The main thing that comes to mind about Take Shelter is how uncomfortable I felt during and after watching it. While I think it was well-made and probably was trying to achieve this effect, I have been wondering if there was any kind of deeper meaning or some message I was supposed to take away from the film. All I can come up with is that the film wanted me to understand the kind of fear that comes from both being afraid of something external (i.e., a storm) and something internal (i.e., hallucinations). I guess it could also be about the struggle of a father figure when he has to protect his family from both external threats (i.e., storms) as well as internal threats (i.e., his own erratic behaviors). Is there anything else I should take away from it?
I believe Take Shelter is a stylized depiction of a man losing his mind.
The less-fantastic elements of the story are common elements of mental breakdowns in real-life:
- Curtis's mother had a similar breakdown strike her at a similar age
- Curtis is so committed to his strange beliefs that he ostracizes himself
- Curtis eventually realizes he has been hallucinating and seeks treatment
The climax of the movie is when Curtis emerges from his underground shelter, after the first "storm" (which was shown to be a hallucination). He realizes he has been seeing a storm that was not occuring in reality. He realizes he really is losing his mind -- it's not everyone else, it's him.
With this in mind, the final scene with the second storm might not be meant to be taken literally. Yes, the second storm can be seen by Curtis's wife -- but that helps show that this second storm is different than the one Curtis was "seeing" earlier. I believe the final scene's visuals of the approaching storm represent the chaos and uncertainty that Curtis's unfortunate new condition is going to bring to the family.
The final scene depicting the horrific torrent of destruction from the tornadoes and tsunami is what really gives the film its meaning. After the ostracization from not only his community, but his family, Curtis is shown to be correct. The theme of this is that instincts should be trusted and not dismissed, even if it goes against the grain of how things appear to be in life. In this case, the "granulation of life" were depicted in the dreams, where those who Curtis has come to rely on turn against him in a metaphorical sense.
Actually I would like to add slightly altered observation from the other answers. I just saw this movie. Lovely movie.
reff link : Take Shelter (2011) : Plot Ending Explained
The storm that happens where Curtis, Samantha and Hannah run to the shelter is real. The only point to be noted is that, the storm is a regular storm, not a giant one like what Curtis imagines.
The siren is blowing indicating a storm. So the three of them rush to the finished storm shelter. They wear oxygen masks and eventually sleep off. When they wake, Samantha and Hannah have taken off their masks. According to them, the storm has ended. According to Curtis, the storm is still violent and he can hear it and feel it against the door. Samantha asks him to open the door and go out. She tells him that he needs to trust her and face his fear. So he does. He opens the door to a sunny sky. The storm has passed, the neighbours are picking up furniture that has been blown away. So this storm is real, it is not part of his imagination. But the storm is way more powerful in Curtis’ mind while in reality, it’s not that bad.
Now about the last scene.... that is the one which is in question as to if it is real or not. I like the explanation where that last scene is a dream.
The third option is that the last scene is not real. It is a dream. Dream 8. Remember, they don’t have the funds to go on that trip. Curtis doesn’t have a job. They need to pay back the loan on the storm shelter. While the psych suggests that they go on their trip, they probably can’t because of their finances. So what does it mean if the last scene is also a dream? It means that the increased size of the storm as compared to the earlier dreams means the mental illness is growing on him - just as the psychiatrist indicates. However, this dream is not violent. In this dream both his wife and kid can see the storm like he can, feel the motor oil like he can. He knows he is not alone. He knows Samantha shows him support. Now, in his dream, he can visualize Samantha seeing the storm and understanding what Curtis is going through. While the illness has gotten worse, he also feels the support he has from his family to fight it. I feel this interpretation adds more mass to the movie than a Shyamalan-ish ending.