Discuss Take Shelter

I love this movie, but I'm not sure I like the ending. At first, I thought the only possible interpretation was that the storm is really happening, which would be a very disappointing ending for an otherwise great movie. Now, I think the ending could also be interpreted symbolically. Either way, I think I'd have preferred this movie with a less ambiguous ending.

7 replies (on page 1 of 1)

Jump to last post

First of all, let me say that I understand a hundred percent where you are coming from and I empathize with your point of view. I too was slightly ambivalent about the movie's end at first.

My deductions about the movie's end went the opposite route to yours. Upon first viewing you thought that the ending was concrete and upon further analysis you deducted that the ending was symbolic and ambiguous.

Upon first viewing I thought that the ending was symbolic and ambiguous. Upon second viewing I analyzed details and came to the conclusion that the ending was not infact ambiguous/symbolic but it was concrete. We differ fundamentally in our final conclusion. I will tell you the reason why I came to the conclusion that the ending is concrete:

1) Throughout the first part of the movie two primary themes are repetitively asserted. The first theme is the lack of objective reality, the audience is conditioned to be skeptical of things they see on screen because you are seeing it from the point of view of Curtis. The second and more important theme is isolation. There are constant and repetitive events that symbolically shows Curtis going deeper and deeper into a mental state of isolation and secrecy. There are constant reminders that he cannot express his mental state to others:

a- When he pees the bed he cannot tell his wife.

b- When he visits the doctor he tells the nurse that he has a cold.

c- At one point you see that he is unable to express himself to his daughter because he doesn't know a sign word (symbolism).

d- During his mother visit, when he is in the hallway he cannot see an obvious lady passing by until she almost collides with him (symbolism).

e- At one point he parks his car with family sleeping in it. He goes out and views a storm in the distance and asks "Is anyone seeing this?" There is nobody around.

f- When his wife asks him to explain why he is being like this, he says there is nothing to explain.

g- There is a very interesting and important piece of dialogue between him and his work friend. His friend says: "You alright man? (...) I don't wanna see you fuck up". To this Curtis responds simply "I'm not.".

This exchange is very deliberate. The statement "I'm not." has a double meaning and serves to reinforce in the audience's mind Curtis's motivations for isolating himself and not opening up. In this particular case, Curtis's friend interpreted "I'm not." as "I'm not going to fuck up.", but it could have been equally interpreted as "I'm not alright". Here Curtis's friend chose to automatically take the more generous interpretation because the two posed questions are related to eachother. If the interpretation were taken as Curtis is not alright, that would simultaneously mean that Curtis will fuck up (lose his job, lose his family, repeat the abandonment of his mother). The generous interpretation is that Curtis will not fuck up and simultaneously that Curtis is alright.

The isolation ends when Curtis opens the shelter door. The isolation caused by secrecy ends; in the very next scene you see him and his family at the psychiatrist's office. The isolation caused by the disease ends; he finally comes to terms with objective reality and breaks the chains of his delusions. From this point going forward, all of the events in the movie can be viewed as objective reality. This idea that Curtis has broken his isolation/delusions is further reinforced by the setting of the final scene. The scene takes place at Myrtle Beach, far away from the shelter. Curtis complied with his psychiatrist's instructions to remove himself from the shelter in order to aid in the ceasing of his delusions. Another piece of evidence that it's real is: you see Curtis's daughter acknowledge the storm even before Curtis sees it, she makes the sign for storm.

2) The music choices in this movie are incredibly deliberate. The music serves as a very important hint as to why the final scene is real.

This is one of the more silent movies I've seen and whenever there is music it's a very dreamy ambient music which reinforces the two primary themes of the movie, disjointed reality and isolation. But, there are two very important exceptions where this pattern of monotone, dreamy ambient music stops and is replaced by a comparatively louder and more urgent orchestral score. The first time is when Curtis is opening the shelter doors and the second time is during the final events at Myrtle Beach.

I personally loved the ending. It goes against the face of the narrative we were presented upto that point, and it forces us to reanalyze all of the events of the movie. Note that you could have the interpretation that Curtis is simultaneously schizophrenic and he has intense messianic premonitions, it doesn't have to be one or the other.

To me, the events lend themselves to the idea that he was misdiagnosed. Remember, when Curtis spoke to his mother about her symptoms, she mentions "I thought people were watching me and listening to me". Curtis never showed this particular symptom. I know that this symptom is not required for diagnosis, but in my mind that particular line by his mother must have been deliberate in the script.

I agree that the director made a few deliberate choices to distinguish the final scene from what came before (at least that's how I remember it - I saw the movie a few years ago). I used to interpret this as the storm being real at first, but now I see it as the opposite: for me, the final scene is symbolic, while the rest of the movie is 'real' (as in: Curtis is really having these hallucinations).

I've seen three interpretations of the final scene:

  1. The storm is real
  2. The storm is another hallucination
  3. The whole scene is symbolic - it's not literally happening in reality, nor in Curtis' mind

I think option 2 is the least plausible, because, as you said, there are a few elements that contradict this. Option 1 would be a very disappointing ending for me, so I choose to interpret it symbolically (option 3).

I believe Curtis does go to Myrtle Beach with his family, but the final scene is a metaphorical depiction of what happens there, rather than a literal one. It shows us that Curtis is no longer isolated. He doesn't have to face the 'storm' (his disease) on his own. His daughter and wife can see the 'storm' too and are facing it with him.

One of the reasons why I think it's symbolic, is because the scene feels so eerie and unnatural. There's no one else on the beach if I remember correctly. This would make sense if it's a metaphorical scene about Curtis, his wife and his daughter facing the storm as a family.

I thought that they were on a private beach. They rented their own beach house. That's the reason why they had to save up so much money to rent it.

That makes sense, thanks. Still, I think I'll stick with the symbolic interpretation.

I think it’s all possibilities simultaneously.

Here’s how I looked at the ending, and this has been supported by comments from Jeff Nichols himself: like several potential states of a quantum-uncertain subatomic particle, “Take Shelter” has multiple possible interpretations, and all are viable. Either the ending is real and Curtis’ (in that case) premonitions have been validated, or it’s another dream/vision/hallucination and his subconscious is processing his wife and daughter in a way that reflects their recently mustered support of his predicament in the real world, or the tornados are purely symbolic, cinematically representing their future that they’re now willing to face together.

There are signs throughout the movie that might support any of these interpretations. Although, the second option may be more prominent. The consistency of the brown rain throughout his dreams is a common thread, and the scene in the shelter where he hears the thunder when obviously there is none, both support the conclusion that the last scene is a dream/hallucination that has changed tone as a result of the real-world support of his family (which is a sign of hope for him because they’re now there to help him face the coming storm, in this case a delusional manifestation of his worsening mental condition). However, the focus in that last scene on Samantha and Hannah without Curtis in frame could be construed to indicate a third-party independent observation of a very real tornadic squall and tsunami rolling into shore by those characters. So neither interpretation is conclusive to one hundred percent certainty. Which opens up the possibility that it’s purely allegorical.

In my view all interpretations can be equally and simultaneously true, because in any case the heart of the film, which culminates and coalesces in that final scene, is about the support and comfort of his wife and daughter, about them accepting his situation, be it an impending corporeal disaster or his devolving mental state toward schizophrenia, or both. Either way, a tempest of inevitability is on the horizon and they’ve all agreed to hang on tightly to their love for each other and face it together. That’s what the film is about; that’s its core message. And accentuating that point is most likely why it was important to Jeff Nichols to imbue that last scene with ambiguity.

Ultimately I see “Take Shelter” as a cinematic incarnation of an emotional journey, and I must agree with Jeff Nichols when he says that whether the last scene is real or not is somewhat irrelevant. It is neither, and it is both. Reality is merely a state of perception. Even in everyday situations people in general lean toward an outcome of desired vindication and assuredness, a sense of knowing that they were right, even if they are not, and this may lure the majority of viewers into a need of believing one possibility over another when in fact all possibilities exist, which was by design.

In other words, we should accept that there is no conclusive answer.

Human nature tends to lead most toward the desire of conclusion, of belief, unable to accept uncertainty as a reality because not knowing something with certainty, even if realistically untrue, makes them uncomfortable, but we should all strive to do so. Believe nothing while believing in the possibility of everything. Question everything but discount nothing. This film frustrates viewers unable to accept a lack of closure, or it forces them to formulate a belief of closure where there is none (an evolved cognitive process inherent to humankind that has resulted in religions, ideologies, etc. which are all narrow-minded by nature because they dismiss everything else outside of a confined belief system).

In that regard “Take Shelter” and a few films like it (e.g. Triangle) are excellent celluloid-based (well, technically digital now in most cases) Rorschach tests for the collective audience. I would suggest reflecting less on the motivations and intentions of the filmmaker (although such musings certainly have value), and contemplating on one’s own reaction, and what that response might indicate at a subconscious level.

So before spending some time diving into the details and trying to figure the movie out, let go of all that and just feel it for a while instead. Then when you do assess the film intellectually, purge those feelings and puzzle it out with a purity of logic. In doing so, the logical uncertainty of the piece will step forth and present itself to you for what it is, while the emotional truth will shine through.

Was it all in his head? Was it all real? Was it purely a cinematic representation? Like Schrodinger’s cat-in-a-box thought experiment, it’s all of these possibilities. But the emotional truth is the same either way, which was Jeff Nichols’ point.

What about this possible ending?

After he exits the shelter, opening the door on his own, realizing that there is no storm, he accepts that the storm is his mentail state.

The 'beach' money would have been spent to cover bills and expenses, i.e. the trip to the psychiatrist in Columbus. That scene was the nail in the coffin for Curtis. It is the seqway to his treatment in a hospital.

The 'trip' to Myrtle Beach is in his mind. Since his wife and daughter understand his issue and are supporting him, he mentally envisions the Myrtle Beach trip as his safe spot. The one real happy moment they have and uses it to bring his wife and daughter into his mental storm.

I don't believe they ever went to the beach. I believe that scene was his vision during treatment in the facility that we never see. Similar to The Matrix, if you will.

i like that the ending is ambiguous and that we can hold different, yet valid, interpretations of it... 🤔

i think he is hallucinating the storm in the end, but rather than being isolated and alone in dealing with this, his family recognises the "storm" that is his illness and are there by his side to help him through it...

... or maybe it's real and he was right all along! 😉

I also read somewhere that the whole movie is an metaphore for climate change... how people who forcast climate change and extreme life threatening weather changes are met with disbelief, as if they are "talkin' crazy", etc... yet in the end they are found to be saying the truth all along... I think this is not as interesting an interpretation... I prefer mine 😎

What I am clear on is that it doesn't matter what the director says in interviews or the commentary... the film is it's own thing in my opinion and only exists between the viewer and the screen 😎


s focus the search bar
p open profile menu
esc close an open window
? open keyboard shortcut window

On media pages

b go back (or to parent when applicable)
e go to edit page

On TV season pages

(right arrow) go to next season
(left arrow) go to previous season

On TV episode pages

(right arrow) go to next episode
(left arrow) go to previous episode

On all image pages

a open add image window

On all edit pages

t open translation selector
ctrl+ s submit form

On discussion pages

n create new discussion
w toggle watching status
p toggle public/private
c toggle close/open
a open activity
r reply to discussion
l go to last reply
ctrl+ enter submit your message
(right arrow) next page
(left arrow) previous page