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Nocturnal Animals, the second feature film by designer Tom Ford, tells a story within a story. Originally released in 2016, it’s coming to Netflix December 16th. Is Nocturnal Animals worth watching?
The story begins with Susan (Amy Adams) receiving a manuscript from Edward, her estranged ex husband who she has not spoken to for 19 years. The manuscript is titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’, which we later find out was a nickname Edward had for her. Susan’s currently re-married to Hutton, Armie Hammer, and they’re struggling in their marriage. We see that keeping up appearances is very important to Susan and Hutton, and they’re having a hard time keeping up the appearance of a loving marriage and financial prosperity. As their struggle continues, Susan becomes more and more engrossed in the book that Edward sent her.
As Susan begins to read, the movie shows us the story of the book ‘Nocturnal Animals‘. We see Isla Fischer as Laura Hastings, a clear stand-in for Susan, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Laura’s husband, Tony Hastings (he also plays Susan’s “real life” ex-husband, Edward Sheffield). The story told in the book ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a terrifying scenario to imagine, and Jake Gyllenhaal plays Tony Hastings expertly, portraying fear, grief, and anguish.
There’s a lot of excellent acting in this film, which is to be expected when you have a cast like Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon. There are some smaller roles that are well crafted as well, like Karl Glusman as Lou, who terrorizes Tony Hastings along with his friends Turk and Ray (played by Robert Aramayo and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Laura Linney makes an appearance as Susan’s mother, Anne, and although Laura Linney is only 10 years older than Amy Adams, she plays her wealthy and demanding mother beautifully.
Not only does Nocturnal Animals tell a story within a story, it also shows us both the past and present of Susan’s life with Edward, and now with Hutton. Amy Adams is great as both the past and present version of herself. While movies that jump between time frames and story lines can sometimes be confusing, the aesthetics and scenery along with the excellent performances keep the storylines from becoming muddled.
Performances like Adam’s and Gyllenhaal’s almost obscure the fact that at the core, the story of this film is misogynistic; women are treated like objects or plot devices to fuel men’s pain and rage, and too much blame is placed on Susan. Without spoiling too much, essentially the book ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is Edward’s revenge for what he feels Susan did to him. Even though the main character of the film is a woman, the film is about what she did, and what is being done to her (both in “real life” and within Edward’s story) — it’s not actually about her, and we don’t really ever get to know Susan very well as a character.
Ultimately, while the vision of the film is excellently formed, it’s at times a bit too stylish and thus heavy-handed with some of the symbolism it presents. It seems as though Tom Ford wanted some part of this story to be about materialism and greed, and about the paths we choose to fulfill our lives, but that can get a bit lost underneath the story of revenge and Edward/Tony’s pain.
Tom Ford is most known for his work as a designer, and Nocturnal Animals does not disappoint with stunning imagery. The mirroring between what Susan is reading in the novel and real life is mesmerizing, and just about every shot in this film is perfect. Some of the shots of women’s bodies, though, should perhaps be a bit less perfect (hopefully you’ll know it when you see it). There are also a lot of nods to contemporary artists like Damien Hirst and Jef Koons. The pretentious art world Susan lives and works in is in stark contrast with the story Edward has written in his novel.
In an email to Edward, Susan calls the book ‘Nocturnal Animals’ violent, devastating, and beautifully written. The film itself is certainly both violent and devastating. There are moments that are downright brutal to watch, and moments that are quieter in their devastating intensity.
Nocturnal Animals is a story of revenge (a story of revenge within another story of revenge). I’m of two minds about this film — I don’t think that Nocturnal Animals is as genius as it wants to be, but it is a gripping piece of cinema. Like the art installation shown during the film’s opening sequence, it’s an attempt to be provocative, but instead is misogynistic and shallow. Art for art’s sake is fine, but when it also serves as a showcase for toxic masculinity, it’s not really worth a watch.
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