Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” Stays True To Its Name

By Dakshayani Shankar, Contributing Writer

Tom Ford’s new film “Nocturnal Animals” touches on the darker aspects of the human emotion, predominantly heartbreak, grief and pain in a stylistic way that leaves audiences captivated by the character contrasts but also reeling for more.

The film is structured around three different storylines that Ford manages to weave together seamlessly through the main female character, Susan (Amy Adams). Susan is a wealthy art gallery owner who exudes luxury but is secretly wrapped in misery over her loveless marriage to Hutton (Arnie Hammer). When Hutton goes away and cheats on her, Susan receives a galley from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) titled “Nocturnal Animals” that bears a dedication to her.

As Susan dives into the novel, flashbacks of her troubling relationship with Edward continuously resurface and she begins to find difficulty discerning reality and fiction.

Susan’s ex, Edward performs double duty in the film and reappears as the main character, Tony Hastings, featured inside the novel that Edward dedicates to Susan. Unlike Edward, who doesn’t have a wife or child, Tony has a wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber). He loses them to rape and death during a tragic encounter with a local troublemaker (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Tony’s anguish after his loss, and his determination to hunt down his family’s killer informs the flashbacks between Susan and Edward during their marriage, and tells audiences what went wrong in the couple’s past.

The fictional characters in the novel — Tony Hastings, his family and the Texan gangs — ultimately drive the plotline forward as Adam’s Susan falls into a period of insomnia and depression over her former betrayal to Edward.

Despite being not known for big drama and action scenes, Ford delivers a Western-styled storyline full of intrigue and adventure that at times makes it seem like the only “real” storyline of the film. As the flashbacks between past, present and fiction accelerate, it becomes clear that Tony is an extension of Edward’s heartbreak and the forces that killed his family represent Susan.  

Susan recognizes this, and begins to crumble into an abysmal mess. This is where the film’s true beauty — the cast’s acting and Ford’s sleek directorial style — really stand out. Each time Tony tries to pick himself together, Ford cuts into an identical replica of the same moment through Susan’s perspective and plays with the set’s colors to exaggerate the characters’ identical emotions.

Adams, on her part, masterfully transforms her once-arrogant character into a nostalgic and remorseful Susan in the second half of the film whilst Gyllenhaal alternates with ease from a pained Edward to an emotionally unstable Tony. The film seems like a grand display of Edward’s slow-burning revenge over Susan for her disbelief of his literary talents and their marriage.

However, Ford doesn’t make it easy for audiences to grasp Edward’s revenge. Audiences must work their way through Ford’s clever pairing of music and set to the character’s mood to figure out their thoughts. If they don’t, they face the risk of leaving the cinema in emptiness or being confused with Edward and Susan.  

“Nocturnal Animals” isn’t a cliché film on heartbreak and love. It’s an experiment on revenge in connection with heartbreak and love, and you will need your mind to unravel this.

“Nocturnal Animals” was released in theaters on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Email Dakshayani Shankar at film@nyunews.com.

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