With Michael Shannon and director Jeff Nichols’ second collaboration, Take Shelter (the first was Shotgun Stories), the pair have hit the zeitgeist of personal and national identity crises. The film kicked off its healthy festival life at Sundance (SPC grabbed it before its premiere, and is releasing the film in NY and LA September 30), where the stellar reviews began (currently 100% on Tomatometer). Despite its track record (including the Critic’s Week Grand Prix and Fipresci prizes at Cannes), the film has yet to receive the attention it deserves.
Perhaps it has something to do with filmmakers’ current regard for the apocalypse. This year alone we have Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (November 11), which contends with a prophetic depression and the possible end of the world; Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life deals with life, death, and the universe; and Mike Cahill’s Another Earth is similarly conflicted with personal crises and the larger-than-life issue of our small human experience within a greater context. Is there room for another story that investigates the individual vs. the world?
Isn’t that what all stories are about? Each movie has its own perspective. Take Shelter may be the most personal of this pedigree. As the sophomore effort of Nichols, who has a much quieter touch than the likes of a Von Trier or Malick, it may actually make the clearest statement and be the most unsettling.
Shannon’s character, Curtis, is a touchstone of stability for his family and friends amidst post-American dream America, but when nightmares force him to question both the health of his mind and the threat of a disastrous storm, he does everything in his power to protect his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter from possibility of both. He obsessively builds a storm shelter and investigates whether or not he’s inherited his mother’s paranoid schizophrenia. “There’s a storm coming,” Curtis warns his community in a rare instance of losing his composure, and we share his fear that the looming “storm” could manifest itself in a variety of ways. There is an anxiety running through Take Shelter that speaks to its audience in a way that a more overt film can’t (yes, pumping gas can be traumatic). This hits closer to home, and Shannon is our exceptional host. But don’t let the words “quiet” and “personal” fool you; Take Shelter is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Below, Shannon talks working with Nichols, his personal connection to and experience with playing Curtis, and more. We kick it all off talking about his role as General Zod in Man of Steel, which he’s currently shooting with director Zack Snyder and Superman Henry Cavill.