Take Shelter 
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Take Shelter is an intelligent film that asks difficult questions about mental illness — specifically, schizophrenia. It is not an easy watch by any means, but it is one that will elicit powerful emotions upon its conclusion.
Michael Shannon, in a groundbreaking performance, is Curtis LaForche, a construction worker living in Ohio with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and his six-year-old daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf. He works hard to support his family, but their financial problems have them in danger of losing their home. Perhaps triggered by the increasingly stressful situation, Curtis begins have lucid, intense nightmares. He dreams of an impending apocalypse, a storm of epic proportions that will wipe out the world as he knows it.
The nightmares don’t stop. Believing these dreams to be more and more as prophetic visions, Curtis begins to build a storm shelter in his backyard. This is when the film kicks itself into high gear. People take notice of Curtis’s erratic behavior. He begins to have problems at work. He is paranoid of those who appear in his dreams. His once-stable family has become strained. Things are going downhill, and fast.
Here’s the kicker: Curtis’s mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was in her thirties. Could he be suffering from the same illness? His behavior certainly suggests this. Or is he a prophet, able to see the future and trying to warn us of the forthcoming doom and gloom?
For much of the film’s runtime, we are forced to answer this for ourselves. This culminates in an unforgettable ending, one that has provoked deep and meaningful discussions from others. It has been a week since I watched the movie, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. What we decipher from this, I feel, ultimately says something about ourselves. Truly, this is an experience that will make all of us look at mental illness in a different light.
I don’t know if I have seen a better movie about mental illness, and much of the credit for this goes to to the stellar cast. Michael Shannon is a tour de force here, rightfully deserving to be mentioned among last year’s biggest Oscar snubs. Jessica Chastain is the perfect counterpart to him, a caring and loving wife who does her best to support her husband even when times are rough. I feel she should have been nominated for this rather than her role in The Help.
Quite frankly, Take Shelter is one of 2011’s best films. Period. Grossly overlooked by many, this is an unforgettable movie that would surely be in my top five from the year. Now that it is available on DVD, there is no excuse to miss out on this recent gem.