16 November 2011

Take Shelter evokes the anxiety that helped trigger Occupy movement

Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) alone sees the approaching storm in Take Shelter.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Take Shelter, driven by Michael Shannon’s powerhouse portrayal of a brooding but devoted father, gives voice to the dread and the nightmares that have replaced dreamy optimism for many American families. The anxiety that is palpable from the opening frame of this painfully beautiful film is, in many ways, the same emotion that ignited the Occupy movement two months ago.

A vast, sometimes angry sky hovers over the everyday lives of Curtis and Samantha LaForche and their six-year-old daughter Hannah, who is deaf and awaiting implants. Curtis, a crew chief for a sand-mining company, sees and hears in the roiling skies terrifying signs that the predictable life his family knows in small-town Ohio is about to collapse. He has apocalyptic nightmares that he fears are visions of the future. He is afraid he is losing his sanity much like his mother did about the same age, before she fled her family.  

“The audience watches LaForche's life and world fall apart in a film that is soaked with both supernatural imagery and the everyday American problems of losing a job and being unable to afford healthcare for your family,” writes Paul Harris. “The film vibrates with uncertainty and foreboding for the end of the American way of life.”

Director Jeff Nichols also wrote the script, starting in 2008, when financial industry failures wrecked the national economy. “Although both my career and personal life were on a positive track, I had a nagging feeling that the world at large was heading for harder times. This free-floating anxiety … mainly came from the fact that I finally had things in my life that I didn't want to lose,” he said. “I hope there is an answer to this feeling by the end of the film.”

The film was completed before Wall Street was first occupied on Sept. 17, triggering a national outpouring of similar protests against decades of corporate greed, burgeoning economic inequality, and indifferent government. For a long time before Sept. 17, I saw little evidence that would those trends would change. I was convinced that the American empire was in free fall and that the plutocrats, the 1%, would continue to loot the commons until it was spent. I was equally certain that there was insufficient public will in this nation to tackle the climate crisis that has already altered the conditions of human life on this planet—an ecological endtimes so effectively evoked in Take Shelter. The worldwide rage against injustice, which includes the Occupy movement, has restored for me some measure of hope that these fates might be avoided. For me, and, I suspect many others, this movement embodies much more than political protest.

But can the outcomes I feared for so long really be averted? I asked myself leaving the theater.  Or have my sober expectations been deranged by a sudden infusion of unfamiliar optimism?

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