I suck at output. On a good week, maybe I can do five movie discussion pages. I think this week I will maybe hit six. Which is a minor miracle. Normal is usually more like three or four? And when they are complicated – like really complicated – that throughput goes way down. But I mean, already, you can see why. None of this is really relevant. hahaha. But I find it relevant in my conversation with you. So I say it. (Which is why each post is upwards of 2,500 to 4,000 words! And when the world’s tolerance for wordiness is shrinking?!? This can’t be a equation for success! Hey, I do my thing. If you like my thing… maybe we’ll get along. If not… no worries friend. USA Today and their 300 word movie reviews are that way —>) But yeah, this paragraph was just trying to say… I’m gonna try and movie quickly on this one… hahahaha.
But Mike brought us the movie Take Shelter and I literally was going to tell him no, I’m not talking about that movie, even with just five minutes left to go. I was like, no no no. And then that ending landed! hahaha. If you haven’t seen Take Shelter, it’s a good little independent film with Michael Shannon (as Curtis, the hard working, fast drinking father) and Jessica Chastain (Samantha, the ever optimistic do everything mother of a newly deaf child).
If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend watching it, even if just for the last three minutes of the film. This post will spoil that really great ending. So, last warning. Don’t continue reading if you haven’t seen the movie Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols (Um, Midnight Special anyone?)
Let’s Blitzkrieg, Shall We?
The story is about as basic as it gets, and I could probably synopsize it in a sentence. But I won’t do that to you.
Curtis and Samantha are both hardworking parents, intent on making it work, day in and day out. They live in the heart of the rust belt of Ohio, and Curtis spends his days on an oil drill. The two are strapped with bills, and weighed down by life in general, but are both 100% committed to their daughter who has recently lost her hearing.
And as the movie starts moving, like a slow rolling thunderhead, Curtis begins seeing visions. At first he just thought they were storms, with weird oil infused rain, and that zombie legions roaming the streets might be really happening, but later he realizes, that they were just visions. He is seeing things. Soon after his nightmares begin taking hold of him. They are so real and so intense he feels the pain of a dog bite and the intensity of the visions for hours afterwards. After visiting a doctor he medicates in an attempt to make the visions go away. And then they are so frightening, he heads over to a counselor to chat a bit about what he is seeing. He’s checking all the right boxes, and doing all the right things… and yet nothing goes his way. The insanity only gets stronger.
Soon after, he gets this idea that he’s going to rebuild the storm shelter in the backyard from the ground up. The home loan necessary puts him at odds with Samantha who really is trying to understand what is happening with her husband. But his boss? He fires Curtis for using company equipment to build the shelter without asking permission. And now their good health insurance is about to go away, and with it, their daughter’s hopes of implants. It’s the first domino of soon to be many if they aren’t careful. And more importantly? Curtis and Samantha are no longer on the same page anymore.
Enter the psychiatrist. And he is of the mind, that something big has to change, and fast. Curtis needs to get away from the storm shelter. He needs a vacation (which is convenient because he just lost his job.) and so they decide to head down to Florida and the beach even though they can’t afford it. And while there, Curtis, holding his daughter, sees a storm coming. A tsunami, multiple tornado funnels, basically a hell spawn storm ready for vengeance. And the key here? Samantha sees it too. The end.
The Ending of Take Shelter Unpacked
Let’s be clear. This movie is 100% about anxiety. The fear of losing all that we hold dear. This is a movie, written by a screenplay author who was newly married, and was finally pulling his life together. It’s about a character that is respected in the community for always working hard, and always doing the right thing. Even if he drank a bit much, and stayed out too long. He was loved by his wife, and they shared the same vision and dreams for their family. But this movie? The storms? They are just McGuffins, plot devices to talk about things in our lives that we worry about.
Bankruptcy comes to most people unexpectedly. An out of the blue car accident with a debilitating injury. Long hospital stay. And now you are arguing with your spouse about bills, about squeaking by. And then, you are laid off from work because you can’t literally do the thing you used to be able to do. Downward spiraling of bad, laid on top of bad. This is a real fear for adults today. And all of it could be someone else’s fault. This is real anxiety. This is a fear everyone that has any sort of conscious thought life has had.
So I will be 100% clear. This movie is about anxiety and the loss of the things we hold dear. That is what this movie is about. Oh, and by the way? The dreams that Curtis is having? They may be either the delusions of a schizophrenic, or of a man that can suddenly see the future. One or the other. There aren’t many other options in this movie than these two. Ok, maybe three. Three ways to see this movie. I’ll come in again. (Oh come on, Monty Python anyone? Mercy.)
The Three Possible Explanations for Take Shelter
Curtis is going insane – The first option really isn’t that exciting. And it is actually the one that makes the most sense out of the shoot. Curtis’ mother was diagnosed with a raft of mental disorders at 35, picked up and walked away from their family, and has been living under protective care ever sense. So why wouldn’t this be the option that makes the most sense?
Curtis and Samantha are going insane together – as bonus, I’ll throw this one in as another possible option. As the movie ends, the storm is riding up on the beach with a hell fury that is almost there. Curtis thinks he’s seeing things again. And then he looks at Samantha, and she nods, eyes wide with fear. And this nod could just be saying… yes, darlin’, you and I are seeing the same insanity together. We both need to be checked in as quick as possible. The odds of two delusionals seeing exactly the same weirdness though, yeah, that seems like a lottery ticket to me. Not very probable. But I thought I’d mention it.
Curtis had been foretelling the Apocalypse – The last option is that the visions that Curtis had been having were storms. They were weird oily rain. They were zombie-like outbreaks causing the population to go mad. Right? What if Curtis was just seeing the future? The future end of the world. Remember his tirade in the church reception hall (or wherever they were), from this theory’s perspective, Curtis was prophesying the end of the world. He was proclaiming the coming storm that would bring about the apocalypse.
But What The WHAT Does It Mean?!
It’s super fun to consider the ending alternatives. But do you want to know the fourth option? (Seriously? Moments ago, this dude said there were only two ways to see this movie and now there are four?!? For real? This cat is crazy! (Oh you have no idea.)) the fourth option regarding the ending, is that it doesn’t matter. Wait what? Everything swivels on this moment! The ending changes everything!! I hear you saying. Sure. It does. Let’s play this out a moment shall we? Move maybe a few minutes beyond the credits.
The water on the beach has rushed outward. Maybe a mile or more? A long way. What could that possibly mean? Well, it basically means that there is an inbound tsunami on it’s way. A big one. And the funnels dropping out of the sky? Tornadoes, I think is what you call those. (Sorry, I slept through much of my meteorology unit in college.) And maybe the cloud mass beyond that is a hurricane? So we have an inbound Tsunami. We have multiple tornado tangoes inbound. And finally, a hurricane? We have bad, on top of bads, on top of really bad, all coming their way. If the credits hadn’t stopped there, this family is dead. Nine different ways. They are directly in the path of several layers of bad. So, our debate about whether the father is insane, or maybe a prophet is really, totally and completely irrelevant.
Let me put it this way, regardless of whether this family is watching the start of the end of the world, or whether he’s going mad, is irrelevant. What is relevant though, what is really the point, is that Samantha and Curtis? They were now, finally, on the same page again. This movie is about Curtis and Samantha in the face of life loss, in the midst of life chaos. The anxiety of loss. The rippling repercussions of his insanity. The divergence of their paths in the face of these circumstances, is what this movie is all about.
So pick one. Maybe he is (or they are both) insane. Or they are both seeing the culminating events of his dreams coming to fruition in the vista of the horizon before them. But ultimately know, that what really matters is that they are now in it together once again. (Even if that “together” will only last 15 more minutes.) Here’s how the writer and director, Jeff Nichols describes it:
To be very serious about it, I set out this tone or emotion of anxiety, but while I was writing I quickly realized that’s not enough. Anxiety is an effect, it’s not a cause. I needed the cause of all this stuff. As I built the character, I needed to give him a life that he loved and valued and arguably was respected by other people. Curtis begins this film in a good place. He’s kind of a guy that has his shit together. And as you start to dismantle that, that’s where the fear and anxiety comes from. I didn’t even know it but as I started writing, I was setting myself on a course to write a film about marriage, because separately from the film I’d been thinking about my marriage. How marriages work, why most marriages fail and what I have to do to be one of the ones that make it work. What do I have to do? The conclusion I came to was, I think it’s a lot about communication. We all carry these fears and doubts. They will always be there, whether it’s fear of the government collapsing, or the environment, or you can’t pay your bills, whatever. We’ll always have something to worry about. And I think where marriages maybe get damaged is in people not sharing those fears with their significant others. That seemed like an answer to me, and an interesting ending for this problem that I’d built up in this film. If that is indeed the ending or resolution then that kind of decides what your film is about; it’s going to be about these two people trying to put themselves back on the same page. They were on the same page at the beginning of this film. They were a happy, normal married couple. And then these things start to go off the rails.https://www.ifc.com/2011/09/jeff-nichols-take-shelter-interview
I don’t think I could have put it better myself. I don’t know… what do you think? Was he prophesying the end of the world? Does it actually matter? What does it all mean? Tell us in the comments.
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