12 Days of Christmas Catch Up, day 8: Nocturnal Animals

Last night a crew of my best friends headed to Memphis to see "Nocturnal Animals." For those who don't know, this is a film written and directed by Tom Ford, based on a novel called "Tony and Susan" written by Austin Wright.

"Nocturnal Animals" is not only the title of the film, but also the manuscript sent to Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner played by Amy Adams by her first husband/novelist, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) after not speaking to each other for 19 years after a break up in which Susan did something "unforgivable" to be revealed later.

Susan is a bit unhappy with her work at the gallery (expressed in a "shocking" title sequence, that kind of struck me as Ford playing at Lynch) and in her marriage to an unfaithful Armie Hammer, when she receives the package from Edward. The novel is dedicated to her with immediately obvious (to her and us) metaphoric parallels to their relationship and its impending downfall.

The trailers for the film have managed to keep much of the novel's plot under wraps, and I would like to keep it that way here. I will say that the beginning scene form the novel is truly disturbing. That scene as well as the final act of the novel really show Ford's talent as a director, not simply a production designer wearing the guise of a director.

In general, I never felt the story to be convoluted or confusing. I was simply along for the ride. That being said, I struggled with some of the scenes with Adams. He seemed to use the camera in a means to sexualize Susan's exhaustion while struggling with the experience of reading this novel, which honestly made almost no sense to me, and gave the impression that instead of using his own voice, Ford was mimicking someone else entirely.

I realize that I sound as if I didn't like the film. That's certainly not the case. I was very entertained. Especially by Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon (who plays the detective attempting to help Tony, Gyllenhaal's character in the novel) deal with the aftermath of the first disturbing novel scene mentioned earlier. And it seemed that Aaron Taylor-Johnson (nominated for a Golden Globe) tried his best to flesh out a full character from Ray...our local redneck villain.

Ford actually seemed to be at his best at the two handers. Adams's scene with her mother (Laura Linney), her assistant (Zaw Ashton) and Jena Malone were all great. I would like to see Ford go in this direction for his next film. Intimate and without the occasional layer of gloss that often accompanied "Animals" and laid over the entirety (to great success) with his brilliant debut, "A Single Man."

SPOILER! (for people who have seen the film ONLY!)
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My biggest issue with the film is the ending. It didn't bother me in the manner that Edward left Susan, but the fact that we didn't quite see the growth that I know was building in Susan. This made me wonder if Ford simply stayed completely faithful to the book. I went to the Wikipedia page and found this in regard to the end.

" she leaves several messages at his hotel. The following day, having discovered he has checked out, she writes a thoughtful piece of criticism for him and then trashes it, sending him a brief note instead telling him she will give him her thoughts if he would like them."

This would have been such a more powerful ending to me. We don't need to know if Edward ever contacts her again, but we do need to see Susan change otherwise what's the point? Is it simply revenge on Edward's part? A nod to the piece of art Susan's finds in the gallery but doesn't quite remember? REVENGE? Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think Susan deserved that ending. It makes me question if Ford understands much more about women than just how to make them look great.

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