As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Framework and Broadway Cinema have teamed up to screen several films to help raise awareness of mental health issues. One of the films in the running was Take Shelter starring Michael Shannon as Curtis, a man battling with his mental health. Introducing the film was Graeme Green, from Broadway and Ian Oxlade, a local writer and teacher. Oxlade drew links from the film, to issues of mental health he has experienced in his own life, telling us how the film ‘spoke to him’. In his moving account, he tells us how the film accurately depicts the panic and horror of mental illness. And he wasn’t wrong.
We’ve all woken up at some point, in a cold sweat thanks to a terrifying dream. There is always a lingering sensation of fear clinging onto us, but sure enough we nestle back into that warm realization that it was, in fact, just a dream. However, imagine if a small part of that dream stayed within your waking conscience. This is the battle that faces Curtis throughout the film, ridden with the fear of who his conscience might turn against him next. He becomes plagued with a series of psychologically disturbing dreams that distort his conceptions of reality. The film follows his growing paranoia of a fatal storm that threatens his very existence. Curtis becomes obsessed with the construction of a storm shelter in his back yard, believing that it is the key to saving his family, and ultimately himself.
Writer and director, Jeff Nichols hones in all the elements that force the audience to experience the tension and unease that the characters do. The dark imagery of fiery storms, the ominous music, and the constant merging of two unrelated frames forcing the audience into a state of confusion. The whole movie will have you on edge as we anticipate what Curtis might encounter next.
Michael Shannon’s performance is brilliant. While not always a man of many words, he composes himself in such a way that we can physically see the restrain in his character as he desperately tries to avoid the thoughts that plague his mind. We become attached to Curtis as we see his life as a hard working husband (to wife Samantha played by Jessica Chastain) and loving father to his hearing-impaired daughter (played by Tova Stewart).
Although slow at times, after watching Take Shelter I feel I have a better understanding of the struggles that come with mental illnesses. Jeff Nichols has done a brilliant job of conveying the strains on not only the main character, but also those around him, slipping snippets of information to the audience here and there so that we are kept engaged. Sure, there were times when the camera would dwell just a moment too long, and we began to question its reasoning but on the whole, this is a deep movie that will keep you pondering and I would recommend it to all you movie lovers.
Take Shelter’s ending will have you thinking all the way home, I sure was, and for me this is how I judge whether a film has been successful. If you’re looking for a quick, light hearted movie, this probably isn’t for you. But for those who want a thought provoking piece of cinema, this is great. It’s a brilliant cinematic depiction of the psychotic mind that I would recommend you see once in your lifetime.