I was completely enthralled with Nocturnal Animals. I even had considered, as I sat in the theater, the possibility that this would become my favorite film of the year. However, I was not a fan of the ending of the movie, so I dropped it down a few notches.
Then, I was reflecting upon it and listened to some theories about the ending. These were some ideas that I had not considered. This is one of the reasons I really enjoyed this film. There were a lot of layers to the movie, and you really had to think about what you were seeing.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) was an artist with a successful exhibit and career, a handsome husband (Armie Hammer) and lots of money and yet she was wallowing in her unhappiness. When a manuscript for a novel, dedicated to Susan, arrived from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), she found herself emotionally invested in the story.
It is at this point where the second narrative of this film begins to be told. As Susan read the novel, the audience began to see a visualization of the story through Susan’s POV. She placed Edward in the role of Tony Hastings, the novel’s main character.
In the novel, Tony and his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are on a road trip through Texas when a group of scoundrels and troublemakers run them off the road. Led by real lowlife Ray (Aaron-Taylor Johnson), the men wind up abducting Tony’s wife and daughter, leaving Tony alone and stranded in the Texas wilds.
Tony is able to find his way to the police and eventually, police officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) arrived to try and help Tony.
There is actually a third strand of story here as well as we get flashbacks to the time when Edward and Susan first met and began becoming involved in a relationship.
Amazingly enough, all three narratives have through lines that work as metaphors for what was happening. There are so many layers to this film that you will be thinking about it well after you walk out of the theater. I know that happened for me. There were things that I had not considered at first that, upon reflection, make perfect sense. This is a beautifully crafted tale and the three different narratives work very well together.
The performances are awesome. In particular, Michael Shannon as Bobby is one of the best characters in any movie this year. I believe Shannon is a lock for an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Bobby’s dogged determination drove Tony to seek justice for his family and inspired the weak-willed husband and father to continue to push for revenge.
Nocturnal Animals is very dark and troubling. It seemed to strive to make the viewer uncomfortable, dealing with issues that were remarkably troubling. This included one of the most initially disturbing opening credits scene that I have ever seen. Yet, again upon reflection, see the metaphor that director Tom Ford was going for. The idea of being completely free is a wonderful feeling that so few of us are able to feel, and it is certainly on display here.
And this film is gorgeous. There are countless visual moments throughout the film that is meant to shock, entice or appall you. There are several images that cross over between the three narratives that it is apparent that they are intentional. Some are subtle, but some are painfully apparent. At all times, the imagery is one of beauty, even those times when the imagery is gruesome or painful.
Nocturnal Animals is a brilliant film, with remarkably intelligent writing, and perfect performances. It is a film that will stick with you well after you have seen it, and you might have to see it again to fully appreciate what you have seen.