Verdict: Sometimes a movie is fun, but I vehemently disagree with what it has to say. “Nocturnal Animals” is one such movie.
Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” opens with an, uhm, eye-catching sequence. Naked, obese women gyrate in close up and slow motion, with red lips and sparklers like they’re all headed to a nudist Fourth of July party. They seductively dance through the credits to a strangely sinister score before we discover what the heck is happening: it’s an art installation headed by Susan (Amy Adams), a decadently rich and unhappy L.A. museum curator.
This weirdly sensual but off-putting intro (clearly not designed to celebrate the bodies of obese women) sum up my feelings about the film: entrancing and compelling, but distasteful under it all.
Susan’s struggling, fraught with money, work and hubby troubles. Then a manuscript is delivered to her house, a book by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Played out in as a sort of film within the film, we see the book as Susan reads. Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his wife (played by Isla Fisher) and teen daughter are driving through Texas at night when they’re assaulted by a group of sociopathic rednecks led by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
From there the film takes three timelines: the book, Susan’s current life, and she and Edward’s tumultuous marriage. As the timelines fade into each other, the book begins to feel like an act of revenge on Susan, a painful reawakening of the feelings that destroyed their relationship, played out in allegorical bloodletting.
It’s compelling, yes, putting all these pieces together, watching a marriage unwind, and the film is aided by its beauty and crispness. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s images are delectable, the performances great. The confrontation between the family and Ray in particular is disgusting and perfect, drawn out in glorious detail to the point where it’s almost unwatchable.
I had fun watching this film, really, I did. It wasn’t until the literal last scene that I started getting queasy. I started questioning what the film is about. Ford has described it as “a cautionary tale about coming to terms with the choices we make and the life that leaves us with.”
Hm. Ok. Right. That’s, uh, weird? Because that makes it sound like Susan is in the wrong here… oh right, she totally, nonsensically is! As far as the film’s concerned, Susan’s fatal flaw is that she didn’t ignore her own ambitions and stay with Edward despite her unhappiness. Edward encourages her to become an artist but she doesn’t. Edward loves her more than anything, but she doesn’t love him the same way. She wants stability and, yeah, money, whereas Edward is content to work at Barnes and Noble, writing his novel on the side.
Yes, Susan can be rude and yes, the way she left Edward was kinda mean, and yeah, it’s not cool to want money these days. But does she deserve for her life to fall to shit because of all this? No, no, no. I kept waiting for the moment when she really screws up — when she earns that line from the trailer, “Nobody gets away with what you did.” It never comes.
The deterioration of her marriage, her unhappiness and Edward’s final slight: it’s tragic. But the film doesn’t see it that way. There’s a distressing logic to her fall. Her punishment is presented as sad, but justified. That, despite the film’s surface-level charms, kinda makes me want to puke.