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Nightmares and Screens: Notes on Two Movies


Curtis’s nightmares are frightening. He dreams of a yellow brownish rain and of a tempest destroying everything, especially his family—his wife and daughter, and their house, one of those depressing comfortable houses scattered in the sad, flat landscape of the American Midwest. Is the nightmare to become his life or is his life already a nightmare? His life seems happy. He loves his wife Samantha and he loves his daughter Hannah, who is deaf. Thankfully, the company he works for gives Curtis good insurance that will cover the surgery to fix Hannah’s hearing. Samantha is a stay-at-home mom who supplements the family income. Money is tight, but thanks to his job, Curtis manages to pay the mortgage on the house.

But during the night, Curtis’s sleep is troubled by premonitions of a catastrophe. He decides to build a storm shelter in his backyard. To build the shelter he needs money. His salary is not enough for the task, so he goes to the bank and asks for a loan. “Beware, my boy,” says the good bank director. “These are difficult times, you have a family, running into debt is dangerous.” But Curtis insists. He needs money to build a shelter and protect his family from the imaginary tempest.

Significantly, director Jeff Nichols sets his movie at the end of 2008, after the Lehman Brothers breakdown. In the contemporary imagination, finance is more and more linked to catastrophic events.

Samantha is worried. Her husband’s behavior is strange. She is alarmed by the loan, and she understands that Curtis has mental problems. She knows that his mother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

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