|'Edward has spent nineteen years writing a novel to unpick his past relationship. Has hand delivered it to his ex-wife. And has played with her reactions and emotions to a degree that includes ignoring her phone calls.'|
Nocturnal Animals is a film that will inspire complex reactions, which is my way of saying that my initial Twitter post may not have told the full story of how I feel about the film. A day after viewing and I am still thinking about a film I ostensibly didn't like, but did respect. Amy Adams reacting for the audience, when she reaches a violent part of the book Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) has written for her, has stayed with me. The question around how righteous and how fair the anger Sheffield feels is, has stayed with me, despite my initial feeling that it was deeply unjustified. The question of whether Sheffield's novel is even designed as Susan (Adams) takes it also remains.
Perhaps the latter is the biggest reason for musing on the film at length, and for that respect growing into something which entices a second viewing. Receiving Edward's proof of his novel in her mailbox, nineteen years after they separated, Susan immediately cuts herself on the packaging. It's an overly obvious sign from director Tom Ford and Susan takes it as such: this is something here to do violence to her. With a philandering husband (Armie Hammer) away on business, Susan sets about reading. The on-page action also takes place in a parallel narrative depicted by Ford on screen.
Susan takes the novel personally, as it is clearly intended, but she does so with the feeling that it is an assault upon her, righteously picking at the guilt she feels. There is an argument though that the novel explores Edward's guilt as well. In the fictional story, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) is unable to protect his family from unwanted attention (and far worse things). In real life Susan appears to tell Edward that he is weak, leading partially to their separation. The novel, even if you accept Susan as ultimate subject, at least partially unpicks Edward's guilt surrounding his actual or perceived weakness.
Still, that does little to change the fact that Edward has spent nineteen years writing a novel to unpick his past relationship. Has hand delivered it to his ex-wife. And has played with her reactions and emotions to a degree that includes ignoring her phone calls. The final scene is again ambiguous (think about it: do we know for certain what's happening here?) but if it is to be taken at face value then Edward's 'revenge' seems cruel and petty indeed. Plentiful scenes are shot by Ford like a Horror film; and that's before you consider the fictional narrative, which is as much Horror as it is Thriller, tensely realised by the director.
Those scenes hint at a future for Ford beyond this because, despite the film's merits, it does once again deal with the neuroses and inescapable bourgeois pasts of the one per cent. Susan's pristine house, which she wanders through emptily, has more than a passing resemblance to Colin Firth's in a single man. The depiction of Edward's book here shows that Ford can move from this to dusty redneck abduction. He needs to move to something.
For the time though this will do nicely. If Ford takes another seven years to make his next film it may prove enough time to unpick your reaction to some of the material on offer here. At worst, it gives ample time to admire the performances. Nocturnal Animals is worth seeing for Adams and Aaron Taylor-Johnson alone, plus another one of those supporting turns from Michael Shannon.