Take Shelter ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

65/100

Jeff Nichol's Take Shelter surrounds itself with languid dreams and sinister nightmares, taking the audience hold and launching them into a frightful path of emotional and physical obstacles. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain bring performances that are charged with clarity and intensity, tackling Nichol's vision of Midwestern America with a slow-paced sense of anxiety and disquiet. All the technical qualities, from direction to cinematography and the excellent low-budget effects, are superb. I was riveted, entranced, and fascinated by Take Shelter.....

...and then the ending happened.

Now, I could be way off on this and feel free to comment if I'm just spewing bullshit, but the conclusion didn't sit right with me at all. Nichol's film, full of frightening hallucinations, dreams and sudden bursts of terror, was modeled after ambiguity and the absence of concrete answers. It is the reason why I fell in love with the majority of the film so thoroughly, and many moments left me breathless because of Nichol's commitment to that ideal.

So when an ending comes along that supposedly continues that ambiguity, but also films and frames the conclusion in a way that seems like a particular interpretation, how am I expected to receive it? Nichol's film was designed to confound, and I understand that, but obscurity, if not done well, can take away from the immense emotion of a scene. The final moment, in which Curtis' entire family sees a massive storm in the distance on the beach, makes little sense to me.

For one, Nichols crafts this scene as if every character is seeing a literal storm, with the daughter seeing the stormy clouds first, when it is usually just Curtis. If the audience is supposed to be taking this image as tangible and real, then the entire story revolving paranoia and mental illness is futile. It isn't a conclusion where it upends expectations and shines a different light on the events before it. Rather, all it does it confuse and (if I'm being honest here) annoy. He's filming this final culmination as a straightforward image of his family discovering that he wasn't crazy, but when approached about the meaning of the film's end, Nichols doesn't give away anything.

It's interesting because when viewing the conclusion as something more symbolic, it doesn't fit either. For me at least, Take Shelter revolved around the emotional and economic hardships of a family, and I found the scene when the family embraces after emerging from their storm shelter to be a stunning image of that very same message. Curtis confronted his illness, he took control (well as much as he could have) of his paranoia, and his family understands that no matter what, they will be together through all these obstacles in the uncertain future.

It's a profound end, one that says the very same message as the final scene, so why is that beach moment needed? If it isn't taken literally, then why is such a scene important when the very same emotional impact is delivered in the storm shelter scene and the subsequent moment of closeness? Chastain's line in the final scene, "OK.", shows that she accepts his illness and his issues, but doesn't she already show that love with hugging her husband?

Anyway, I really enjoyed the film overall, but the ending of Take Shelter didn't sit right with me, mainly because of its mix of supposed ambiguity and clarity. It seemed to me that Nichols tried to have his cake and eat it too, but it fell flat on his face with a moment of misjudged transparency within such a brilliant film of opaque horror. Maybe I have it all wrong, and I was just supposed to react to the final scene on an emotional level, but that didn't happen because the meaning of the scene was simultaneously trying to reel me in and keep me at arms length.

Take Shelter definitely has done something right considering all the praise it has on here, but my final reaction was one of satisfied disappointment. Certainly an admirable effort, but not close to the masterful adventure of Mud.

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