I finally saw this highly anticipated movie, Nocturnal Animals, that I was so excited to see. I can’t say it met my expectations. Having not read the book, I am going to talk about the movie on its own and my thoughts on it.
This movie is dark and morbid. I would say if you are faint of heart don’t watch it. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Edward Sheffield, an aspiring writer, is portrayed as a very soft, sensitive and emotional man which Amy Adams’ character, Susan Morrow, cannot remain married to because she is convinced she needs someone stronger and more ambitious. She then meets such a man, Walker Morrow (Armie Hammer) and proceeds to start a relationship with him. She leaves Edward to be with Walker and then does something detrimental and unforgivable to Edward that we find out later in the story.
Susan is discovering her marriage to now successful businessman, Walker, is becoming less than ideal. She’s now living in an expensive home and owns an art gallery. But she finds herself lonely and unhappy. Her new husband is always traveling and she suspects he is having an affair (which you find out he is). During this hard time she suddenly receives a manuscript in the mail from her ex husband Edward. It’s his new book, which is dedicated to her, and called Nocturnal Animals. She, of course, is intrigued. The movie then takes us into this story of Edward’s book which is extremely gut wrenching, horrific and morbid.
The main character is Tony Hastings, which is also played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He is traveling with his wife and teenage daughter. They end up getting driven off the road in the middle of nowhere by a group of rowdy men. They force Tony out of his vehicle and provoke him and his family. Eventually they separate Tony from his wife and daughter, convincing him they’re just going to drive them up to the next town and get everything sorted out. Tony soon realizes he’s being lead to the middle of a desolate dirt road with no sign of his wife and daughter. Things only escalate and get worse from here.
We learn that Tony’s character is meant to portray the way Susan viewed Edward as a man. Weak and soft. Which implies why Tony wasn’t able to keep his wife and daughter safe and protect them the way a “real man” should. Tony gets the help of a small town sheriff, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to help him find his wife and daughter. They turn up dead, naked and beaten. The rest of the story is about Tony’s desperate hope to find the killers and have revenge. Bobby is not your average cop, he likes to bend the rules, and really wants Tony to have revenge on his family’s killers. Eventually they track down the potential killers, Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Lou (Karl Glusman) but they need a confession. They take them to where the murder happened and try to make them confess. Ultimately Tony is given a gun to hold to Ray’s head and given the chance to kill him if he wants. But he panics and can’t pull the trigger. Ray and Lou bolt. Bobby takes off after Lou and Tony goes after Ray. When Tony finds Ray, they are at a stand off. Tony has a gun to Ray’s head and finally Ray confesses and gives the gruesome details of the murder all while smiling in complete satisfaction. Tony finally pulls the trigger but Ray gets one final blow in before collapsing by pulling a tire iron from behind his back and clubbing Tony in the head. When Tony comes to his head is bloody and his eye is badly damaged to the point he can hardly see. Ray is dead. Tony gets up and stammers outside only to stumble and accidentally pull the trigger on the gun he is still holding, shooting himself in the process. Tony dies seemingly with a smile on his face. That’s how Edward’s book ends.
Susan’s memories of her break up with Edward return to her while reading, and is haunted by the horrible thing she did to him. We find out the horrible thing she did was she found out she was pregnant with Edward’s child just as she was leaving him to be with Walker. She decided not to tell Edward and go ahead and get an abortion. Right after she finished the procedure Edward spotted her with Walker in the car right outside the abortion clinic. So in that scene alone, we know Edward found out Susan had killed his unborn child without his consent.
After Susan finishes the book. She wants to meet Edward in person to talk about it and catch up. Edward agrees. We see her primping in the mirror before heading out, specifically looking her best for Edward. The movie’s version of Edward’s ultimate jab in the heart to Susan is that he stands her up. She waits for him at the restaurant all night and he doesn’t show. There is this sense of satisfaction we get while watching her wait in anticipation to see the man she once loved again, only to be let down.
I think this movie and story had great potential. But I don’t think it really hit the spot for me. The entire time I was watching this movie, I was feeling sympathetic for Edward’s character. And then of course Tony’s character in his book. There isn’t any true sense of satisfaction at the end. When we see the torture and pain both Edward AND Tony go through, we want him to have the ultimate revenge on Susan. And for Tony to have the ultimate revenge on the murderers.
I believe Edward’s book is a revenge story. He dedicated this tragic story to Susan because it is exactly what he felt like when she did the unspeakable. Tony’s wife and daughter being brutally murdered portrays Susan’s decision to have an abortion. Therefore murdering Edward’s potential daughter.
Susan’s character bothered me from the beginning. She married Edward knowing he was a good, kind-hearted, sensitive individual. Yet she used that against him in order to eventually escape the marriage. Not only did she break his heart when she left him for another man, she aborted Edward’s child without his consent. She is right when she says it’s unforgivable. I wanted Susan to pay for what she did. Edward’s tragic book being dedicated to Susan is somewhat of a good payback. But the fact that Tony’s character didn’t seem to really overcome his “weakness” was kind of a let down. He remained, more or less, “weak” right up until the end and then ended up dying. I was hoping Tony’s character would have improved throughout the book. Going from a passive, timid man who most might have viewed as a coward, to a straight up untamed animal with only one thing in mind. Kill the man who killed my wife and daughter. The fact he had their killers right in front of him and still choked when he had the chance to do his worst to them…come on.
I did like Michael Shannon’s character. During all the depressing chaos going on in the movie, his random spells of dry humor invited some much needed chuckles. He was a small town cop who was the epitome of seeing justice done. At one point in the movie he finds out he has lung cancer. And that’s when he throws the rule book out the window since he is dying anyway and gives Tony the opportunity to do things his way. Torture and kill the men if he wanted to. Which Tony did not take advantage of properly. It was great to see him finally pull the trigger and kill Ray at the end, but at the cost of his own life too which was disappointing.
I think the point they were trying to make was, at least he died knowing he got justice. And I’m sure some will argue it may have been a suicide at the end instead of accidentally shooting himself. Although the scene made it unclear.
I did like that Edward’s book was getting to Susan. Haunting her if you will. She was even having hallucinations of Ray’s demented and sadistic character during her day to day life. And I liked that Edward stood her up at the end, although something more extreme would have been more satisfying.
There were some really strange scenes that definitely will stay with you after the movie is done. Like that super eerie opening scene at Susan’s gallery with the overweight older women dancing naked in slow motion. The scene lingered for so long that the images are forever burned into my mind. Not pleasant at all.
I never really got the whole metaphor with the Nocturnal Animals title. All we really know is that Susan seems to have bad insomnia. But it didn’t tie into the rest of the movie like I had hoped. Was there some significance to Edward naming his book Nocturnal Animals? Other than the fact it was because he once called her that?
So I think those are my main thoughts on the movie! I think it was a good story line and plot, I would have liked a different outcome perhaps, and it was a bit slow at times, especially during Susan’s scenes. They made her character very sloth-like. But that was probably to do with the fact she has insomnia and is unhappy. Jake Gyllenhaal was great at both his roles as Edward and Tony. For what the character was meant to be, he pulled it off superbly (like he always does). His very distraught character as Tony after his family was killed was perfect. He looked tired like he hadn’t slept in a decade. He looked thin like he wasn’t eating. And he carried out the emotional turmoil his characters were experiencing excellently. Michael Shannon was perfect for the role of Bobby. And Aaron Taylor Johnson was great as a deranged, young psychopathic rapist and murderer. Amy Adams I wasn’t particularly fond of. She didn’t quite do it for me. I don’t think Susan’s character was supposed to be likeable anyway, but I think there were other actresses who could have pulled off her character better.
That being said, it wasn’t all that I hoped for it to be but I still give it a 3.5 out of 5 star rating! Tom Ford did a great job of making it haunting, eerie and dark and I am definitely interested in reading the book to get more depth into the characters.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this movie! Please comment! I love discussing movies! Let’s do it!