Nocturnal Animals 


Ruth Rendell’s endorsement on the back of Tony & Susan, the book on which this is based, describes it as ‘absorbing, terrifying, beautiful, appalling and unforgettable’. I’ve not read the book yet but it seems to have translated faithfully to the screen because that is exactly what I would say of the movie. Nocturnal Animals is a superb piece of film making but it isn’t an easy thing to watch and it doesn’t always seem to be giving it to you straight. Like all great art it is open to interpretation and challenges you to question what you think.


Essentially the film is about a woman reading a book but you also get to see the narrative of said tome played out in her head along with her memories of the man who wrote it, her ex-husband. You get to see parts of her current life too but you begin to wonder how much of this is happening in her mind as well. Certainly there is one character whose existence doesn’t seem compatible with other events as they are laid out and at one significant point you see her consumed in isolation with only her thoughts for company.


As the story of the novel is introduced, the film within the film, you find yourself simultaneously gripped and repulsed by what is happening. In it a family is terrorised by some youths (this is the appalling part) and by the end it presents the viewer with a classic ‘what would you do?’ scenario. The father in question is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as is the ex-husband, raising questions of how much of what happens in the book is supposed to be about them and their past relationship. The mother is played by Isla Fisher bearing an obvious resemblance to Amy Adams’ Susan, the reader, which strengthens these comparisons. Maybe this isn’t the case though; it is all in her imagination after all. In fact it doesn’t really centre around her relationship with her ex at all, it centres around her relationship with the man in the book who may or may not be an intentional projection of him. The Tony of the source material’s title is the character in the story not the ex-husband, he’s called Edward. Of course it isn’t just about them, it is about us too. We as the audience are also involved, Tom Ford, the director, makes quite sure of that. We are not allowed to keep a comfortable distance. Right from the opening seconds of the film Ford shows you images that force you to consider what you are comfortable watching and how your own experiences govern your reactions. It doesn’t then let up on this until the credits.


The way the movie is shot is stunning (this is the beautiful part). Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey has worked on a variety of projects from Avengers to Atonement and does brilliant work here. Composer Abel Korzeniowski also brings his A-game as do the performers Adams, Gyllenhaal and Fisher, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Ellie Bamber. The man bringing it all together is Ford though and with only his second film he is showing himself as a real talent. The comparison might be premature (and a little cliched) but nonetheless the name Hitchcock comes to mind when wanting to describe his mastery of tension and composition. 

The Ripley Factor:
Like all fashion designers (for that remains his day job) Tom Ford clearly loves women but like all fashion designers he doesn’t look at them in quite the same way we do. The camera adores Amy Adams but there is no suggestion that the audience should too. She is beautiful but damaged, her fragility and coldness is clearly just as attractive to the director as her appearance. It isn’t just about her looks, it is about what she is adorned with – which in this case is her guilt, her pain and her regret.


There is female nudity in the film but women are not objectified. 

Is this one for the kids?
Nocturnal Animals is rated 15 and clearly isn’t intended for a young audience. There is violence and injury detail but it isn’t even this that makes it disturbing. If you can handle the tragedy of the story though it does have substantial rewards. I definitely recommended it very highly. If you’ve seen movies like Stoker and Black Swan and appreciated them then give this a go.

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