(Host) Commentator Jay
Craven saw the new independent film, "Take Shelter" at the Sundance Film
Festival last January. But he’s still
thinking about it.
(Craven) I sometimes wonder what would happen to smart,
inventive, and provocative independent films if the Sundance Film Festival
didn’t exist to provide a launching pad for new talent. Twenty-five years ago, the festival was
probably less needed. There weren’t as
many films and truly independent distributors formed close bonds with
filmmakers to strategize ways to get noticed. Today, all the clout that
Sundance provides is essential for any independent film seeking to find a
The 2011 Sundance festival awarded its grand prize to a
picture that then went on to win the top Critics Week award at Cannes. It has been nominated for more Independent
Spirit prizes than any other film this year.
But most people have probably never heard of the picture. "Take Shelter"
is now making the rounds at Vermont
theaters. The picture stars Michael Shannon
and Jessica Chastain as a young mid-western couple that wrestles with Shannon’s
reaction to the prospect of ominous weather.
Unsettled by his sense of a big storm coming, Shannon
begins to imagine looming clouds. He
dreams of toxic rain. He secretly
mortgages his family’s house and makes off with a bulldozer from his
construction site-to build an underground shelter for his family. His anxiety
mounts and he starts to wonder if his mother’s history of depression could be
making things worse for him. His wife
tries to support him-but his fears can’t be easily assuaged. He becomes quite vulnerable, and his actions
become unintentionally dangerous to his family.
"Take Shelter" has earned nearly universal critical praise
for its rich performances and potent themes. It doesn’t preach but its
accumulating narrative is powerful and unconventional. New York Times critic
A.O. Scott articulated much of what I felt, leaving the theater at Sundance and
thinking about the picture long afterward.
He called the film "remarkable" for its effective evocation of our
contemporary age, with its growing anxieties rooted in the sense that things
seem out of whack-a shaky economy despite Americans’ reputation for hard work,
political dysfunction and paralysis in Washington, perpetual wars on terror, long-standing
social benefits like social security now being debated, under-resourced
communities struggling, and, yes, looming weather. "Even normalcy can seem
awfully precarious," writes Scott.
"Take Shelter" is the kind of film that can cause us to stop
and reflect on what’s important. There are other pictures that have done this
over the years–I’m thinking of "Network", "The Grapes of Wrath," "To Kill a Mockingbird,"
"The Lives of Others" and even "Bonnie and Clyde" which
prompted discussions about violence during the Vietnam
era. And I’m reminded of timely satires
like "Dr. Strangelove" and "Being There."
October statistics show how 54% of America’s
unemployed say they experience mental health issues related to their financial
insecurity. I think that explains the
difference between "Take Shelter" and the other films I’ve mentioned. Those pictures show us situations we can view
from some distance. "Take Shelter"
reaches us where we live.