Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Ending Of Take Shelter Explained

Throughout his filmography, Jeff Nichols ("Mud" and an untitled "A Quiet Place" spin-off) has made it clear that he's comfortable with ambiguity. The stories he tells are deeply compelling, but that doesn't mean they always end with a definitive explanation of what's happening. That's definitely the case in "Take Shelter," an unconventional thriller with elements of horror.  The film ends on a note that may or may not signal the coming apocalypse. 

The film follows Curtis (Michael Shannon), a working class guy who's living in the small community of LaGrange, Ohio. Curtis leads a happy life alongside his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and his daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), but that happy existence gets upended when Curtis starts to have vivid, alarming dreams that often leave him in a panic when he wakes up from sleep. 

In the dreams, Curtis sees a storm coming. He becomes convinced that the dreams he's having are prophetic and starts preparing for the storm that he is now sure is on the horizon. 

Curtis eventually builds a shelter on his property

As Curtis becomes more and more convinced of the coming apocalypse, his relationships with the community, where he was once respected, begin to fray. He loses his job and gets into an emotional confrontation with one of his friends from work. Eventually, Samantha becomes alarmed enough that she takes him to see a doctor, who tells Curtis he should see a psychiatrist. 

Even as Curtis' personal life is unraveling, he's also devoting more and more time to the building of a shelter that he believes will provide the protection that he and his family need when the storm does arrive. Although Curtis and Samantha's relationship is not as strong as it once was, the two of them stay together, and a storm does eventually come to LaGrange. 

When it comes, Curtis and his family hide in the shelter he's built, but Curtis is reluctant to leave the shelter after the storm has passed. When he does emerge and sees that the sun is shining, he sees another doctor, who says that the family should go on vacation. The doctor also says that Curtis may have to be institutionalized when they return. 

Curtis, Samantha and Hannah then travel to Myrtle Beach, and we see Curtis building a sandcastle on the beach. Then, we see a massive storm coming, and Samantha comes out of the cabin they've rented and simply says "okay." 

Does the coming storm mean Curtis is right?

The ending of "Take Shelter" may seem definitive, but there's really a number of different ways to interpret it. The first and most obvious explanation is that the storm is real, and it's really coming. Curtis' dreams throughout the films were real, and everyone assumed he was losing his mind because it's not often you wind up married to a genuine prophet. 

The first storm that the family took shelter from was not the real storm, and this one is. In the final moments of the film, Samantha reaffirms her faith in her husband, and the family prepares for the storm that is threatening to swallow them whole. 

This literal interpretation of the ending makes "Take Shelter" a story of biblical proportions. Curtis is a prophet who sees the end of the world coming, and is ultimately proven correct, even though he faces many doubters on his journey. 

Curtis and his family could also be imagining the storm

There are other readings of the ending, however, that are much less literal. In one, the film's final moments are just another one of Curtis' dreams. He's seen the storm coming yet again, even though it may never actually arrive. 

It's also possible that Curtis and his family are experiencing some sort of collective hallucination. Curtis has brought his family along on his journey towards the edge of reality, and Samantha and Hannah have finally toppled over the edge with him. 

Regardless of what the ending means for the fate of the world, it's also worth considering what it means for the family at the film's center. Curtis' faith in his prophetic dreams fractures his entire family, but in the film's final moments, there's a payoff for the faith that Samantha has in him. They come to a shared understanding of what the future holds, even if that shared understanding isn't based in any sort of literal reality.