized when he was ten with schizophrenia. He pursues the possibility that it might all be in his head, even though he’s convinced it isn’t.

The movie was made by writer-director Jeff Nichols, who also cast Shannon in his amazing debut film “Shotgun Stories” about three brothers locked in an aggressive feud with their father’s second family after the patriarch’s death. Despite its heady nature, that film had a good deal of humor to be found in it. “Take Shelter” is much more wrapped up in its inevitable march toward doom for its main character. Both films beautifully evoke the images and personalities of the American Midwest.

The main question we should all take away from a movie like “Take Shelter” is, “What is the filmmaker trying to say?” It is not simply a character study of a possible paranoid schizophrenic, although it is a good one of those. I think Nichols is trying to say something profound about the nature of fear that has gripped our country in these turbulent times. In the divisive climate that has enveloped our nation, nobody really knows what to believe. Can we believe what our senses are telling us? Are we really headed for ruin in this country? Everyone has an opinion, yet no one really seems to know. We can only hope this is a storm from which shelter is offered.

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