When I was young, I didn’t believe in mental illness. I used to have this naïve, idealistic notion that everyone has the power to control their thoughts and actions at all times.
In an ideal world, people should take full responsibility for all of their actions. In the real world, mental illness exists.
Expecting a disturbed person to always think clearly is as unrealistic and insensitive as asking a paraplegic to take a brisk 5k run every morning.
The brain is as imperfect and susceptible to sickness as any other organ. But unlike every other organ, the brain is infinitely complex – so mental disorders are more difficult to diagnose and treat.
In Hollywood movies, crazy people are always the others: the frustrating folks who we hope that the lead character is able to get away from as soon as possible.
In the independent drama “Take Shelter,” a crazy person IS the lead character. We can’t avoid him so we forced to understand and empathize with him.
“Talk Shelter” is a serious, and seriously weird, movie. Writer/director Jeff Nichols’s challenges us to experience insanity through the eyes of a madman.
When we meet him, Curtis (Michael Shannon) is just a normal blue-collar middle-American guy. Not for long…
Curtis begins having vivid nightmares and terrifying hallucinations. Every one of his dreams and psychotic fantasies foretells of a terrible storm – an apocalyptic catastrophe that is threatening to destroy Curtis and his young daughter.
Initially, the troubled young man tries to be stoic and deal with the problem himself. But the delusions grow more maddening. Driven by paranoia, Curtis begins to build an elaborate storm shelter in the backyard.
The project gets so obsessive and expensive that he can’t hide the truth from his wife (Jessica Chastain) any longer.
Curtis’s confession to his wife is devastating. He describes the nightmares where his best friend turned against him and his dog attacked him. Curtis admits that his dreams led him to cut off contact with his childhood pal and lock his loyal housedog in a backyard fence.
The scene is absolutely chilling. In one powerful moment, Curtis’s wife finally realizes the full gravity of the problem. She realizes that her husband is systematically isolating himself from everyone in his life. And she is next.
The ending of “Take Shelter” is absolutely ridiculous. At best, it is over the top and exciting. At worst, it is unintentionally hysterical and entirely contradicts the rest of the movie.
Either way, it will inspire you to want to talk. Normally, I prefer to go the movies by myself and only share my opinions with you the reader. After the ambiguous ending of “Take Shelter,” I jumped right into a conversation with two strangers on the way out of the theater. That’s a sign of a special film.