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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016), the Artist, their Work and Revenge

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
Written By: Tom Ford
Directed By: Tom Ford
Release Date: December 9, 2016
Rating: B

Nocturnal Animals is a meticulously beautiful film for many reasons. This includes Tom Ford's attention to detail, which is not only apparent by the mere look of the film, but in the way he sets the story up as well. The film is broken up into three different parts that simultaneously weave in and out of one another, touching on both the past and present lives both of our main characters' lives as well as a fictional world we're introduced that fills in a bit of the blanks.
The first portion of the film is set in the present and it revolves around an insomniac, art dealer named Susan (Amy Adams). Susan seemingly has everything anyone could ever want. However, all of these things do not make Susan happy which you can see from her perpetually frowning face, but her melancholy existence gets a bit more interesting when she receives a mysterious book in the mail from her ex-husband, Edward(Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads the book, Susan begins taking a walk down memory lane and unfolds just what went wrong in not only her and Edward's relationship but in her current married state as well.
The second portion of the film is dedicated to exploring Susan and Edward's relationship before everything went to shit. Both her and Edward were struggling artists when they were together. However, Susan leaned more on the art of other's when she began working in a gallery rather. She calls herself a "realist" in the aspect that she believes working on the art of established artists is more important than making your own. The spectacle of the sparkling, overweight women dancing in Susan's art installation towards the beginning of the film is just a reminder of the talent she gave up because of this supposed "realist" perspective. Those women can shake off whatever insecurities they have about themselves to be art, but Susan can't shake her own in order to simply create it. Edward, however, is completely the opposite. He is completely himself in his craft and he doesn't care whether or not he becomes successful simply because he enjoys doing what he does. He has is own insecurities about his work, but he doesn't let them deter him from creating like Susan's done. Though instead of supporting him, like most significant others' would do, Susan criticizes his work and they fight constantly because of her critiques. She's so harsh on Edward because she believes he puts too much of himself into his work, but she only says this because this is something she can't do. She's too afraid of rejection to put any of herself into her work, which results in her being quite jealous of Edward, which is why Susan is typically dressed in green throughout the film, especially towards the film's end when she goes to meet him. He's successful and she is, too, but she's unhappy because she gave up her dreams and he's living his.
The third and film part of the film is Susan's internalized vision of what's going on in the book. The book is about a man's journey to get revenge on the men who raped and murdered his wife and daughter. Jake Gyllenhaal also plays the husband in the novel, Tony, however, the man's wife is played by an eerily similar looking, Ilsa Fisher. Why Susan does not play the wife in the tale is simply because we're viewing things from her perspective. Not only has Edward written the book, but we know from witnessing the heated conversations between Susan and Edward that she believes he puts too much of himself into his work, so it's obvious why she would choose to depict Edward as the husband in the novel. Not only is Susan no longer involved with Edward, but she's also quite jealous of him for being successful. This is why she chooses to cast someone else as the wife. However, the book ties to her life more than she believes. The book isn't just some fanatical story that Edward has made up in his head. It is a fictionalized, metaphorical recollection of their relationship and Susan is represented as multiple characters within the novel which is why the book is called Nocturnal Animal(s) in the plural context.
The book revolves around Tony's revenge on the rednecks that raped and murdered his wife and daughter. Ilsa Fisher, his wife in the novel, represents the side of Susan that Edward thought he knew when they were together. However, as we see during the flashbacks, Susan became jealous of Edward, which changed her and drove them apart. The most dangerous of the rednecks, played by Aaron-Taylor Johnson, is also another representation of Susan; the real Susan. This is not only confirmed when he starts to call Tony weak just as Susan did when she and Edward were together, but it is also confirmed when Johnson kills Tony and Fisher's child. In that act, he's doing exactly what Susan did years ago when she got an abortion behind Edward's back, killing their unborn child.
In the end, Tony gets his revenge by successfully murdering Johnson, but ends up blinding and shooting himself in the process. Tony doesn't represent Susan. That fact is obvious because Tony is Edward. Edward sat back and simply watched the deconstruction of his relationship, just as Tony watched the rednecks drive away with his family. While there was nothing either of them could do in both cases, they simply sat back and watched everything fall apart. Tony shooting himself represents Edward's blindness when it came to seeing Susan for who she really was and his death represents the end of their relationship, but Tom Ford isn't just spelling out the wicked end of a relationship to us. There's another important aspect of the film and it is about artists, how they create and the power play that goes behind it. Susan was the catalyst that inspired Edward to write the book. However, the question that remains is: had she not gotten jealous and gotten an abortion, would he have written the book? If Susan was the key to Edward tapping into his true potential, then she was the one in power at the time, right? However, as we see at the end of the film, Susan isn't the one in power now. She shows up the restaurant to meet Edward in her bright, emerald green dress. She's just as jealous as she was when they were together, but possibly even more so now that he's become famous, but she's the one who got him there in the first place. However, in the end, Edward was the one who had the last laugh. Though Tom Ford seems to be asking us whether it's the artist that's the one in power or if it's their inspiration that holds the key to everything, he doesn't quite give us an answer to this question and I believe that's, what makes Nocturnal Animals a true work of art itself.

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