take shelter [film review]

[Third in a series of ekphrastic responses to the films of Jeff Nichols, written following a recent second viewing. First. Second.]

A cloud formation, colored rain falls.

The wavery grass—below seething sky confounded by murmurations.

A failure to communicate—an oily sheen—some of it you cannot rub away.

Open mouth gasps wake from dark dreams. A life unbalanced.

A state of confusion within your small family. Your wife and daughter. Your hallucinatorium.

Silence stretches except when thunder strikes…

A visit to mother—there was a history:

‘Do you remember what happened before you were diagnosed?’

[…]

‘I just want to know what happened before you had to leave…’

‘There was always…there was always a panic that took hold of me.’

Electric sky at night—jagged streaks above the fields: ‘Is anyone seeing this?’

Dig a big hole in your yard. It seems logical—like the only thing to do.

‘Are you out of your mind?’

‘I’m doing it for us.’

‘You’re right I don’t understand.’

‘There’s nothing to explain.’

But you sit across from her and try anyway.

‘Dark thick rain like fresh motor oil…’

‘It’s not just a dream, it’s a feeling. I’m afraid something might be coming…something’s not right. I cannot describe it.’

Brother checking on brother. No love lost but the fronts dissolve a little in the goodbye.

‘Take care of yourself.’ ‘Okay, little brother.’

There is this feeling, this stark feeling of separation, of alienation from family and community.

‘You did this to yourself.’

Closer and closer it creeps in.

‘I was in one of your dreams?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Can you deal with that?’

‘Yeah.’

So you make an exception. But then it’s dinner rimmed by the faces you want to avoid.

‘What are you doing here?’

Fisticuffs. A loss of control. An upending of the table, of your control.

‘You think I’m crazy? There is a storm coming. And not a one of you is prepared for it!’

Faces blur as huddled family exits.

A racing line of birds. Before they begin to fall…

Middle of the night. The siren. The shelter.

‘What if it’s not over?’

‘I don’t hear anything.’

‘I’m sorry. I can’t.’

‘This is something you have to do.’

[rising strings]

_______________________________________________________________________

[Coda: this is my favorite Nichols film. The ambiguity is so perfectly sustained all the way to the very end—those final few scenes arriving like gut punches. The questions—are they answered or do they only birth more questions. The wide open spaces throughout—both literal geographic in the settings and auditory in between the sparse dialogue. The soundtrack pitch perfect—always complementing, never interfering.]

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