Recalling Kubrick and Antonioni, Nocturnal Animals is haunting, beautiful and singular.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
It’s rare that you enter the final third of a movie with no idea how it will resolve. I don’t mean being able to predict exactly what will happen. Most films, good or bad, will approach their conclusion with a limited number of options – the criminal will be caught, or they won’t, the couple will overcome what has separated them, or they won’t – and the enjoyment comes from seeing how cleverly, unexpectedly or satisfyingly they make the journey to whichever option they’ve chosen. So as Nocturnal Animals wound down there was something thrilling about the open water feeling; not only was I not sure what would happen at the end, I didn’t know what could happen at the end. What would a satisfying conclusion even look like for these characters?
Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful gallery curator, living in her beautiful, empty house with her handsome, indifferent husband. She receives a package from her ex-husband, Ed (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she abandoned in “a horrible way”. It’s the manuscript of his first novel. It’s a violent, existential howl of brutality and revenge set it rural Texas. The book is dedicated to her, and its title comes from a nickname he gave her. Susan reads the book alone in her house, during her long bouts of insomnia. Whether she is thrilled or moved by the book, or she thinks it may represent some kind of veiled threat to her, we don’t know. It’s doubtful she does either. Regardless, she can’t stop reading.
There’s a lovely interplay between reality and artifice here – the contrast between Susan’s empty urban comfort and the vivid cruelty of Ed’s book. Susan has become numb to the many lies she is living and Ed’s book is bracingly raw and honest.
Director Tom Ford is a master stylist, with his camera luxuriating on landscapes, interiors and the human form with equal pleasure. The cast is fantastic. Gyllenhaal plays the dual role of Ed and the main character in his novel. In both cases, you believe the character is capable of worse things than he’d like to admit. Michael Shannon adds to his list of creepy authority figures and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is compellingly repellent as the chief antagonist. Adams especially is wonderful.
So is Nocturnal Animals a chilly relationship drama, a brutal thriller, a revenge horror film, or something else entirely? How the film resolves that question will madden some viewers, but it would be far more of a disappointment if a film this beautiful let its audience entirely off the hook.
Nocturnal Animals is available in Australian cinemas from November 10
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures