Speechless! Nocturnal Animals would render you dumbstruck. It is an outstanding avant-garde flick that is more art than cinema. Yes, there is art laid out in the form of poetry and if you pay attention you would appreciate the stories they tell. The movie ends in a way so as to leave you speculating. It’s beautifully done and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Seems like a very straightforward tale but really, there is something deep going on there.
So what is it? Without wasting any more time let’s begin, shall we?
Nocturnal Animals Plot Analysis (Spoilers Ahead)
The movie starts with a quite unusual scene which you don’t normally find many directors attempting these days. There are fat naked ladies celebrating. Their flab’s dancing all around their body along with them. They seemed to have shed our very idea of shame in things we consider shameful, and they are simply enjoying it. They are happy with their body even though it’s a contrasting image of what our society has imagined for us. Their idea of happy is breaking all the rules that we have learned to live with. Some of them are leering at you. Again something we consider impolite.
Explaining The Opening Scene
Then we see an image of a bustling highway in Nocturnal Animals, implying the urban life, trying to connect the dots about how we choose to embrace that idea as time flies. Life goes on, nay, it trundles down different lanes choosing one path or the other. One of the roads shows a suburban lane where the traffic movement is really slow. It insinuates that at one point our life too will become stodgy like that slow moving traffic, and then (cars have now stopped) eventually stop.
Immediately after we see those naked overweight ladies playing dead. It symbolizes that’s how we go. Naked to the core. One of the lady’s wand is no longer in her hands, and she’s turned away from it. It symbolizes that the thing that gave her joy in her life has left her now that she is dead. It’s no longer with her. That’s how life is. You don’t get to take the good things with you when you die. And when you die all the good things that surround you leave you to depart alone.
The second lady is seen lying face down on one of the pedestals. It means she can’t even see into our world, or does she even want to? Or is it the shame that has her looking downwards. It’s the variety of life we are. Some go proudly into the soil, some choose to bury their secrets along with them. But none of those people get to take what they love. Their reason for happiness stays above the soil. Even the clothes stay. You go down naked leaving every material thing in this world behind.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a crucial character in Nocturnal Animals. She is the exact opposite of the art she has launched and overseeing. She is the paragon of beauty, wears modish clothes and poses a contrasting image to those fat ladies. We hear an off-screen noise of her taking deep breaths as she connects with the reality of “you die naked, you should live naked”. She is living a lavish life, our idea of gaudy livelihood and yet there is a certain sadness in her eyes. She is slowly coming back to her senses, to her world, as she begins to breathe normally, and just then we are shown a moving traffic once again.
Her life hasn’t become a slow moving traffic yet. She is still young.
Susan drives to her home. Her gates are so garish and shiny that her car lights reflect off it causing her discomfort. We are so madly running after lurid things in our life that we choose to live with all the discomfiture it tags along. That one scene speaks a thousand words if you really think about it. Just as she drives in, the door automatically closes. Immediately, after someone arrives to a closed door in a different car. Whoever it was we could learn about the distance Susan has grown with him, as if her life had closed a door on him.
We are then depicted an ostentatious living, a neighborhood that is just buildings and trees that are lined up against the roads in a symmetrical fashion. A tacky display – they have lost their meaning in life.
Life of Susan
Susan and her hubby have recently moved in and she has received a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has finished a novel and wishes Susan to read it first. He has also given his number and email id for her to contact him. Her hubby Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) pretends to not remember Edward as she fills him on about his novel. When Hutton says if she has even talked to Edward in like 20 years, she corrects him saying 19. You could sense that Edward was one of the most important parts of her life, and that she missed him profusely.
Then we feel the strained relationship of the Morrows as they talk about how Hutton misses out on everything and that he has to once again head out to New York.
One of the most interesting conversations happen when Susan sadly reflects:
Susan: You know the strange thing is is, I don’t really care about all this art.
Hutton: I care. It pisses me off.
Susan realizes how Hutton simply wishes to show off and that’s why he cares about it, and not that he tries to even understand it. He is too shallow to fathom.
In a tete-a-tete with a friend, she confides that the relationship is indeed strained.
I think we just want different things, or I want different things.
On being asked if she still loves him, the topic gets changed. Carlos (Michael Sheen) delivers one of the most insightful thoughts on Susan when they are having dinner. Carlos lets her know that her work about junk culture was incredible. She truly believes our culture to be complete junk.
Carlos: Nobody really likes what they do.
Susan: Then why do we do it.
Carlos: Because we are driven. Maybe a bit insecure. We get into things when we are young and because we think they mean something.
Susan: And then we find out that they don’t.
Carlos advises her to accept the absurdity of the world, and that they are in a much better state than the real world, and that they should be grateful for that.
Reading the Book Nocturnal Animals
We are shown her being on her meds, as she has been having trouble sleeping lately. Her hand lingers, her thoughts pucker up when she finds “For Susan” written on the second page of Nocturnal Animals. She feels happy that Edward has written something for her, and dedicated an entire book to her.
That’s when the book’s story begins. It’s a wonderful way of depicting a parallel tale whenever Susan digs her head to read.
The story places the author in the shoes of Tony Hastings. Isla Fisher plays his wife Laura Hastings. Ellie Bamber is their daughter and all three of them are making a trip to Marfa. The way to Marfa is deserted. It goes dark quickly.
No phones. No people.
As they are driving through the night, a bunch of hooligans intersect them and ask them to pull over. It is a shocking run of events and even if you were there driving that car instead of Tony, you would have no other option but to stop.
Meanwhile, we see Susan in a trauma trying to go in complete sync with the happenings of the book. She is empathizing with the characters and feeling every bit of trepidation that the family felt.
The Unfortunate Event
Tony is trying to make the most of the situation. Trying his level best to get out of it. He is a decent guy and you could tell by the way he talks with hooligan no. 1 Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) that he is simply trying to protect his family. But things go south soon with Ray and his other two friends forcing themselves into his car and driving away with Laura and India. It is so heartbreaking to see, having no control over the situation, and being completely incapacitated to help his family.
You could feel your heart shattering into pieces with that look Tony gives as all the noise numbs out, as if that’s the last of their voices he is going to hear of them again.
Susan can’t read further because it has drained her out, as it manages to drain any viewer out. You can’t feel sorry enough. It is one of those moments of a good book that forces you to take a pit stop and think about what the author has written. There is just too much pain. It makes her think about her husband’s safety. She calls Hutton to confirm if he has reached safely. That’s also where she gets a strong inkling of him cheating on her.
She continues to read Nocturnal Animals book to find out what happens next.
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Lou (Karl Glusman) the third offender sits with Tony as he drives to follow them. But Lou fools him into believing that they are at the end of the road. Then he dumps him there taking the car back. After a while, Lou returns with a pissed off Ray trying to find Tony. Tony hides behind some rocks unwilling to come out, out of fear. They drive away.
The Mental Trauma
The dawn breaks and Tony is seen walking his way to the road where he had last seen a house. He makes a call from there to the police and they suggest him to retire to a motel nearby.
There is a beautiful contrast that goes on as Tony gets into the bathtub. Susan outside the book too goes into one, feeling the exact pain Tony underwent unable to put a pin on his wife and kid, constantly wondering about their safety. And preparing himself for what might have happened to them. Insane unthinkable thoughts visit him and you know you are feeling the same as a mute viewer. He cries incessantly as the director chooses to subtly display it through water droplets trickling down on a mirror with him in its reflection.
In comes Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) in the Nocturnal Animals book. He comes to pick up Tony from the motel to help find his family at the location of the crime. They trace back his steps to a cattle station where he finds two naked bodies intertwined on a red burnt-out sofa. It is like a work of art only the most poignant ever because it reeks of death. As Andes helps him identify the bodies, Tony can only manage:
Is she alright?
There’s a locket on India’s face which we will see Tony carrying around for the later part of the book as a mark to remember them by.
Susan is taken aback when she finds his family’s plight like that. She is worried sick immediately about her own daughter Samantha (India Menuez). Her real name a coincidence? I don’t think so. Tom Ford chooses to put the same naked image of her intertwined with a shade of red aginst her boyfriend to get us thinking of how Susan is imaging her in that moment.
The Flashback with Edward
She begins to think of her time with Edward, about how they had met after a long time and decided to go on a date. They get to talking about her parents who were really old-fashioned in their ways and it pissed her off.
They have an antiquated idea of how I should live my life.
Edward, the sweet guy he is, tries to remember her mother for her. He recollects her being nice to him when his father had died even though Susan debunks that very idea. She doesn’t want to be compared with her mother.
You both have the same kind of sadness in your eyes.
He says all the right things, inspires her to follow her dream making falling in love with him really easy.
After a while we see a conversation being followed up between Susan and her mother. Susan is wanting to get married to Edward and move to Texas with him, but her mother is strongly against that idea.
The things you love about him now are the things you will hate in a few years.
She calls Edward fragile and weak pointing one low moment in his life when his father had died. The contrast there, of how Edward looked highly of her mother because she was there when he needed someone the most, and the way Susan’s mother writing him off for being a crybaby is just too much for Susan to handle.
Even though she doesn’t want to be compared to her mother this is one powerful line she drops on Susan:
We all eventually turn into our mothers.
Going to the book again, Tony is having a hard time remembering the culprit’s face, but in one of his nightmares he makes him out. As time passes by, Andes manages to rope one in during an attempted hold-up at a supermarket. One of the felon is shot so we are left with two now.
Lou, the guy who had driven along with Tony to a secluded spot is identified at once, as Andes promises to bag the main culprit Ray.
Susan is empathizing immensely thinking about Edward all the time, of what he might have been contemplating, about all the pain he was forced to silently experience.
Susan: Why are you so driven to write.
Edward: I guess it’s a way of keeping things alive. You know, saving things that will eventually die. And if I write it down then it will last forever.
She confides to a co-worker about Edward saying how brutally she had ended her relationship with him. She tells her about his book as well that’s outright painful and violent. It is getting its toll on her.
You know me, I never sleep.
She questions her life’s decisions. Wondering about the thrill she sought leaving behind a crucial morsel that could have reshaped her life.
Do you ever feel like your life has turned into something you never intended?
The Office Art Work
Nocturnal Animals can’t be commended enough for its art. There is an art of a naked woman’s ass hung up at Susan’s office. Another smirk at shunning off the junk culture. She wishes to be that bold, fearless idea, wearing what others consider impolite like a framed art on the wall.
There’s an art of a deer lanced profusely with arrows too. It is a poignant sight because clearl, only one or two arrows might have done the job. But people kicking a dead dog is simply pathetic. It resonates beautifully with Edward. She considers Edward to be the guy she had kicked when he was down. I will come to that part of how.
Then she walks across an Art piece that says “REVENGE” in a symmetrical manner. All Es are placed in the center, as if saying every revenge has one thing in common – that modicum of satisfaction. It is portrayed in the form of E’s symmetry and the painting seems to bleed its colors. That’s the form in which every revenge ends. She stares at it blankly looking at the Es as if E meant Edward. How he badly wishes to avenge his family. And since she has been reading about that in the book, she could feel how badly Edward’s character Tony needs it.
A co-worker walks in with her phone telling her how she could babysit her own child using an app. On checking out the baby in the phone Susan accidentally drops it when she sees an image of Ray’s character she has unknowingly imagined from the book. It is clearly an accident depicting how the events of the book have taken a toll on her. But it also symbolizes how she was reckless with her own baby too, putting perspective in the word REVENGE.
She imagines Edward in pain still wearing their wedding ring. It is hard for her to brush that image off. She is thinking of what she did to him.
Susan is against letting a worker go, which she had earlier made up her mind to.
Sometimes maybe it’s not such a good idea to change things quite so much.
Even though it was a curt remark at one of the board members who she was trying to get at, it also means she accepts that it wasn’t right of her to leave Edward bringing in such a vast change in her life. Because it didn’t turn out as great as she had imagined.
There is another art of a man shooting another who seems happy to be shot at. There’s fire behind him that seems to be taking him anyway. And yet he is willingly letting the impending murder happen. It reflects so much with Edward who is willing to die because he feels dead all the time. He is a sad soul like every sad person out there who believes everything is lost. He is allowing life to take a shot at him and to pull that trigger. Also, he is burning from inside wishing a quick death.
Pinning Ray Marcus
Back in the story again, Andes locates Ray Marcus accompanying Tony who identifies him as the main culprit. They take him down to the trailer where he had raped and killed Tony’s wife and daughter. Tony loses it trying to get something out of him and hits him in the head.
I wanna know the exact story, what you did to them. I wanna know what they said. I wanna know what my wife said and I wanna know what my daughter said. I wanna know how you killed them. And I wanna know if they knew it was happening to them. I wanna know what they felt. I wanna know if they hurt. Answer me.
The Flashback of Downfall
Susan thinks of her time with Edward when things began to coil up in the corner. It was the moment they started having disagreements, and things kind of escalated. On being shown one of his works, Susan gives it a critical eye to which Edward says:
Nobody writes about anything but themselves.
And the dissent becomes huge. She fails to understand Edward’s creativity, at the same time wondering where is it going to lead him.
Do you know what it feels like to put yourself out on the line creatively and then have someone you love tell you that they don’t understand it?
That’s when Hutton swoops in. It was her desperate time and she ended up falling for him.
Edward and Susan’s final fight is when things begin to crumble. She walks away from him turning him down as Edward tries to put back some sense in her.
When you love someone you work it out. You don’t just throw it away. You have to be careful with it. You might never get it again.
Ray Walks Free
We get to see how good Andes is in the movie Nocturnal Animals, when he breaks it to Tony that he has cancer. He has been so much invested in bringing justice to Tony and his poor family that he has completely forgotten all about himself.
Do you have anyone in your life?
Andes takes a good time to think about the aforementioned question as he tries to remember that he doesn’t have anyone except an estranged daughter.
When they come to figure out about Ray’s clean walk, they are both desperate to provide some lynching justice of their own. Andes has got nothing to lose and they agree on pinning Ray for good.
They tag him to a pub from where they take both Ray and Lou to a secluded place at Andes’ camp. Things escalate as Ray manages to escape free as a bird while Lou gets shot.
At the exact moment, a bird crashes into the windowpane of Susan’s house. It is poetry for how a person thinks that there is a way ahead right through but ends up overseeing the adversity that knocks him out. Then it could also be a remark about the thing that happens next in her recollections where she had chosen to abort Edward’s child. The bird, here a probable daughter, thought she was going to see the world but Susan smacks her down. She is aborted even before she could fly.
She says those words out loud that forms the entire basis of the story of Nocturnal Animals.
I am gonna live to regret this. I regret it now.
Immediately after we see Edward staring at her drenched with knowledge about the abortion. That’s her regret that she has to live with, because it has pushed Edward into darkness. She is unable to find him for 19 long years, because he wouldn’t pick the phone or talk to her. Because she did something so despicable that ended up upending his life.
The Final Showstopper of Nocturnal Animals
Back in the book story, again after shooting Lou Tony breaks down remembering how helpless he had been. How helpless he had felt.
I should have stopped it. I should have protected them. I should have seen it coming. I should have stopped it.
As suggested by Edward once “Nobody writes about anything but themselves” you can understand that the helplessness was exactly how he felt when he let that abortion take place. He could have stopped it by abating disagreements, or walking in just in the nick of time, changing her mind to stop Susan from doing what she did. And all that frustration goes into the writing where he ended up being weak where it mattered the most. And he laments it profusely giving one of his best performances. Jake’s an amazing actor really!
Trying to find Ray they both split as Tony ends up barging into the exact place where Ray was. It was where he had murdered his family. A perfect setup to draw that vengeance sword in him.
Ray tries to get through him pressing the nerve where it hurt him the most.
You are too weak. You are too weak to do anything about it.
That’s when he shoots Ray twice before being hit by a crowbar Ray was hiding.
That Weak Epithet
If you think about it that’s the exact thing that had ended their relationship. Susan had blamed Edward for being too weak. It was the high point of the Nocturnal Animals book since that’s how Edward used to feel about when someone called him weak. Because he was strong, and that’s why he decided to bring down the justice sword on him showing him what he was really made of.
The dawn breaks and Tony walks out one-eyed stumbling across the dead body of Ray. There is no one around and he shoots once in the sky to get attention, but the recoil is too hard on him and he falls down. Trying to crawl he ends up shooting himself. It is an accident as he slowly fades away holding on to his locket pointing out that justice to his family was finally delivered. While dying there is a slight content smile on his face as he accepts death without any regrets.
Back to the real world, now since the book story is now over, Susan is feeling her locket too. That locket looks the same as Tony was seen wearing. I guess it must have been Edward’s gift at some point to Susan to signify family or love.
The Ending of Nocturnal Animals Explained
She gets a message from Edward asking her to let him know the exact time and place and that he would be there. She then tries to remember all the warm moments she had spent with him. Susan wants that again. She is still not over him and she is hopeful for their meeting. Things are going pretty bad for her in the relationship department, and Edward was always that spark missing from her life.
Susan slithers into her best dress, removing her lipstick remembering Edward to be the one who adored her for who she was and not for the girl she pretended to be. Just like the art we saw about the obese dancing ladies, she wishes to be real and unbothered by that junk culture telling its stories on her lips.
She chooses to put away that ring, and spends hours looking in the mirror primping and preening herself so that Edward would like her even more and fall in love with her again. There’s that idea of a happily ever after in her mind that she is really looking forward to.
At the Restaurant
She reaches the promised spot in a fancy restaurant sits at her table, and keeps looking at the door waiting for Edward. She feels the absence of that ring on her finger and wonders about it. There are loud footsteps as if someone is approaching but it isn’t Edward.
That’s another turning point of Nocturnal Animals. Edward doesn’t show up.
She realizes in the end that she has been stood up. That it was Edward’s intention all along. Taking away that last straw of hope from her to see her suffer. He was never coming back. He just bound her in hopes with the book and everything layering up lies to get his REVENGE! She had aborted their child, an unforgivable crime in the eyes of Edward and he wanted to get back at her. It is a sweet revenge of building up immense hope for a future together and then crashing it with a snap of the finger. It is a fitting vengeance if you look at it. Edward shows that he is not weak by taking such a bold step. And the curtain falls.
The Final Verdict
The director of Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford does a fabulous job, turning a violent tale of vengeance into something more. It isn’t just the book that is the intended story, but the actual life of Susan that ends up becoming one. The way it ends leaves you with thousands of questions. You can’t stop thinking about the end of both the stories. Both the stories end up showing that Edward and Tony are not weak. They get their revenge one way or the other.
I can’t stop thinking about Nocturnal Animals either. Watching it made me profoundly sad. Rewatching it just tells me how intelligently it has been crafted. Yes, it makes me sad again. There are tons of moments in it that tears you apart from the inside. It is beautifully helmed.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams take Nocturnal Animals to a whole new level. It is hard not to feel or cry when they do. You can’t oversee Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s extraordinary performance as Ray Marcus as well. He is such an amazing actor. He becomes a wicked character so bad that it’s hard to recognize him through that mask of accent he puts on.
Tom Ford gets into your head like a director who is really serious about movies. His way of looking at art and choosing to bind the flick through it is absolutely ravishing. By far one of the greatest directors I have had the good hap of encountering.
Nocturnal Animals is a worth watch. It is timeless so if you haven’t watched it already please do. Nocturnal Animals deserves all the love.
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