Friday, February 24, 2012

Lessons for Christians from 'Take Shelter'

Take Shelter is not easily summarized. It is about a man named Curtis who continues to have nightmares which always seem to include stormy skies, lightning, and tornadoes. As the film proceeds along, the dreams become increasingly vivid. Curtis responds by building an expensive storm shelter, which becomes the center of the tale in a lot of ways.

Michael Shannon is a fantastic actor. Many of you may remember him for his role in Revolutionary Road as John Givings, the mentally troubled son of the Wheelers' neighbor. Shannon really blew me away in that movie, but in his newest film, Take Shelter, he completely unsettled me and moved me very deeply. If there is one thing Michael Shannon does well as an actor it is 'unsettled to the point of explosion'. That is most certainly his specialty.

Take Shelter is hard to categorize. Is it psychological horror? Is it family drama? Is it personal allegory? My take is, it's all of these things when viewed from different angles.

I don't wish to spoil the ending, but I was moved to tears by the climactic decision which Shannon's Curtis has to make. This surprised me since I spent most of the film a bit on-edge and - well, unsettled. I was not prepared for my own response to what was taking place in the movie. In the end, I was struck by Curtis' resolve to do whatever it took, in spite of what everyone said, to do what he could to protect his family from what he understood to be great danger. Too often, our willingness as Christians to really commit to follow Christ is shaped a great deal by how our radical decisions will be seen by others. Often we pull punches and soft-pedal because the world is watching and we want their approval. In this film, Curtis does whatever he can, even if it means being alienated from those around him, because he believes danger is approaching.

I am not saying that Christians should be as paranoid or afraid as Curtis is in this film, but I am saying that we could use a dose of Curtis' resolve and follow-through. If we (for purpose of illustration) believe that the wages of sin is death, and we really believe it, what would that really look like? Would our commitment to waging war on sin in our own lives and the life of our family look like lunacy to the watching world? Would we ultimately care whether people thought we were crazy?

One other aspect of the film which struck me was the importance of a good wife. In this movie, Curtis' wife, Samantha (wonderfully played by Jessica Chastain in her seventh movie to be released last year) is a much needed rock for Curtis. She becomes his anchor of reality in the movie and strikes me as a Proverbs 31 woman. She is a church-going woman, whereas Curtis is not. She and her family appear to frequently invite him to church, but it is evidently a sore subject which the family appears to be reticent to continuously struggle with him over. She makes things and sells them to help support the family and cares very much for their hearing-impaired daughter. When he is unable to cope with decision-making because of his own deterioration, she becomes a woman of action. In the end, she demonstrates great wisdom in understanding what Curtis needs to do if he is ever to overcome his fear of what he believes is impending doom.

Ultimately, this movie is more something that stands on its own than a lesson for Christians or a sermon-illustration in the making. It is a picture of a troubled man seeking to understand himself, of a family that hangs together through resolution and commitment rather than feeling or sentimentality, and in so many ways it is a fantastic example of what a film ought to be.

[This film is rated R for language. There is no sexual content whatsoever.]

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