By Caitlin Gardner
You could make a compilation of all of the films I have distinguished as some of the best in 2011 but from Feb. 15 to the 17, Proctors Theatre is playing the film I rank as the best film of 2011.
Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) directs Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) in Take Shelter, a film that mixes the working-class American Gothic with psychological horror.
Take Shelter tells the story about Curtis (Shannon) a construction worker who is having lucid dreams and visions of a powerful storm with apocalyptic implications. At first, Curtis logically goes to a counselor and visit his schizophrenic mother, looking into the possibility that he is may be turning into a paranoid schizophrenic.
But Curtis begins to lose his grip on reality. He secretly starts to assemble a plan to survive the storm by purchasing gas masks and supplies to build a tornado shelter in his backyard. This begins to bring problems between his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) who is using his health insurance and salary to help fix their deaf daughter’s hearing. His job as a construction worker is also affected as his colleagues believe that he has gone mad.
The question remains even if some storm comes, does it really end in Curtis’ head? And does the storm serve as a metaphor for some other kind of paranoia, like the blue-collar struggles of getting by with the storm serving as the ongoing financial ruin in America?
Or there something to be said about how this Midwestern setting may be this decade’s Overlook Hotel in The Shining in creating even more yarns of paranoia than initially seen? Taking Take Shelter at face value offers enough questions and depth but these metaphors and theories are very valid.
Shannon may be this generation’s Bruce Dern in building a film and television career as a scene-stealing eccentric usually in a supporting role, but this lead performance as a man struggling to keep it together is devastating to watch unfold.
Jessica Chastain, who in a short period of time has given award-winning work in some of the best films of the past year (earning an Oscar nomination in The Help , but also in The Tree of Life , in addition to this film) plays the anguished, exasperated, and sometimes angry wife trying to understand her husband’s likely mental illness and paranoia with such conviction.
Her witness of his demise shows some breathtaking acting. Even a dream scene where she shows a darker side plays off with incredible effect. She and Shannon make the film work by offering a rather humanistic quality that gives the film’s story more plausibility.
Nichols weaves in the special effects of the supernatural dream state seamlessly, despite a pretty low budget. Now the final scene may make people a bit more ambivalent about the movie than I am, but it definitely is one to spark many different meanings from viewers.
The film is a devastating, unique American fable that ultimately is about the two terrific leading characters being in it together.