‘Nocturnal Animals’ is hands down one of my favourite, if not favourite, films of the year. The last time a film had such an impact on me was when I watched ‘Black Swan’ (2010) for the first time, which left me feeling disturbed and unsettled, and a little introspective – which is exactly what ‘Nocturnal Animals’ did for me.
I was not sure what I was expecting when I entered the cinema, and the advert that i’d seen gave little away. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a film about a novelist named Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who writes a novel dedicated to his first wife Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who became a wealthy gallery owner married to Hutton Morrow (Arnie Hammer), a successful business man. The title of Edward’s book is Nocturnal Animals, a nickname that Edward used for Susan whilst they were married (as she suffers with insomnia), which Susan describes as ‘devastatingly beautiful’, and hints that things described in the book have parallels to their past relationship.
The reason why I liked this film so much is because it is a simple idea (a story within a story), executed masterfully. The film begins with Susan hosting her gallery opening, which featured naked overweight women dancing as art instillations. From first glance, they clearly symbolised freedom (from the expressions of delight on their faces). However, their images were captured in slow motion, which makes the viewer ill at ease. For me, this juxtaposition of freedom of expression (the raw nakedness and liberty that these overweight women seemingly felt through facial expressions) was hindered by the limit of time – they were essentially trapped within slow motion, which emphasised all their socially defined flaws. This scene reminded me of the gothic scenes from the film Seven (1995), which is a detective crime thriller that focuses on the seven deadly sins. This in turn, made me feel guilty for judging such care-free spirits… but then why should I be judged, if the intended purpose of this scene was to make the viewer question their beliefs / definitions of art?
These are feelings that were stirred up within me throughout the film (this juxtaposition of passion with gothic tragedy), which were most felt when Susan begins reading the novel dedicated to her from her ex-husband. Consequently, the film is interspersed with scenes like that of a arthouse flick, amongst compelling scenes envisaged by Susan from the book. These include scenes of Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura Hastings (Isla Fisher) and daughter travelling across Texas, who bump into 3 Texan thugs; Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lou (Karl Glusman) and Turk (Robert Aramayo). The cut between the reality of the film and fiction of the book is done in such a dynamic way that halfway through the film my mum lent over and said how ‘gripping’ the film was.
Similarly, the cast is an extremely strong ensemble. I think that Aaron Taylor-Johnson is such an underrated actor. From seeing him in comedies like ‘Kick Ass’ (2010), where he plays a light-hearted nerd who wants to protect the world by fighting crime like his comic book heroes, to ‘Chatroom’ (2010), a film which I thought was shit, but he played an amazing sociopath, I can tell that he is an extremely versatile actor, and will go on to great things. Within ‘Nocturnal Animals’, he plays an extremely believable redneck, who is assertive and has strong morals (despite his own moral compass being eschew with that of the law) . I also thought that Amy Adams played a devastatingly beautiful, lonely stereotypical rich wife playing at being a gallery owner, who questions whether turning her back on her first marriage (of passion and creativity) for one of stability and financial success was worth it. I also thought that Michael Shannon (who plays Bobby Andes, a detective trying to solve crimes committed throughout the book), kept the crime thriller side of the film flowing, and Gyllenhaal (who plays Ted and Edward) held the duel story nicely together, and is a consistently solid actor. I must say that I could not fault anyone in this film.
The acting from the cast was extremely strong, the gore and crime within the film was realistic and edgy (used only as and when required), and the ending extremely in-Hollywood and unsatisfying – all of these elements made this film, for me, one of the best of the year. As soon as I walked out of the cinema my mind was reeling at how amazing this film was. It left me feeling uncomfortable at what I had seen, yet made me want to strive for success (despite the message of the film being that the world of art and success is ultimately futile, yet is easier to swallow than the real world) – and ironically the most poignant piece full of raw emotion was that written by Edward (someone who is frequently described in the film as ‘weak’).
As I have said before, my mum leaned over and whispered ‘it’s so gripping’ – and that is the best word to describe this intense film. I was literally sat on the edge of my seat for the duration of the screening. It was not a horror, but a psychological whirlwind playing on the audiences’ emotions at a steady pace. It is written, co-produced and directed by Tom Ford, and is based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. It is definitely a book I now want to read (if it is as compelling of Ford’s adaptation). EVERYONE GO SEE THIS!