If you are aware of Michael Shannon‘s existence in life, then good. Because I feel that there is a certain amount of stardom brewing for him. I haven’t yet found out a lot about him, but he appears to keep cropping up in things here and there, and has just landed him the role of General Zod in upcoming film Man of Steel, which is all very exciting. I first saw him in Boardwalk Empire, where he plays Agent Nelson Van Alden. Now admittedly, I haven’t even finished watched the first series of the show, but I got to a point in his individual story line where he was hitting himself with his belt buckle, where the camera revealed several scars he had previously made by doing just this, and it all got a bit weird. Anyway, that’s besides the point. I’ve recently been going on a little Michael Shannon film hunt, and found this little gem called Take Shelter.
This is another film that very cleverly explores mental illness, which is always a tricky subject to deal with in films without being amazingly stereotypical or the illness being portrayed awfully by not so good actors. However, this wasn’t particularly the case with Take Shelter. The audience are thrown pretty much straight into the plot which I thought was a particularly interesting aspect. You often find with films that explore a certain situation or a backlash of a situation, the director decides to include about 30 minutes worth of background. Now, whilst this did lead me to understand the character a little less than perhaps I am used to with films, it meant that the mental illness dealt with was given the right amount of exposure and therefore, the audience were comfortable with it.
Shannon plays Curtis, a man suffering with apocalyptic dreams and visions all with the reoccuring motif of a storm, and people/his dog attacking him in a zombie like frenzie. He soon becomes transfixed with the idea that a storm is coming (which I couldn’t help but think of the Starks ‘Winter Is Coming’ all through out…) and takes a series of drastic measures to refurbish and expand his family’s tornado shelter. Shannon brilliantly conveys a man who is clearly struggling to distinguish between right and wrong, truth and fabrication, and very subtly, at that. Shannon is accompanied by the awesome Jessica Chastain, who sadly didn’t take home any Oscars this year which I was very disappointed about, who plays wife, Samantha. I feel her approach to playing the wife of a man who is going through a mental breakdown is much more realistic than some others. Through the struggles, you can see their love for each other underpinning everything that they do. The main reason for this being their daughter, who remains deaf after what seemed to be a fairly untold reason. Which takes me to my first problem. Although I previously said that I’m glad there isn’t masses of back story, it felt that the story with his daughter being deaf fell short of delivery. I understand that it contributed to the strain of financial issues the family faced, but I was left confused as to why she was deaf, which would’ve been a nice loose end to clear up. However, her use of sign language becomes extremely important at a later point in the film, which I shan’t say in case you are intending to watch! In terms of narrative, it was an interesting journey director, Jeff Nichols, decided to take his audience on. The audience are both able to identify with Curtis and Samantha in equal measures, both sympathising with Curtis and his confusion but also Samantha’s frustration and attempts to understand what is happening. It’s very sweet and endearing.
As this isn’t a particularly stylised film, there isn’t much I can say about the visuals, so I’ll skip straight to an overview! After watching Take Shelter, I was left with a feeling of melancholy; something about the story had an inherent sadness to it. Unlike Lars and the Real Girl where every seems to understand Lars and clear the way for his journey mental instability, Curtis’ story is quite desperate and frustrating, perhaps more realistic? It challenges its audience to both identify with and alienate Curtis, which I feel is perhaps the reason I was left feeling sad after. It’s a very interesting story with a chilling end, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Now, if you excuse me, I have a bomb shelter that needs seeing to.