Take Shelter and the Requisite Twist

Spoilers Ahead

A couple of weeks back I saw Take Shelter. It’s a movie about a man suffering from visions of some impending disaster;  a storm that drives all those around him mad.  It was an excellently directed and paced movie in that it conveyed a sense of low-key dread on the audience. It was almost palpable.

But what about the twist!?

So, is the man genuinely getting visions or is he simply losing his mind?  Sadly, somewhere in the past it became uncouth for a writer or director (one in the same for this movie, typical of independent films) to make their work straightforward.  It used to be that elements of a story were left to interpretation such as characters’ names or allusions to classic literature.  These days, the story itself is left up to interpretation by the audience.  Or is it?  I think that these days, audiences are so eager to interpret that they’ll do so regardless of what the writer or director has actually presented to them.

Here’s a synopsis of the movie’s main story points:

  1. Man starts getting visions of impending disaster, including violent storms and images of friends and loved ones violently attacking him (driven mad by a black rain from the storms.)
  2. Man begins subtly preparing for disaster while simultaneously trying to explain away his visions.
  3. It turns out the man’s mother suffered from severe paranoia and has been in a hospital most of his life. Did he inherit her madness?
  4. Visions despite man seeking treatment for them.
  5. Man begins more aggressively working to prepare for disaster including building a storm shelter in his backyard. 
  6. His efforts bring disaster on his family as he loses his job and the townsfolk begin treating him awkwardly after they learn of his visions.  Were the visions of disaster a self-fulfilling paranoia, whereby his attempts to avert the disaster in fact brought them on, reinforcing his belief in the visions?
  7. In the middle of the night a storm strikes.  Prompted by the sirens blaring, the family locks themselves in the shelter. 
  8. The family is in the shelter for an unspecified amount of time.  After a while, the wife tells her husband the time has come for them to leave because the storm is over.  The man insists it isn’t; he puts his hand to the door and insists he can still feel the storm raging outside.  When he asks his wife to touch the door and confirm this, she touches the door and tells him she feels nothing.  She compels him to open the door.  He does so hesitantly and sees that the storm has passed (but that the neighborhood has suffered some damage.)
  9. Recognizing that he has lost his grip on reality (after feeling a storm that was no longer there) the man and his wife go to a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist tells him to go on a vacation to physically get away from the shelter he’d obsessed over.
  10. While on vacation, on the beach, the man is playing with his daughter.  His back is to the water.  His daughter is facing the ocean and suddenly stands up, disturbed by what she sees.  The mother, looking on from the beach-side house they’ve rented, emerges as she looks out on the ocean in awe. The man turns around and sees a storm like the one from his dreams.  He looks at his wife to confirm that they’re seeing the same thing and she does.  Black rain begins to fall.  The wife tells him to take their daughter and go (previously, one of the visions included the wife turning violent).
Now, on the surface this movie has two endings.  The first is effectively the “it was all a dream” ending where the visions were paranoid delusions, culminating in the final hallucination of an ongoing storm that threatened to keep his family locked in the shelter indefinitely.  With this ending the effect of the visions was as a self-fulfilling prophecy and effectively conveyed how paranoia can be self-sustaining. Also, the man’s obsession over the shelter (especially after losing his job) was touching to me in that I can sympathize with how a person can concentrate on something meaningless when their life is going to hell because it’s the one thing they can have complete control over.
Then the second ending is that the first ending was wrong.  He really was receiving some glimpse into the future, for whatever reason, with the implication that his doubting the genuineness of the vision removed him from the shelter when he needed it most … this could almost be a Christian film.
I was okay with that, although it struck me as lazy for the writer/director to try and have it both ways.
Then I made the mistake of looking up peoples’ discussion of this movie online …

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