Take Shelter: Madness Amid an Insane Economy

Standing outside his small-town Ohio home, Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) looks up at the ominous, slate-gray sky. The clouds open, raining down oily, piss-colored droplets. It’s a phenomenon that only Curtis seems to witness and the first of many private, impressively CGI’d apocalyptic visions to come. Like Carol White, the central, unglued character of Todd Haynes’ 1995 Safe who is “allergic to the 20th century,” blue-collar employee Curtis is haunted by one of the looming terrors of the 21st: financial ruin. This unarticulated fear triggers his mental illness, and despite a few missteps, Take Shelter powerfully lays bare our national anxiety disorder—a pervasive dread that Curtis can define only as “something that’s not right.” The devoted 35-year-old Rust Belt provider works at a sand-mining company; wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) supplements her husband’s income by selling handmade notions, staying at home to look after their deaf 6-year-old daughter, whose upcoming cochlear-implant surgery looms as one of the many daily stresses that metastasize into unmanageable duress for Curtis. Shannon, who starred in writer/director Jeff Nichols’ earlier feature, Shotgun Stories (2007), has specialized in playing the brainsick for the past five years. He adroitly falls apart in Take Shelter, though a late-act freak-out almost undoes the actor’s subtle work earlier in the film. Chastain, with much less screen time, has just as strong an impact, making Take Shelter as much of a marriage as it is a portrayal of madness in crazy times.