March 2012

Take Shelter and Bellflower

Directed by Jeff Nichols
and Evan Glodell, respectively

Central Question: What if the apocalypse wound up in the wrong film?
Non-exhaustive list of preceding films dealing with the apocalypse, pre- and post-: A Boy and His Dog, Mad Max, Deep Impact, Supervolcano, The Day After Tomorrow, The Road; Number of countries that have successfully detonated nuclear weapons: five; Likelihood that Asteroid 1999 RQ36 will hit earth by 2200: one in one thousand; Cost for two-hundred-square-foot bomb shelter: $37,000

There are several kinds of people waiting on the apocalypse. Some wait eagerly for the opportunity to rise to heaven while the naysayers stare skyward, jaws agape, while some think of the end of the world not in terms of ascension but in terms of breakdown: mass chaos, scarcity of resources, infrastructural cave-in. We call the latter survivalists: people who bury fifty-gallon oil drums filled with rice in secret spots in the forest, or who practice shooting crossbows off the backs of motorcycles, or who have planned meeting places stocked with canned goods, weapons, and water. Survivalists might use the company backhoe and their retirement savings to dig a shelter in the backyard, one that can withstand a storm—of rain or of desperate masses—or they might mod their cars and motorcycles with flamethrowers, presumably to fend off the crazy hordes that take to the road in the inevitable gas war.

Those last two examples come from the 2011 films Take Shelter and Bellflower, respectively, both of which are concerned with the impending apocalypse, real and imagined. That these films should surface now isn’t surprising; everyone from Harold Camping to environmental scientists to the ancient Mayan calendar tells us it’s about time, and, besides, plenty of filmmakers got there first. The significance of these two films is that they take a look not so much at the apocalypse itself but at how human relationships blossom and crumble in the days preceding it.The poster for Take Shelter depicts Curtis (Michael Shannon) wrapping protective arms around his wife and daughter against an ominous bird-blackened sky. Bellflower’s shows Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) in a deep embrace against a backdrop of fiery explosion. In the end, both images seem to say that what’s fascinating about the apocalypse isn’t necessarily what we do to protect ourselves—it’s what we do to protect the ones we love.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Josh Izenberg

Josh Izenberg is a filmmaker living in San Francisco. He wrote and directed the feature Ants and Elephants, along with a number of shorts, which have screened at festivals around the Bay Area. He is currently working on a documentary about an iconic San Diego slow-motion rollerblader.

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