Title: Nocturnal Animals
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Nelson: Ha ha! You're nocturnal! You don't have to impress me by making fun of others.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Woman broods about lost love, fictional atrocities.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half slow lorises out of five.
Tagline: "When you love someone you can't just throw it away."
Better Tagline: "We are the goon squad and we're coming to town. Beep beep."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has problems. *Man* problems. Husband Hutton's (Armie Hammer) business is failing, and he might be cheating on her, meanwhile her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) has just written a novel that allegorizes their failed relationship and presents a spectacularly ugly end to her life. What's a woman to do, except fret about her doomed marriage(s) in her big empty house and masochistically read the rest of Edward's book?
"Critical" Analysis: It's perfectly understandable: you go into Nocturnal Animals thinking you’re in for a taut revenge thriller involving past events in Susan and Edward's lives. And you do this because the previews have led you to believe it's so, and as long as you’re not too hung up on that being pretty much the opposite of what’s going on (and you make it past the...intriguing opening credits sequence), you’ll probably be fine.
In case it isn't apparent, the Texas kidnapping/revenge narrative is wholly a product of Edward's imagination, the novel serving as a parallel to his and Susan's relationship and prompting her flashbacks to the early days of their courtship, which Susan's mother (Laura Linney) was not exactly a fan of.
Why this approach? Who knows? Maybe the ennui of the well-heeled class isn’t really doing it for us in 2016. It's definitely arguable most of us can identify more with the possibility of a road rage incident going horribly wrong than we can with rich people problems. Certainly we've all been in the shoes of someone who unwisely flipped off another driver? Right? No?
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Anyway, once the sub-narrative is revealed to be fiction, the interest level really plummets. The tale Edward tells is far more compelling and haunting than the dull reality of his and Susan's lives, and knowing there are no real stakes behind the horrific payoff ends up frustrating.
Admittedly, it feels weird complaining that the fake narrative in a *movie* isn’t as compelling as the overarching story, itself also fiction. And if that’s the case, it’s because Susan is dull as dishwater, her husband is pathetic, and Edward is – as was prophesied by Susan's mom – a loser. It’s also annoying because all tise upper class angst is at the expense of Michael Shannon’s excellent "Detective Andes."
Put another way: imagine if, in Stand by Me, we were treated not only to Gordie's story about "Lard Ass" Hogan, but also a secondary plot running half the movie's running time that was a full visualization of Teddy's musing about Lard Ass shooting his father and then joining the Texas Rangers. Sure, it might have been interesting, maybe even hilarious, but it certainly would've diminsihed the overall storyline.
As befits its fashion designer director, the movie is stylish to a fault. Tom Ford knows how to light a shot, and to dress his cast, and while the confrontation between Tony’s family and Ray’s gang is legitimately nail-biting, the rest of Nocturnal Animals is depressningly empty. It’s a handsome production, but ultimately lacking in substance. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Ford himself.