Tag Archives: Take Shelter

Best performances by a non-actor/inanimate object

This “best of” list is by no means an original idea. I first came across a similar such superlative in the NYTimes Magazine around Oscar season.  It seemed like a fun diversion from my usual “close-reading” reviews, and as I have been short on time for creative dabbling, it is ideal for a time-efficient blurb-type post. Most of these films, I believe, were release in the past year.

If any readers out there have any more suggestions, don’t be shy! This is an ongoing list.

Hokay, here we go!

1. The hot-pink script credits in “Drive.”

The obvious route to take here would have been The Driver’s (Ryan Gosling) notorious scorpion jacket. But the neon-pink  opening credits that come across the screen over the shot of the L.A. highways sets the tone for this inscrutable movie. “Drive” is either making fun of itself or boldly inhabiting a dated early 1990’s genre of undercover cop fair such as “Point Break” or “Miami Vice.” It is a clever move to begin “Drive” in such a fashion because from this moment on, because as we are gaping at the hot-pink script, we are wondering just how seriously we are supposed to take this movie. And, when/if we do start taking it seriously, we are either being skillfully manipulated or realizing that “Drive” actually may be, in all of its super-stylized, silent hero-without-a-name glory, a serious movie. The beauty of this is you can watch it both ways and it still works. It’s not perfect, but it works.

2. The planet measurement device in “Melancholia”

It’s been named “the doom-o-meter” and “mortal coil” by Michael Vazquez of The Huffington Post. I like to call it “the downward spiral.” A rudimentary device crudely fashioned out of wire by a young boy, this apparatus is repeatedly utilized towards the end of the movie and is at firs the source of comfort, and inevitably, dread. It’s method of use is to hold the circular coils to the sky so that it frames the planet Melancholia, thus revealing it’s distance from the planet Earth by its size in relation to the tiny coil. The doom-o-meter spends most of its screen time clutched in the spindly, tense fingers of Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who anxiously peers through the mortal coils only to see that Melancholia is looming larger, and getting closer and closer….

3. Sigmund Freud’s cane in “A Dangerous Method”

“Fascinating,” proclaims a sardonic Mr. Freud (Viggo Mortensen) through a mouthful of cigar as he observes a young female patient of emerge from a “therapeutic” bath. In this scene at a psychiatric hospital and in virtually every scene in the movie, Freud is clutching his faithful cane–and (he would be the first to admit), his penis. In one later scene, after the defiant Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) liberates himself from Freud’s overbearing patrimony, Freud becomes ill and collapses. His cane can no longer steady him and he flings it through the air, almost comically, leaving Freud prone on the floor. The father–and the phallus–have been castrated.

4. Lisbeth’s Salander’s t-shirt in David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”


5. The shelter door  in “Take Shelter”

At the climax of this haunting film from director Jeff Nichols, Curtis (Michael Shannon), his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and young daughter, who is deaf, are sequestered in the storm shelter during a tornado. Curtis has been suffering from terribly lucid visions/hallucinations (the difference is the crux of the film) of an apocalyptic storm, which is his reason for building the shelter. After the duration of the storm, Samantha is more than ready to emerge from their subterranean refuge; the paranoid Curtis refuses, believing the storm–or something much worse–is still raging above. Throughout the film, Curtis’ visions and paranoia make him a frightening and fallacious figure–whenever he is on screen, he is the subject of uncertainty, of dread–the lines between delusion/dream/reality  are always  blurred. The shelter door represents this boundary between what is real and imagined, sane and insane. The moment when Curtis refuses to unlock the shelter door, he is at his most terrifying–the suffocating fear that he has stifled inside is ready to explode, and this  fear makes him so unpredictable that it is entirely possible for him to do a number of things–including trap himself along with his wife and daughter in this shelter for the remainder of their lives. What lies outside that shelter door  is the moment of truth as to whether or not Curtis is some kind of a portentous soothsayer or a paranoid schizophrenic. The claustrophobia of the shelter–a sealed, impassable portal–combined with the trepidation of what may lie beyond it made this scene unbearable to watch.

6. The shattered windshield in “A Separation”

 Sin–the act of sinning, of absolving one of sin, and the self-sacrifice of bearing the burden of a loved one’s sin– is one of many profound themes in this devastating Iranian domestic drama. Hojjat, unhinged, unemployed and hot-tempered, beats himself in the head repeatedly on various occasions to punish himself for his sins. It is implied that he used to beat his wife but has since reformed, and now takes the sin out on himself. When we see a crack the size of a human head in the windshield of the car belonging to the family with which he and his wife are in a heated dispute (a dispute which is the crux of the film), it brings self-flagellation to a new and frightening realm. As the family–husband, wife and teenage girl–make the tense drive home, the wind hisses through the cracks in the windshield. When a windshield is shattered, the cracks form web-like designs which disperse to form  multiple tiny spider webs, each representing the fragmented psyches of a different character in this film and how they are interconnected.



‘Take Shelter’

Haunting, unsettling, terrifying, anxiety-inducing—you name the adjective and it’s been used to describe Jeff Nichols modern day apocalyptical masterpiece, “Take Shelter.” So what more is there to say? “Take Shelter” is indeed all of the above, and the brilliance of the film is that it is so understated that you don’t realize or understand its impact until it has had time to settle under your skin and into your psyche.

It is always a challenge to watch a movie in which the expectations have already been set sky high. Oftentimes, when experiencing any art form that has garnered a wealth of critical praise, I find that I am forcing myself to feel certain emotions and be moved in some meaningful way by the art. The feeling is not genuine, but rather what I think I am expected to feel. This does not happen often, but it is extremely disappointing when it does. And to be honest, I was forcing myself to feel unsettled and disturbed early on in “Take Shelter,” when the images of Curtis’ (Michael Shannon) nightmares begin to unfold. I had read so many articles describing the eeriness of these dreamlike events that I felt desensitized to them; the ribbon-like formations of the birds, the churning black clouds, the rust-colored rain. I was on the verge of a glorious let-down when a tall drink of water and force of nature that surpasses the portentous storm named Michael Shannon pulled me out of my disenchanted stupor.

Shannon’s restrained performance as the anguished everyman-prophet was the most distressing element of the film, more so than the impending unknown terror of his nightmares and visions. To see Shannon, who is 6’3, give such a physically and emotionally internalized performance was a spectacle in itself. During a particularly intense episode, Curtis suffers so viscerally from a nightmare in his sleep that his wife, Samantha (the omnipotent Jessica Chastain, and welcomingly so) fears he is having a stroke and dials 911. It is an agonizing scene to watch because of the vulnerability of both Curtis and Samantha, who has thus far been kept in the dark about her husband’s inner torment. Scenes such as this heighten “Take Shelter” from a doomsday thriller to a sensitively rendered domestic drama.

“Take Shelter” has garnered praise for being a painfully realistic cautionary tale for our own demise. Curtis’ troubling visions represent our own very real financial and environmental apocalypse, and the fact that Curtis is sane enough to question his own insanity makes his prophecies all the more tangible. But Mr. Richards’ nuanced and natural depiction of the family’s bond and dynamic in the midst of Curtis’ struggle gives the film its heart. There are  crucial and surprising moments in which Samantha does not shun Curtis for his possible psychosis. In one scene, when Curtis finally unleashes his turmoil in a bout of hysteria during a Lion’s Club dinner, Samantha does not walk out on him with her daughter, but, at the risk of becoming an outcast in her community, embraces him, and the three leave together in a display of unconditional love and solidarity. At risk of spoilers, I will not describe anymore such scenes, but I will say that the interaction between Curtis and Samantha, and the realm of emotions that they can convey with so few words, was, like the film itself, quietly breathtaking.