I found Take Shelter to be a hard film to watch for much of its running time. It's the kind of thing that is said by many people about many films, but not usually about a psychological drama about a man's probably descent into mental illness.
Of course, it's the kind of thing that can be misinterpreted. A hard watch a film may or may not be, but that does not really impact on how much you may admire about it. And there is so much that is admirable about Take Shelter. It's an utterly gorgeous film in so many ways, shot through with two sometimes astonishing performances and a commitment to its material rarely matched by any film that I have seen for a very long time.
It's also utterly fearless in its imagery and most especially in its ambiguous ending. It has to be fearless as director Jeff Nichols must have known that it was precisely the kind of ending that, for some people, would break the film. It's unlikely to be an ending that would make the film, quite simply because everything before it is so beautifully crafted. It's an ending, I guess you could say, with everything to lose but nothing to gain.
But I admired it in a way that I have rarely admired the ending to any film, perhaps even more so than the performances of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. There is little more than can be said of their performances that hasn't already been said by many better reviewers than I before, but what I would say is that rarely have I seen an on-screen couple that are so believable as such. It's actually amazing how rarely films manage what should be quite a simple conceit, but Take Shelter never has you disbelieving any part of their relationship.
Why did I find it hard to watch at times, then? I thought it might be the sleep issues hitting close to home but I think it's actually more to do with the fact that Shannon is almost too good in his role. Watching a man who knows he could be slipping into insanity, trying to help himself but at the same time powerless to do so was far more difficult than watching a man who goes insane and seems completely unaware of his condition. It's a portrayal of mental illness that is all too rarely seen and so incredibly realistic that it hits you very hard.
Aside from a dining hall freak-out that I really hoped the film would not resort to, this is a film that I doubt could possibly have been any better. There's a good chance I may never watch it again for one reason or another, but there are some films that just leave such a lasting and definite impression that you don't need to revisit them. I doubt I will ever forget the dream where Shannon faces up to Chastain in the kitchen, especially, but the same could be said of so much in this film. It is, quite simply, wonderful.