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Nocturnal Animals (Interpretation and Review)

Tom Ford's new film, Nocturnal Animals, captured my attention alone because of its interesting title. Nocturnal Animals. Something about it just drew me in, even before I knew the story. I watched it and I can see why so many people use the term "visionary" to describe Ford; it fits. And after this movie, I am on the edge of my seat to see more creations of his in the future. 

"What right do I have to not be happy, I have everything. I feel ungrateful not to be happy."

Nocturnal animals is about art gallery worker Susan (Amy Adams), who relives her past through a novel that was sent to her by her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The novel, a very violent and sad story about Tony Hastings (also Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family as they find themselves in a little trouble that leads to tragedy while travelling, is a form of revenge against Susan and her past mistakes. Nocturnal Animals is a tale about love, happiness, hope, tragedy and revenge. Ford creates a captivating connection between the past and the present by combining a fictional world representing Susan's past and flashbacks of her previous marriage. 

"No one really liked what they do."
"Then why do we do it?""Because we're driven, maybe a bit insecure. We get into things when we're young because we think they mean something.""And then we find out that they don't."

Though the novel is not a one-to-one retelling of his life, Edward's novel is dedicated to her and throughout the story we can spot various parallels between the thriller and flashbacks about Susan's past with Edward.

As we get to watch the happenings in the book, we get to see Edwards vision of what Tony's wife and daughter look like, which is nearly identical to Susan and her daughter. It's also interesting that Ford decided to give Gyllenhaal a double role. Edward and Tony are meant to be the exact same person. Edward's novel is a very personal one, one that he writes about himself. Susan knows this because she can read between the lines and can combine past memories with the book's plot. But to any outsider, this is fictional. 

The similarities and the fact that he wrote a book about himself, something Susan used to criticise during their marriage, is the start of Edward's revenge. He show's her something incredibly sad and well written, which basically tells her "I told you so". I personally also got the impression that Edward knew his book had very big potential of becoming a best-seller. He offers her success and being driven as she is, she instantly feels attracted to that - to him. 

"Do you ever feel like your life has turned into something you never intended?"

Ford did an amazing job of keeping the past's relevance in the present by letting us see the aftermath of Susan's actions. The parallels between Susan and Tony are remarkable. They both feel broken. They both feel helpless. They both feel lost and alone. Tony's development in the book is Edward trying to make him relatable, especially to Susan. He wants her to understand what Tony felt when his wife and child were taken away from him, he wants her to understand what it was like for him when she left him and aborted their unborn child. And for Susan, this is a trap she easily falls into. She pities Edward, even before he sends her the manuscript, describing it as "sad" that he never remarried.

The Ending - explained

The ending is something that can be a little confusing, but this is how I understood it...

Susan and Edward make plans to go to dinner. 

Right after that we see Susan having a flashback of the "good old times" between her and Edward. A time where she felt wanted, needed, desired - feelings that she grew estranged to. So when she finally feels like an object of desire again, she has a tinge of hope.

She gets ready. 

She wipes off her lipstick (shows her vulnerability; she comes out of her shell; lifts the mask)

Her hope is reflected in the tiny smile she appears to have before that final scene at the restaurant. She feels worth something again, that feeling that she has gives her a boost of confidence. But next to the hope in her smile I also saw satisfaction in her expression. After years of loosing control, she finally felt like she had some power again. 

But all of those new emotions are crushed when he stands her up at the restaurant. There, she has time to think, she reflects on her life and her actions leading up to that moment and she understands. She grasps the intentions behind Edwards actions. She sees why he sent the manuscript and why he never showed up.

In that restaurant - in that moment of comprehension - every last ounce of hope is drained from her as she realises that she will never find happiness again.  She also realises that she misinterpreted the book: While he lead her to believe that the book meant that he still cared about her, the bitter truth is revealed: He is done. He is ready to move on. It is unlikely that the same can be said about Susan. While Edward used the book to process his feelings and come to term with the past, in other words closure.

In Susan's life however, she learned to keep her emotions inside. Throughout the years, she had no way of releasing those repressed feelings. Everything becomes a blur and she can't sleep. She is a nocturnal animal because there are too many things swirling around in her head. And that was Edwards revenge. When simply put, nothing more than a stand-up, but when interpreted a devastating, sad and even petty plot of revenge. Compared to Edwards novel, the revenge in the "real world" may seem mediocre, because in the book the act revenge is something physical, ending in the deaths of those responsible for the deaths of Tony's family but also in his own. Nevertheless, Edward's act of revenge is still a brutal punishment, one that scars deep. He leaves her feeling worthless, hopeless and sad.


The first half hour of this film was one of the best things I have ever seen. The story unfolded nicely, everything was connected, clever and intriguing. The middle part was a little slow, but interesting nevertheless. The ending picked up speed a little again and left me shook. Ford managed to create feelings of pity, disgust and curiosity, all at the same time. Nocturnal Animals is an emotional story that left me feeling empty inside (in a good way). It illustrates the chilling act of dehumanising someone, exposing very real, very raw human emotions. Ford gets all the praise from me and the actors did a phenomenal job. I would be surprised if none of them got an Academy Award nomination for their outstanding performances. Overall, I would give this film 8/10 stars.


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