Overview: A novelist sends the manuscript for his latest novel to his ex-wife, who in turn takes its contents to be a veiled message of violent retribution for a past offense. Focus Features; 2016; Rated R; 116 minutes.
Co-Dependent Fantasies: From the outset of director Tom Ford’s latest feature length endeavor, Nocturnal Animals, the question of what accounts for the distinction between fantasy and reality is tacitly posed. Affluent art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) finds herself exactly where all of her closest friends and most respected colleagues would expect her to want to be. After earning a graduate degree in art history, Susan’s life is one of social prestige and bourgeois excess. Except that’s not who she really is. Her dream was to be an artist herself, not the moneyed curator of other people’s talents. Meanwhile, her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) is thriving as a novelist perfectly at peace with himself and his vocation. Or at least he appears to be. For at the very heart of Nocturnal Animals is a labyrinthine dreamscape wherein a series of co-dependent fantasies begin to influence and corrupt one another and the people who conjured them.
Volatile Realities: Throughout Ford’s sophomore effort, a number of volatile realities are laid bare alongside the self-aggrandizing hyperboles that their participants relax into as a means of coping. The title of Edward’s new novel – which he both forwards and dedicates to his ex-wife – is both the same as the film’s and the nickname which Edward gave to Susan to metaphorically diagnose her true nature. Nocturnal Animals thereby explores the depths to which Edward has been betrayed by Susan. But it never explicitly lays bear her crimes for all to see outright. Instead, Edward’s novel, which revolves around a violent tale of sexual crime and vigilante justice, serves to poetically articulate an act of marital indiscretion that takes place entirely off camera.
Revenge & Redemption: By the end of reading Edward’s novel, Susan is gripped with an intense desire to put an end to her new found relationship with the strapping socialite Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), and return to the seemingly forgiving arms of her ex-husband. Except Edward hasn’t forgiven her. He hasn’t forgotten the brutal way in which Susan left him. Instead of writing the novel as a means of actually making amends with Susan, the book’s climactic final scene echoes his own resolve to move on in one final brutal act of his own doing. The eponymous novel of Nocturnal Animals, in a surprising and enigmatic turn of events, comes to represent both Susan and Edward. Susan may have been the one to deliver the first blow to their formerly thriving romantic partnership, but Edward was equally willing to put a definitive end to it given the opportunity. Both Susan and Edward are thus entwined in a story within a story that begins to reflect their waking reality to an extent that is far more disturbing than perhaps either one of them might be able to admit, which is why Ford’s movie is such a gripping psychological thriller that should not be missed.
Overall: Ford has already proven himself to be an American director to look out for, and Nocturnal Animals is nothing short of another indispensable production from one the country’s most unmistakable talents.
Featured Image: Focus Features