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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Nocturnal Animals

An Experience You’ll Truly Never Forget

Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is a film that tranquilizes its viewers, even those with the most sophisticated of minds because it shatters any one box we might try to put it in afterward. Is it a metamorphosis of guilt and regret? Then WHERE is the guilt at the end? Is it a fuck you to privileged women who never look violence and human tragedy in the eye but always use their gender as a way to be included in certain boxes? Maybe but then why do so many of them continue to put comfort above priority? Is it about how revenge is sometimes best achieved through passive aggressiveness? Yes but then why is it always the ACTS of violence that traumatize viewers and only the most complex viewers can pick up on the long-term psychological aftermath? In a film that picks and scrapes so bluntly at the starving belly of human ingratitude, there is the nauseating implication that while there are so many monsters, people who may have found complete shelter from them through wealth are not all that different. Whenever a murdering rapist is brought in for interrogation or a snotty narcissist cuts her finger trying to open a package, we feel ourselves starting to understand how these people can pass so easily as normal individuals who live their lives right next to us and we never take any real notice.

Nocturnal Animals is a film about being underneath the surfaces while living above them. It moves back and forth between two stories which always line up perhaps in too straight of a line for its own good. It shadows several people who want so badly to find peace but they never will - some of them because they’re too broken and some of them because of the ugly reality that after a certain point, they’re just not worthy of peace. There are some rare people who are lucky enough to make it out of the mess and find a way to genuinely be ok but they never show up in this film.

Nocturnal Animals starts with Susan (a very icy Amy Adams), a wealthy and successful art gallery owner who is sent a manuscript written by her ex-husband who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a professor who finds a road trip with his family turning into a full-blown nightmare. As Susan reads the manuscript, she is forced to come to terms with her similarities to the monsters in the story and the loss of something that was far more special than she ever realized before.

Imagine the most beautiful woman in the world (Whoever that may be for you) freezing to death underneath icy wintery waters. 100 years go by and a huge block of ice containing the woman’s body was discovered. She is just as physically perfect as she was when she died, only she’s ice pale. The block of ice is melted by the sun and you're touching her face and feeling how cold she really is. THAT’S what Amy Adams' performance is like. She is so amazing in her enrapturing of Susan’s heart. Susan is a snarky pointy and prickly SnobZilla who once was at a time in her life when she was fully capable of becoming the complete opposite of who she is now. She threw it away. She threw away the great love of her life into the garbage only to become garbage herself on the inside.

If some of you think I’m being too harsh on bratty, unhappy Susan, I assure you it’s not what she did but what she does with the full realization of what she did that completely slaughtered any sympathy I may have once had for her. I won’t spoil that but every character here symbolizes some enormous emotion that’s to be felt when viewers watch. If Susan is the one to make you feel paranoid and dizzy then Laura Linney is the one to grab you by the hair, drag you to the bathroom and force you to throw up all the disgust you feel inside. She’s only in one scene as Susan’s southern republican mother who has dinner with Susan when Susan was still an innocent and good person. She sinks her sharp hooks in Susan so deep upon hearing news she doesn’t want to hear and leaves on a line so creepy, it’s just too inevitable. Linney really is one of those actors who’s a performer. She’s done so much theater and she uses her voice the way athletes use their bodies. She makes everything a huge deal but she’s never over the top because viewers understand that there are so many people like the characters she plays. Whether she’s in every single episode of Ozark (Which finally finished in its abomination of the last season) or just one tiny scene here in Nocturnal Animals, she effortlessly puts herself on a balcony so high, that she’ll always be able to look down on you.

Michael Shannon is the rough but tender heart of Nocturnal Animals. He’s always had that face and voice of an outsider others are creeped out by. It’s what fuels me with such a defensive fire burning love for him. He’s like the male Kristen Stewart. In Nocturnal Animals, he steals the entire show as Andes, a detective dying of cancer who becomes a mentor of sorts to Jake Gyllenhaal's broken Tony, the protagonist of Susan’s ex-husband’s manuscript. The sincerity in his thirst for revenge on behalf of other people is almost biblical. It’s like a repressed part of his identity he’s finally letting out. He brings out the rage Tony is repressing and Tony brings out the warmth in Andes. He really represents Susan’s ex-husband’s father who died long before they ever got together.

In a strange way, the real world is more disturbing than the world in the manuscript because at least in the manuscript, there is that warmth between these two loners. In the real world, there’s no genuine comfort for anyone. Really, the biggest mistake Susan makes is failing one final time to look into the waves of what she gave up and realizing that what her ex-husband tried so hard to bring out in her was what was going to make her happy, empowered, and save her life. She just as easily could have gotten to where she wanted to by staying with him. All she had to do was look close enough but she couldn't do that. She ultimately saw her one true love as someone who was gradually becoming a barrier between who she ultimately wanted to be but she sort of forgot who that person she wanted to be was anyway. Everything was just so wrong and upside down from the beginning and only she could have been the one to fix it.

As for the framing of Nocturnal Animals, the cinematography works wonders in lighting, modern architecture, and the vast deserts of Texas. As for the script, I’ll say that the story within a story tactic is way too overused in mainstream cinema and it’s usually sloppy and immature. In Nocturnal Animals, it works perfectly because it just makes sense for the story. Never an unnecessary scene that could have been deleted or a line that maybe wasn’t too significant. The whole experience of Nocturnal Animals is one you’ll truly never forget even if you want to. (2016, December 9). Nocturnal animals. IMDb. Retrieved July 17, 2022, from

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