Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by Tom Ford, begins with a rather large, fat naked woman dancing the stripper pole as part of an upscale LA art exhibit. Unsettlingly paradoxical, the metaphor does reveal itself as the drama eventually unfolds. In other words, there’s much to wince at in waiting for this 2016 tale of love lost and revenge to play out.
Amy Adams, the creator of the so-called art, is unable to fool even herself as her soulless look does not accept what qualifies for success among her patronage. As Susan Murrow, she looks the same in a marriage that is long on the amenities but far short on the connective amore.
Of course, the growing apart has the ambitious entrepreneur (Armie Hammer) exercising his option in the arms of another, and Adams doesn’t need the obvious signs to know the unfolding applies to her marriage too. But the sudden appearance of her ex-husband’s manuscript causes both to stutter despite the growing distance.
The Package Has Been Delivered
Played by Jake Gyllenhaal, the package arriving in the mail is the first communication in 20 years. He certainly has good reason, and anyone who persists the perils of the starving artist is onboard and ready to gang up.
Initially, the hometown classmates and fellow artists fell for each other after meeting serendipitously in New York City. All in allegiance with their close-minded Texas upbringing, she fully embraced the romance despite the caloric deficiency that Edward would bring to her bottom line in this Austin Wright screen adaptation.
Her Texas roots know better though. “You’re more like me than you know,” her materialistically pragmatic mother (Laura Linney) tells her as the stakes elevate across three different timelines.
The Story Gets Real
The peak among the triumvirate of stories is the sent novel that Adams envisions as she laments the desolation of her present and the lost hope of her past. Cracking open the manuscript dedicated to her, the seriousness gets real right away, and Gyllenhaal standing in as the novel’s character, double downs the message.
Tony Hastings and his redheaded wife and daughter are accosted on a desolate Texas highway by three lone rangers who methodically unmask an atrocity on the helpless travelers. The fact that he fights in defense of his family like a writer rather than a frenzied mother bear protecting its young doesn’t help and harkens back to Susan’s mother. “He’s weak,” Laura Linney sees what she thinks is the future.
As a result, the fat lady now gets her due, and the domestic travails dovetailing the main event suddenly are much easier to look at. The riveting prose compounds the movie plot because it’s unclear whether the retelling is a fact of Jake’s life or an imagined fiction.
No Hidden Meaning?
As revenge and justice blur in Adams’ reading of the fact or fiction, she can’t help but contemplate what her infraction upon the ex deserves. “I left him... in a brutal manner,” she tells her friend at the art gallery.
In considering his frailties and her expectations, that’s putting it very kindly.
So what motive does Jake have in forwarding a novel? Is he attempting to evoke guilt by equating the penned rape and murder of Laura and India Hastings to the injustices she perpetrated by leaving him? Susan definitely looks the part as she serves the penance her need for comfort begot in the big house with the empty suit.
It’s open to interpretation but I’m going to say the intent is much more direct and does not search for a deeper meaning. Not only does she get the message, she feels it deeply, and you just want to look away.