What I’ve Been Missing (or Not), Volume 2: Take Shelter (2011)

Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham

Anyone who’s anyone can attest to having a film strike a particular chord with them, if only on an emotional level. It’s something that undeniably affects how you’ll perceive and subsequently laud that film in relation to your potential detractors, however if the entire production is just that good and then some, you have something wholly unique that’s a wonder to behold. Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is one such wonder, priding itself on its deft examination of the detriments of mental illness and the toll it can take not just on you, but your increasingly worrisome family, friends and neighbors as well.

Focusing on smalltown laborer Curtis (Michael Shannon) and his family as searing visions of a massive oncoming storm plague his nightly slumber, the working man struggles to determine between whether or not his sanity is slowly dwindling. From here, director Nichols perfectly balances the moments inside Curtis’ head and the events that ensue, aiding the film in remaining a startlingly authentic depiction of the hardships that coincide with the man’s worsening condition. Having dealt with similar issues myself, it’s Curtis’ struggle to convey the difficulty of dealing with his ailment to those closest to him for fear of intense scrutiny that rings exceptionally true. All of the efforts to better himself for the sake of his wife and impressionable young daughter all culminate with him essentially running in place, making virtually no progress and further adding to the intensity of his visions and the negative toll they’ve taken on his once desirable lifestyle.

Continuing to build an elaborate storm shelter to quell his anxiety as neighboring townsfolk begin to inevitably gossip about Curtis’ peculiar behavior, things just continue to worsen for the poor guy until Take Shelter enters its incredibly fulfilling latter half, accentuating his worsening mental state with incredible finesse while still remaining subdued enough so as to not take away from the film’s skillful avoidance of melodrama. In fact, this is probably where Take Shelter will divide audiences on the basis of whether or not they can sympathize with Curtis and accept the ambiguity of the direction Nichols sends the film in as things begin to wrap up.

As a frequently compelling, emotionally involving and wildly authentic depiction of an individual battling the onset of a severe mental illness, Take Shelter is one of the more involving cinematic experiences I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in quite some time. My ability to let the film resonate with me on a personal level notwithstanding, Jeff Nichols does a bang-up job in painting a not-so-delicate portrait of Michael Shannon’s Curtis as the man in question effortlessly delivers one of the better performances of this past year. Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham effectively round out the wholly stellar cast, further ensuring us that Take Shelter is an altogether unique experiment that succeeds where others would surely fail. It suffers from the same self-indulgent sense of ambiguity as the production enters its final moments, but I, for one, appreciated everything it had to offer.

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