“Is anyone seeing this?” (Curtis)

I don’t know what it is that made me go see “Take Shelter”. Was it the promise of Michael Shannon, one of the giants who breathe life into Boardwalk Empire? Was it the premise – a movie not showing its full hand of cards before it’s entirely over? Or was it just that breathtaking poster, with its explosion of both colour and intimacy?

These are the movies I live for. The ones I know nothing about and then genuinely surprise me.

The end of the world

The premise is simple and nothing new: Curtis lives with his wife Samantha and six year-old deaf daughter Hannah. Living the realistic American dream of hard work, extra jobs and counting dimes to pay the bills – again nothing we haven’t seen before – Curtis’ world gets shaken by strange prophetic dreams. Is it truly the end of the world? Or is he turning schizophrenic like his mother?

As I said: it could be a Saturday-night B-movie plot that’s been done to death. We’ve all seen this before: the man starts freaking out, alienates himself from friends-wife-kid (in that order) and in the end sits sobbing and crying in a padded cell all by himself while pitiful music plays in the background. These movies – at best – have three to four cool scenes in which we are inside the head of the protagonist and see what he is seeing.

So if I’m saying I was genuinely surprised, something must’ve been different, right?

Match

First off, this movie looks stunning. There isn’t a single shot in this film that isn’t less than breathtaking. One of these will probably be etched on the back of my skull for a long time: the opened hatch in the middle of the perfectly green garden underneath the pristine blue sky. And behind that those endless yellow fields. It’s haunting imagery you can almost taste.

But it doesn’t end there. Take Shelter’s visuals are easily matched by the eerie soundtrack by David Wingo and the great performances of not only Michael Shannon, but Jessica Chastain as well. She puts down a wonderfully tragic wife, one you really feel for, one you completely understand and admire for her soft determination to get through to her husband.

Mother, Wife

And now I can get to the core reason why I thought Take Shelter was so good. It might be a little spoilery, but it won’t discuss the juicy bits, like the final act of the movie. So take this as a friendly warning and a casual shrug.

I started this review by stating that there’s a million movies out there that have done this premise (hell, even I tried to write one). Where Take Shelter surprises is in the role of Samantha, the wife. In a regular movie of this kind, she would be out of there by the time the credits roll. Usually, that’s because the psychotic husband starts hitting her or – even worse – the baby. Take Shelter has none of that and proudly exclaims that, no!, Samantha is a patient woman who will put her foot down and do anything it takes to rescue her family.

She realizes fully well that her husband got everyone in a terrible mess, but she also sees she’s in this mess aswell, and she has the power to try and fix things. And even if she failed more than once to bring Curtis back, she won’t give up. For me, that moment was the most powerful in the film: the moment she can, even if only for a split second, remove the schizophrenic doubt inside her husband’s mind so he can start the healing process.

While writing this, I wonder if one could consider Sam to be a strong female character. Can she be a strong, emancipated woman even if she decides to stick up for her family? Because she sure felt like one to me. One that didn’t just endure the burden, but cast it from her without throwing out the baby with the bath water.

In all…

Everything else just flows from that single point. The whole story – which was doomed to be cliché-riddled – averted the traps by just making that one switch. In doing this, a beautiful movie managed to be more than just eye-candy. It managed to tell a great story, too. A story that, to me, felt satisfying up till the final moments (which will probably be hated by many).

Don’t get me wrong, though. Take Shelter never truly surprises. It haunts. For me, what it boils down to is this: It takes a rare movie to be deeply dramatic, to let the worst of the worst happen, but still to give you a sense of peace afterwards.

Blogbert

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