Take Shelter is an extraordinary film. Curtis, played by Michael Shannon, fears that he is beginning to lose his mind, in the same way that his mother did when she was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic in her early 30’s. He realizes on some rational level that he needs help. At the same time, he believes that his increasing hallucinations and delusional nightmares are harbingers of a coming apocalyptic storm. Curtis has a very literal reaction to this unease, focused on enlarging and improving the storm shelter in his backyard.
The cinematography is stunning – the vibrant field behind the house where the shelter lies, the blue skies that turn rapidly to grim darkness when Curtis looks up warily. Michael Shannon should have been nominated for an Oscar; he has been increasingly amazing in his film performances and this is not only his greatest performance to date, it’s one of the greatest of 2011.
Jessica Chastain also does her best work of the year, surpassing her Oscar-nominated performance in The Help, as well as The Debt and The Tree of Life. She plays a woman who loves her husband so deeply that despite her agony over his behavior, determines to find a way to make it all work and keep their family together.
Take Shelter is an unsettling small masterpiece.