Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols, 2011

#17, 2011 Skandies

This movie is about a guy who has nightmares that scare him so much he wakes up having pissed the bed or coughed up a mouthful of blood.  They all involve an apocalyptic storm coupled with violent attacks on himself and his daughter, sometimes by strangers, sometimes by friends and family members.  His mother was institutionalized with paranoid schizophrenia in her early 30s, so he worries that he might be suffering an onset of mental illness himself.  At the same time, he can't bring himself to discount the possibility that these are precognitive visions, and bankrupts his family in order to build a huge underground storm shelter in his backyard.

I thought this movie was pretty slow, and the "is this the real life or is this just fantasy" routine is pretty tiresome to me at this point — partly because I've seen it so many times, and partly because I don't consider it an interesting question.  We don't have direct access to the world; we take in data from our senses and translate it into an experience.  Often, as with optical illusions, that experience misrepresents reality.  And that's when our brains are working optimally, which is rare!  Very often our brains and/or sensory apparatus are glitchy in some way.  I once had an experience, probably an ocular migraine, that turned all the text I looked at into a cloud of gray pixels for about an hour.  I had regular hallucinations a few days into meditation camp.  We know these things happen.  And yet all too many people, after having an uncanny experience, decide that the explanation lies in the outside world rather than within themselves.  They hear a baby crying when there aren't any babies around, and instead of calling it an auditory hallucination, announce that they now have proof of the existence of ghosts.  "Is this the real life? Is—"  No.  It's not.  It's your brain's glitchy reconstruction of the real life.  Next!

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