Take Shelter REVIEW
“That is what madness is, isn't it? All the wheels fly off
the bus and things don't make sense any more. Or rather, they do, but it's not
a kind of sense anyone else can understand.”
― Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry
Take Shelter is a film about mental illness. Its particular focus is the experience of schizophrenia but in detailing its impact upon a single individual, upon his family, and upon his community, it gives us a picture of what ripple-effect damage mental illness of any sort can and does inflict when it arrives as it so often does, unwelcome. In Take Shelter, Curtis LaForche begins to experience some of the symptoms of schizophrenia about the time that his mother had been committed for the same when he was ten. In a sense, the disease itself is a “coming storm” that he sees before others in his family (because he is inside his own head as it arrives) but that by the end, the entire family can “see” as well as he can. I won’t give the ending away because it comes as a surprise and plot spoiling is not my forte’. Suffice it to say, when a person in a family faces any mental illness, it can be something that they experience and hide from the family or it can be something that the family “sees” first. Eventually, ity will affect everyone though.
In Take Shelter the people around Curtis are, at first, unaware of what is happening to him and they begin to respond to him as though his psychotic behavior is a manifestation of selfishness not illness. From my own experience with mental illness, I think this is the hardest part. When our minds are wounded somehow, they do not bleed for anyone to see who is not looking for it, and we are inclined to hide the symptoms that we so clearly feel. It is easier to assume that we are “acting crazy” than it is to accept that we are crazy.
The film would be a good starting place for anyone interested in exploring the process by which mental illness infiltrates a family system. Curtis’ version of mental illness leaves him experiencing hallucinations that others cannot obviously see or hear or feel. He feels things. He sees things. He hears things. They are all real to him and his family and friends, neighbors and bankers, bosses and co-workers are all drawn into the web of his alternate reality somewhat, willing to credit him with more trust than he probably deserves to be given under the circumstances. Indeed, by the end of the movie, you as a viewer are given the chance to decide for yourself what is or is not “true” about the story you have just been told. Who can be anxious about all we have to be anxious about in the world today without being vulnerable to its power. Even as I write this, people in the Philippines are cleaning up from a typhoon that may have taken over 10,000 lives. It really is hard to keep your sanity in the face of someone else’s craziness if their craziness is entirely real to them and the world is, and will always be, somewhat crazy itself.
Question for Comment: Ever lost control of your own brain? How did it affect the people around you?