Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Movie: Take Shelter

This last weekend Levi and I watched a movie that we'd been sitting on for about a week. We'd seen the trailer before a movie we'd watched about a month ago and we were both intrigued. I went to our Netflix queue and put it near the top.

We finally watched it, and man, oh man, we were just riveted.

It's subtle. It's slow. It's tense. And we could not take our eyes off of it at all. We never even paused it once to go get snacks from the kitchen (something we do far too often).

We sat in silence for a few minutes after that movie and held each other silently, just sort of internally working through what we'd seen, how powerful it'd been, and the questions we were left with afterward. We went to bed in thoughtful moods, and when we woke up the next morning we asked each other questions about the movie and discussed it.

The movie follows a young family man named Curtis (Michael Shannon) who begins to have vivid and terrifying dreams of powerful storms and violence. He tries to find understanding, believing himself to be mentally ill, all the while being plaugued by a paralyzing fear that he needs to save his family from an impending disastrous storm. He begins to build up the storm shelter in his backyard, slowly driving a wedge between himself and his wife, his daughter, his community, and even his own sanity.

Here's what we liked about the movie:

1. The slow build. This thing takes a really long time to get where it's headed. Actually, it takes the whole movie. You know how movies will have a slow section at the beginning, and then you're finally into the actual movie and it rolls along nicely? Or hurtles along at breakneck speed if you're watching an action movie. This movie never changes its speed. It moves methodically forward at what should be an agonizing pace. Actually, it is an agonizing pace, but that's because of...

2. The rising tension. Whew. It has been a long time since either of us have seen a movie that builds its tension so effectively. We're so conditioned to the clever tension and release tricks of scary movies that build the tension with creepy angles and music and then BAM! They release it either by showing it was nothing or by showing us the scary thing or by the scary action finally beginning. That doesn't happen in this movie. There's no release from the tension for us because there's no release for the main character. P.S. The music is incredible and contributes to this part enormously.

3. Michael Shannon. This man's performance sent me into tears three times during this movie. It is so powerful because it is so subtle. Actors playing people who fall into insanity can easily fall into melodrama and overacting. Shannon is quiet, stoic, and just vulnerable enough that you completely buy it. This isn't the kind of mental illness that changes a person into a killer or a genius or a fool. This is a mental illness that creeps up on a man who would simply prefer to be free of it. Even as it consumes him, you can tell that he knows and understands and (to a point) believes what the rational world believes. That's an incredibly hard thing to play, and Shannon is amazing.

3. Curtis's wife. Curtis's wife is played by Jessica Chastain, and it's so easy for a movie to push an audience to one character's side. Either Curtis is sympathetic and his wife is harsh and unfeeling to his condition, or his wife is a good woman who is burdened with an unreasonable and unrecognizable version of her husband. Not so! Chastain pulls off the balance perfectly, and you believe that this is a woman who has chosen to love her husband, even though his actions at many times are unreasonable. She reacts badly in multiple situations (though some might argue not without cause) and she finds herself at a loss. We found this very compelling, and very similar to "real life."

4. The ending. I don't want to spoil it for you, and even if you do like knowing endings before watching them, I implore you, please don't spoil this one! It leaves you with so many questions, and you really don't know what Curtis's true fate and condition is. I could equally support multiple readings of the ending, leaving me with a true sense of wonder. Levi felt the same way. We woke up the next morning asking, "So what was he?!" Great stuff.

Here's the trailer. If you've read through what I've written and you haven't thought to yourself "Ick, I hate those kind of movies," then watch the trailer. If after you watch the trailer you're interested, then watch the movie. And if you aren't interested at all, I'd suggest you still watch the movie!

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