Sunday, 1 April 2012

Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols, US 2011

Told in a nutshell, Take Shelter is the story of the end of the world according to the film's male lead, Curtis LaForche, played by Michael Shannon. As such, it is very much a film whose narrative neatly fits into our time, so much riddled by angst as a result of universal economic instability and an increasing number of environmental disasters.

Curtis has been having nightmares that are more like premonitions. These nightmares are cleverly woven into the narrative, leaving the viewer guessing at first, if what's happening on screen is, in fact, real, or just the result of Curtis' imagination. A man of few words, Curtis is very reluctant to share his visions with anyone for fear of not being taken seriously. It is only when as a consequence of his nightmares he starts acting more and more peculiar that he decides to seek professional help.

But none of the shrinks and counsellors he consults see Curtis' nightmares as anything but just that - nightmares - unable, or unwilling, to read anything into them, let alone visions of a looming Apocalypse. Things go from bad to worse, but it is primarily Curtis' little world that by and by begins to fall apart rather than the world as a whole. Which is why we, the viewers, too, are also at a loss right up to the film's end, whether it is really Curtis who's gone off the rails or if indeed the world as a whole is heading towards disaster.

What makes Nichols' film outstanding and lifts it more than just a few notches above similar such apocalyptic visions are the pacing and, even more remarkably, the fact that Nichols succeeds in creating suspense by relying almost entirely on his story, his actors, and the cinematography. In other words, this ain't a disaster movie of the usual kind, which abound in special effects, death and destruction. There is literally none of that in Take Shelter.

That, however, is precisely what makes Nichols' particularly disturbing, because it's almost too real for comfort.