The film begins with a man watching this extraordinary storm approach along a vast stretch of farmland. A thick, slimy orange rain begins to fall. The man touches it, looking out into the distance with a sense of foreboding. He is, obviously, not in control of what is happening. Or is he? The power of nature over living beings and dreams over reality, combined with the stigma of mental illness, make TAKE SHELTER both deeply disturbing and thoroughly fascinating.
In later scenes, when the sky is blue and all seems perfectly well, the audience will wonder why Curtis (Michael Shannon), the protagonist, is seeing and hearing sounds of doom. He is a character who possesses a fine amount of power in his professional life, as a middle-manager. He is a family man, admired by his friends as someone who, as one puts it “is doing something right.” Why on earth (so to speak) would an otherwise happy man fear total apocalypse? I’m afraid I have no comfortable answers for you.
As I walked out of the theater, I was buzzing with all of these practical questions: Why, if Curtis was certain that such a completely devastating thing was going to happen, would he spend his money building an underground shelter that depended on earthly ventilation and local well water? If the world were to end, he would, logically, be totally unconcerned about having to pay up that home improvement loan he took out to fund the project of making a semi-viable shelter. His wife’s reaction is another story. Jessica Chastain plays Samantha- an endlessly patient wife and mother, who does not readily share in her husband’s visions. She is the picture of peace in the face of the stormy moments Curtis, steady and cautious.
So, this story unfolds with a frightening array apocalyptic dreams that immediately begin to affect Curtis in his daily life. It quickly becomes apparent that whatever hold he might have had on his life, which people so admired him for, these dreams cause to dissipate at lightening speed. Since there is no clue as to why he might be going loony, movie-goers rely on the reactions of his family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors
During an interview on TAKE SHELTER, writer/director Jeff Nichols opened up about his creative process, saying: “[while writing] there was this fear of loss and this anxiety of the world around me not hanging together. It was something I could wake up to, tasting in the morning. I think it’s a really powerful tool to have something that clear, a feeling that clear.” Nichols gives more screen-time to Curtis’s foresight -and merit- than his possible delusions. The audience is given many moments to extract delusion from the magnificent series of dreams Curtis experiences through the 120 minute feature, but Shannon’s portrayal lives on trust: the character’s trust in himself is, after each test, still palpable and it keeps viewers on edge about what might come of his meditations on the end of the world.