Tom Ford’s Psychological Thriller “Nocturnal Animals” is Brutal and Strikingly Visual

Provocative. Dark. Emotional. Artistic. Disturbing.

Let’s take a moment to talk about Tom Ford’s psychological Thriller, Nocturnal Animals that was released selectively earlier this year. Nocturnal Animals was first introduced at The Toronto International Film Festival, starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and many other star studded artists. Nocturnal Animals was one of the two films featured in this year’s TIFF, and had high acclaims following the screenings. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch a screening during TIFF, but was fortunate it released in a select theatre on November 25th. The film is officially released on December 9th in many other theatres, so please do take a chance to watch the film when it is released.

I was anticipating Nocturnal Animals, not only because of the praises following TIFF, but because the trailer looked interesting and captures your attention as a go-getter. I was also looking forwad to the film because Amy Adams takes the center stage once again, and her role was going to be different than in Arrival (the other film featured at TIFF). If you watched the trailer, you’d be able to notice the striking visuals used consistently throughout the film (thanks Tom Ford!), and the suspense which follows the story. The film is based on the book, Nocturnal Animals. 

Although the run time of the film is 2 hours and 20 minutes, not a second passed by with any feeling of boredom. The full length of the film was filled with tension, regret, self-reflects, and suspense. It absorbs you into their world, until you can’t stop watching. Even upon finishing the film, it still leaves a sense of void inside of you. The ending was left slightly open-ended so it welcomes interpretations of all kinds. The ambitious take on incorporating three storylines into the movie was well done, and complemented each other perfectly. It was a beautiful mess, without the mess portion. You were able to keep up with the storylines and follow each story as if you were the person in that life. It was mesmerizing and at the same time, takes you deep into the characters portrayed. For example, I could put myself into Susan Morrow (Amy Adam)’s shoes as she receives the manuscript from her ex-husband and starts to dwelve into the brutal, violent, and emotional world of Tommy and his family. The expressions and emotions Susan faced while reading the manuscript, is exactly how it would be like for us to read a violent, graphical and menacing story like Nocturnal Animals. We would be hooked on knowing more of the story and what happens, but we’d also face all our self thoughts and reflection on our lives while pausing once in a while to regain our composure.

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The way the film is pieced together tells it all, there are symbolic moments represented here and there to give a peace of mind towards the theme and answer questions along the way. One of the common themes recurring through the storylines was REVENGE. It was hinted in the beginning of the film as we gain knowledge of Susan and her ex-husband who she brutally left 19 years ago. We later find out she left Edward because she was growing more into her mother and thinking of him as weak, with no ambition. She hooks up with a younger, more handsome fellow shortly after…. but also aborts her daughter she would have had with Edward. As Susan reflects onto the past and her mistakes, she feels all sorts of emotions including regret and self doubt. Did she make the right choice? Did she make the wrong choice to leave the man she loved but wouldn’t amount to anything? Was she happy? unhappy? Rich and empty? Was trying to make it into the real world more important? Where is she now in her life?

She takes a toll on her past years with Edward, how they got together, how they broke up, how she moved on, and so on. We learnt Edward never re-married again in those 19 years and avoided Susan when she tried to make contact a few years back. It clearly shows Edward couldn’t and would never be able to forgive Susan for the way she treated him. It’s understandable, but Edward makes contact with Susan 19 years later with Nocturnal Animals (his manuscript of an upcoming novel). This manuscript drew Susan into reminiscing on the past, her future, and what she truly wants. She falls in love with Edward all over again and wants to meet up with him to let him know. She knows there’s no turning back, as she doesn’t want the money/richness anymore, she wants to be happy. Unfortunately, to the very end… Edward agrees to meet with Susan whenever and wherever, but he never shows. Susan goes back to her roots, wiping off her lipstick, adjusting her looks to be the person she use to be. The audience is left anticipating for Edwards appearance at the very end to see how he’ll face Susan after all these years, and if they might have a happier ending. No such choice. Susan is left waiting at the restaurant hours upon hours until they close, and he never shows up. There was a point while waiting, where we were given slight hope when a man had arrived at the restaurant, but wasn’t Edward.

What happened to Edward?

That is the main question, while the credits roll. Where did Edward go? Why didn’t he show up? What just happened?  Well…. open to interpretations, Edward’s story could follow a few options.

  1. Just like the manuscript, Tony (who reflects Edward’s real life) had shot himself in the end and the heart beats slowly fade out. Did Edward kill himself in real life?
  2. Edward wanted to take revenge on Susan. To show her how much she had hurt him when she left him all those years ago, and not believing he’ll ever make it. He walks out on her, and shows that he’s not the same person he use to be when she had left him. In the novel, Tony (Edward) died and that could also reflect how Edward had died 19 years ago.
  3. Edward had lung cancer, which was reflected by Sheriff Bobby in the manuscript, bur turned up later near the end.

All scenarios reflect on the manuscript because the story revolved around Edward and his life. It was extremely graphic, and brutal in many senses. In the manuscript, Tony (Edward) loses his wife and daughter in the beginning due to a few younger and rowdier men kidnapping them. Tony tries so hard to find and get them back, but in the end, he’s left out in the middle of no where with nothing. He couldn’t do anything to save his wife and child, and appeared helpless and weak. We find out his wife and daughter had been abused and raped, and left lying nude on the couch outside the trailer house. Edward tries so hard to find the men, and goes on a quest with Sheriff Bobby to bring them to justice. The journey goes over a year, until they finally have leads on Lou (one of the men) and eventually on Ray Marcus (the other man). The law wasn’t able to justify Ray due to lack of evidence, thus Bobby and Tony take matters onto their own hands. Bobby reveals he has lung cancer and this case was going to be his last one, thus he was going all out to see justice prevail. Lou ends up being shot by Bobby when they him and Ray try to escape. Ray on the other hand, escapes and hides out into the trailer where Tony finds him the next morning. He shoots Ray twice as he tries to leave, but before Ray manages to swing a tool at Tony’s eye. Time passes, and we see Tony’s bruised and bloody eye consuming half his face slowly come to conscious while Ray is left dead on the ground. As Tony leaves the trailer and walks out, he takes the gun and fires a shot into the air before falling to the ground and firing another shot up… towards himself. We hear loud thumps of Tony’s last heartbeats before they fade out to his death.

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As you can see, the manuscript reflected Edward’s life in reality, losing his wife and daughter in a brutal method, blaming himself for being weak and not being able to save them, and trying to find justice afterwards (which could relate to him finding his way as a writer and making it). When he finally finds justice, it could be too late (lung cancer?) or he could be so damaged that he takes away his life. (Actually dead, or metaphorically the person he use to be is gone).

As stated previously, all three storylines in the film complement each other like no other. They work perfectly together and bring all the elements of the film out. With the wonderful score and the visually striking visuals, it makes the film a type of special despite being brutal, violent and graphic. From it’s nature, it’s a film, that takes away a part of you but you can’t stop watching and following the characters and their journey. I’m blown away with how well the storylines were presented as well as developed. It’s worth a watch in my opinion, and I wouldn’t mind watching it a second time… when I recover from the first.

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