An art gallery owner is haunted by a manuscript written by her ex-husband in Nocturnal Animals. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is the wealthy owner of an art gallery, who live a somewhat empty life with his often absentee husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). One days Susan receives a manuscript for a novel entitled “Nocturnal Animals,” written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she hasn’t seen for nearly two decades. The novel tells the story of a man named Tony (Gyllenhaal), who recruits the help of Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), to help catch his family’s killers. This violent revenge story disturbs Susan, who begins to reflect back on her relationship with Edward.
Seven years after his Oscar nominated debut film A Single Man, director Tom Ford returns with Nocturnal Animals. The film utilizes a multi-plot structure to simultaneously tells the story of Susan and her failed marriage to her ex-husband Edward, as well as the revenge thriller that Edward wrote, which strikes a little too close to home for Susan. The end result of all of this is Susan reflecting on what type of person she was to Edward and how it apparently inspired his novel.
Nocturnal Animals is a film that can probably be a bit confusing for people who aren’t paying too much attention. Not only does the plot of the film switch back and forth between Susan’s story and the story of the novel, but there are also multiple flashbacks to the beginning of Susan and Edward’s relationship. It quickly becomes apparent that there are some parallels between the plot of the novel and Edward’s troubled marriage with Susan, which ended in one of the worst ways possible.
Tom Ford’s direction creates some similarities between the two plotlines that are notable, but not glaringly obvious, such as the casting of fellow redhead Isla Fisher as Tony’s wife in the world of the novel. There a few instances, where the world of the novel matches up graphically with the “real world,” hinting that this whole side story is Susan’s mental construction of the novel. In fact, of all the cast, Jake Gyllenhaal probably had the biggest acting challenge in Nocturnal Animals, as he plays two completely different characters, who are also in some ways different versions of the same character. It is indeed quite interesting that even though Tony is initially differentiated by Edward through the presence of a beard, the character eventually appears clean-shaving, effectively merging Susan’s mental image of her ex-husband.
As you can probably guess, Nocturnal Animals is a film that can be analyzed to death. In fact, this is probably a film that requires a few viewings to fully understand all the allegories and visual clues that are present in the film. However, even without over-analyzing everything, the film is also a decent drama/thriller, with a scene-stealing performance by Michael Shannon doing what Michael Shannon does.