Sunday, 15 April 2012

Scene on a Sunday: Take Shelter

I figured that it was about time I did a new film for these scene analysis features. I spent much more time debating on a scene to focus on from Take Shelter than I did compiling this post, so – in short – a long time. I’d wanted to keep the overarching theme of duos touched on last week’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind entry, but eventually I zeroed in on one of the few scenes in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter which didn’t take place in a claustrophobic environment, and the one with the most extras.

Set-Up: After confessing his issues to Sam, she insists that Curtis and accompany her to the town barbeque. He’s alienated his one good friend Dewart and been fired from his jobs and news of his growing peculiarities have, no doubt, travelled across the town

As I’ve mentioned before, what makes Take Shelter emerge – so easily – as one of my favourite films of 2011 is the way in which it manages to pull so many significant troubling issues into its narrative. We’ve been so caught up in the dissertations on family, mental issues and masculinity when Nichols’ – by way of this and a few other short scenes – does such interesting with the dynamics of a small-town. Of course, we’ll come to see soon enough, there’s a reason we haven’t been noting the small-town dynamics much, they’re a bit superfluous. But, we’ll get to that….

Nichols’ sets up the dynamic swiftly, though, because this is not where the crux of the focus is.


Shea Whigham is one of the gazillion actors who’re doing fantastic work on Boardwalk Empire (Michael Shannon being another; seriously, if you're not watching get on that y'all). I wonder if they used to talk about the show on set here.


The mark of any good film narrative is the belief that there are things occurring in the lives of these characters without the frames of the actual film. And, the reason this scene doesn’t feel overwrought is because we believe in the lives of these characters.

Kat Mixon, who turns in a performance I’ve cited before, is on point. I love how her face falls here.

          Dewart: “What are you doing here?”

          Curtis: “Not here, man.”

          Dewart: “I said – what are you doing here?”


          Sam: “Curtis.”

          Dewart: “I told people what you been doin’.”

          Curtis: “I know.”

          Dewart: “You cut me loose. Everything we been through.”

          Curtis: “I know, I’m sorry.”

Dewart pushes Curtis.


For the record, fight scenes are an absolute bitch to screen-cap. Everything is happening so fast it doesn’t make for clean shots.

          Dewart: “You ain’t fucking sorry. You sorry you wouldn’t cut me loose! This is how you treat friends?”

          Curtis: “Come on.”

More fighting.

          Samantha: “Stop it, Dewart.”

And the fighting ends.

          Curtis: “I SAID NOT HERE, GOD DAMN IT.”

And the fight is merely a set-up for the one truly extreme scene in Take Shelter. Think of this as akin to the moment in Rabbit Hole which I’d assessed in a previous Scene on a Sunday feature. Just like Nicole and Aaron’s performance didn’t hinge on the shouting of that scene, Michael’s performance in Take Shelter is not as loud as it is in this scene. But, the narrative depends on him losing his top – if just once. And, what’s great – as we’ll come to see – is that Nichols isn’t simply thrusting it into the film for no reason.

          Curtis: “You think I’m crazy? Huh? Is that what he told you?”

As an aside, this is clearly the WORST way to convince people that you’re not crazy.

          Curtis: “Well, listen up. THERE IS A STORM COMING! LIKE NOTHING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN. AND NOT A ONE OF YOU IS PREPARED FOR IT.

          Curtis: “You think I’m crazy?”

Of course, “you think I’m crazy” is the question that Curtis is asking himself throughout the narrative and it’s the question that he – by way of Nichols – is asking us at the end of the film. Is he crazy? (Does it matter?)

          Curtis: “Hey! I’m talking to you, Russell. Huh? Lewis, you think I’m a thief?”

I keep promising to, but I really need to dig into Shannon’s oeuvre a bit more. He’s only 36 but his screen presence (particularly in Boardwalk Empire) is suggestive of someone so much older. But, as Curtis here even as he torpedoes around the room in this scene like the one above and the one below, make him look so young.

          Curtis: “Sleep well in your beds. Cause if this thing comes true, there ain’t gonna be any more.”

It’s really as if with Take Shelter I’m coming to know Michael Shannon for the first time – and the camera loves him. I’d imagine that this scene might have been something worrying for Nichols in its fruition, it’s so inorganic when considered against the tone of the film otherwise, and for it to work it necessitates complete involvement from Shannon. And, he sells it.

The screen, after all, isn’t prose so we don’t have the luck of the internal monologue but Shannon’s reactions don’t need words. So, the takeaway from this scene from me are not him at his loudest, but the silent moments where he lets his face speak for him and it’s just devastating especially when it leads to –


Those four expressions are why this is my favourite Jessica Chastain’s performance. Nary a line of dialogue but an almost uttered “Baby” (a line, curiously, not in the actual script) but complete commitment and feeling from this woman – shocked, scared, worried but above all else committed – and that is essentially what makes this scene so necessary. It’s significant watching how the small town functions, it’s great watching how things are happening removed from Curtis’ own issues but at the end of the day this is a film about a family.


When Samantha takes him in her arms there everything else (including that brilliant shelter scene and the excellent ending) is simply reinforcement. This family really is in it all together.


And, as Samantha takes the lead in taking them out I love how those final two shots of the townspeople are blurred and faceless.

Ultimately, we don’t even care about them. They don’t factor into our interests, and perhaps that’s as it should be. As I said in my review, Curtis is taking shelter in his family, and they in him. That’s all we need to know.

There are a number of things I love about Take Shelter and this is not my favourite scenes, yet there are so many excellent things at work. What say you? In relation to the rest of Take Shelter this scene ___________. Michael Shannon work in this scene _________. This scene devastates me most when _____________.

(Previous Scenes: All About Eve // Annie Hall // Atonement (Once) // Atonement (Twice) // The Aviator // Changeling // Burn After Reading // Chicago (2002) // The Curious Case of Benjamin Button // Dangerous Liaisons // Dead Man Walking // Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind // Funny Girl // Hairspray // Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone // Howards End // The King's Speech // Mean Girls // On the Waterfront // The Philadelphia Story // Pride and Prejudice (2005) // Rabbit Hole // Revolutionary Road (Once) // Revolutionary Road (Twice) // Shakespeare in Love // Shampoo // Steel Magnolias // Titanic // West Side Story)

6 comments:

Yojimbo_5 said...

As you know, one of my favorite scenes from last year, in a movie that has a lot of interesting moments and a few great scenes. Very impressed with this film...and your analysis.

Paolo said...

I probably already previously mentioned that my favourite Chastain moment in the movie (if not all movies) is how she 'wants to do something normal.' This was the normal thing she wanted and she got the exact opposite of it I love it.

Nick Prigge said...

Your scenes on a sunday make me so happy (even if I'm reading it on a monday). This was one of those moments I can vividly recall in the theater momentarily feeling like I couldn't breathe I was so overwhelmed by Shannon's acting.

Love how you note Chastain's "commitment" to her man, for better or worse, and I love how you note the faceless shots to close out the scene. I hadn't noticed that before.

1.) is the crack of thunder. 2.) terrifys me. 3.) when Curtis tries to initially avoid the confrontation with Dewart.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

yojimbo it does have a number of truly *great* scenes, so that this - a good scene, definitely - isn't even near my favourite.

paolo she is phenomenal, how could she ever be "normal"?

nick it was a definitely a "i-can't-breathe-is-this-really-happening" scene. i remember feeling so worried, like "what is he going to do?" and then he starts to sob, and it just devastates me. shannon for all the awards. ugh.

Stevee Taylor said...

Oh, I LOVE this scene. My favourite part of the movie is how Curtis has his meltdown and the way that Samantha reacts to it - and this scene shows that perfectly. Why Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain didn't get more praise for this movie is beyond me.

Eric said...

Love this movie. Love this scene. Great post!