Nocturnal Animals

November 27, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ½

It’s going to be difficult to say much about this film without any spoilers. But, don’t worry, I will warn you first. This is the second film directed by fashion designer Tom Ford. His first, “A Single Man,” was criticized for being overly stylized but it was gorgeous to watch. Again, Ford’s aesthetic shows through as he creates a visually lush film. From the first images in the opening credits, you realize you are in for something different. The movie manages to engage you right from the start and draws the audience into its complex web. And this plot is complex as it tells a story within a story and adds flashbacks on top of that. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams, looking absolutely luminous in every scene) is wealthy but rather unhappy. She and her husband (Armie Hammer) are clearly no longer in love. Then her ex-husband, Edward, sends her a copy of a book he has just written and that he dedicated to her. She reads the book and we get that story acted out, as well as Susan’s present day and flashbacks to her relationship with Edward. Given that Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Edward and the lead character of the book, it can all get a tad dizzying, if you’re not paying attention. But one gets the sense that Ford was going for dizzying. He is playing with the idea of a story-within-a-story and with how much the two may bleed into each other. A car from the fictional story shows up in the background of the “real” story and women from the real world show up in the background of the book. Characters from one world echo characters from another. And all of it seems to be driving toward a single question: why did Edward write the book and why did he share it with Susan. Here come the spoilers, so, if you have not seen the movie, I might skip to the end. SPOILERS: is the book his revenge on her? What parallels should we draw between the fiction and the real world. They seem completely unrelated on the surface but there is a vein of commonality. In a flashback, Susan tells Edward that a story he wrote is boring and he should not write about himself. He responds by saying that is all anyone writes about. It seems fair that Tony (the protagonist of the book) is Edward. And, just like Edward lost everything because he was too “sensitive” (or weak as it is referred to several times), Tony loses everything because he is weak. Tony also loses his wife and child, just as Edward did. Granted his was through horrific violence but that seems to be a metaphor for the emotional violence of what Susan did to Edward. This layering of meaning creates a tension that builds throughout the film, promising a confrontation between Susan and Edward that is never delivered. What is the meaning of that final scene? My audience laughed at it and I can understand why. It feels a bit disappointing given the build up. But Ford was so deliberate in his choices throughout the film, that I found it provocative. END OF SPOILERS: this was not a perfect film and it certainly struggled, sometimes with clarity, sometimes with pacing and one could argue that it does not deliver on an implicit promise. That said, I was completely drawn into the journey and found it visually arresting and intellectually rich. It’s interesting to compare it to “Manchester by the Sea,” which I saw yesterday. That movie made me feel very deeply. This movie did not make me feel but it made me think far more than that one did. I wonder which one will stay with me longer.

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