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Film / Take Shelter

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"You think I'm crazy? Well, listen up: there's a storm coming like nothing you've ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it."

2011 film written and directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

A construction worker in Elyria, Ohio named Curtis LaForche begins having apocalyptic dreams about a terrible storm. At first dismissing them as being from stress, Curtis soon can't ignore them anymore as the dreams become more and more intense, causing him to act erratically in real life. Worried about the welfare of his family, Curtis begins a paranoid project of expanding the storm shelter in his backyard.

However, it's revealed that Curtis's mother is schizophrenic. Realizing that he might be manifesting symptoms of her disease, he starts seeing doctors about possibly entering treatment. Torn between an unshakeable conviction that something terrible is about to happen, and the fear that he might be going crazy, Curtis's life begins to fall apart.

This film contains examples of:

  • Alone with the Psycho: In the storm shelter, Curtis' interactions with his wife take on this tone when she repeatedly asks him to open the shelter and he repeatedly refuses.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The storm at the end of the movie. Did Curtis's nightmares come true, or was it just another nightmare?
  • Anxiety Dreams: The mundane explanation.
  • Arc Words: Curtis constantly references being "left behind", and not "leaving [his family] behind" due to being abandoned his schizophrenic mother as a child.
  • Berserker Tears: Curtis, after the blowout at a community dinner.
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends with the "motor oil" rain falling and a massive storm coming.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Curtis wets himself during a particularly intense dream. You can't blame him.
  • Cassandra Truth: Curtis was right all along, if you believe that the final scene is real.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Curtis has two of these.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The storm shelter. You know it's going to get used at some point.
    • The mention of how good Curtis's work insurance is.
    • The "storm" sign gives viewers a hint as to what's upcoming in the final scene.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Curtis begins to show shades of this when he secures a risky loan just to buy an expensive shipping container, all in order to expand the shelter in his backyard.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Curtis isn't sure if his dreams are an example of this trope, or just him going mad. It doesn't help that his dreams are seemingly apocalyptic, featuring oily rain and people driven mad.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Curtis's family, to some degree. His mother is in a mental hospital and his brother is estranged from him, and Curtis may be losing his mind.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: If you subscribe to the ending-is-real theory.
  • The Faceless: The faces of strangers in Curtis's dreams are always blurry or obscured, which is also disturbingly Truth in Television.
  • Face Your Fears: Curtis' wife pushing him to overcome his fear and open the door to the shelter.
  • Flipping the Table: Happens during Curtis' fight with his colleague at the Lions Club supper.
  • Freudian Excuse: Curtis was abandoned by his own mother and so is terrified by the prospect of losing Samantha and Hanna.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: if what Curtis sees coming towards the beachhouse at the end is real.
  • Helpful Hallucination: if the ending is real.
  • I Am Not My Father: Curtis knows that he might be schizophrenic, but he wants to try to keep it under control so that he doesn't abandon his family like his mother did after a complete breakdown.
  • Left Hanging: The ending is ambiguous. We don't know if Curtis was sane all along and an actual prophet or if he's just having one last nightmare. If the storm is real, does the family survive? And if not, does Curtis ever get well? Everything is left open and unresolved.
  • Madness Shared by Two: This is one interpretation for the end. Curtis begins to obsess over a catastrophic storm that appears to him in dreams and visions. His wife Samantha tries desperately to help him because his mother has schizophrenia. However, at the end, Sam is trying to help him recover by going to a beach house. It closes with a POV shot from Sam's perspective that reveals a storm coming over the beachfront. It ends there, leaving it ambiguous whether his vision has come true or whether Sam is experiencing a shared hallucination with Curtis.
  • Mad Oracle: Curtis has what seems to be prophetic dreams and has several signs of schizophrenia. The question is whether he's mad, an oracle, or both.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is Curtis having prophetic dreams about a future calamity? Or is he just going insane, falling victim to schizophrenia just like his mother? The end of the movie suggests that his dreams were real, but it might just be another dream.
  • Mind Virus: Some of Curtis's dreams show shades of this, with the survivors of the storm becoming inexplicably hostile towards him and his family. He even has a dream of his wife becoming "infected" by the storm, with the dream implying that she would try to stab him.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Curtis throwing open the shelter door into blinding white white sunshine is a breakthrough for his character.
  • No Antagonist: The hero has to face himself.
  • Not So Stoic: For a good portion of the movie, Curtis tries to keep his anxieties under wraps — up to the moment when he can't.
  • Parental Abandonment: Curtis's mother left him alone in the car when he was 10 and ran away; after this event he made a promise to himself to never leave his family behind.
  • Properly Paranoid: Curtis sees himself as this when he begins digging up his backyard to expand their storm shelter. Everyone else thinks he's gone nuts.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Curtis believes that his nightmares are probably the result of schizophrenia, but he cannot stop himself ruining his family life by taking precautions should they be real.
  • Sanity Slippage: The Movie. Then again, maybe not — see Ambiguous Ending above.
  • The Schizophrenia Conspiracy: Curtis's mother is explicitly stated to have Paranoid Schizophrenia. Curtis is worried that maybe he has it too, though even he realizes that he only fits a few of the symptoms (not enough for a full diagnosis).
  • A Storm Is Coming: The Movie.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: We see everything through Curtis's eyes, including his frequent nightmares and hallucinations.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: The Powers That Be - if his hallucinations are really true - aren't being really clear. Curtis even delivers this as a character in the page quote.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Curtis has a panic attack at work from phantom thunderclaps, causing him to vomit and flee.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: At first Curtis tries to hide his fears because he knows everyone will assume he's crazy. Eventually, though, he has a full-blown outburst at a work event, resulting in the page quote above.