Reviewed by Suzie Chick
A famous writer once recommended that the best way to get over a woman was to destroy her in literature. This has never been so true as for Tom Ford’s latest film, Nocturnal Animals.
The film centres on the relationship of Susan (Amy Adams) and Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal); it’s beginning, its crisis and post mortem. We meet Susan; a successful art dealer, divorced from Edward and married to banker husband, Hutton. Susan has an ultra cool exterior, living in the sophisticated world of high art. Despite her obvious success and wealth, Susan appears depressed and dissatisfied with her life (not to be helped by Hutton’s recent infidelities). Edward re-enters her life by way of sending Susan his soon to be published novel, entitled Nocturnal Animals which is dedicated to her.
I warn you now, before you proceed any further, plot spoilers are to follow (you have been warned)!
We then watch as Susan gradually reads Edward’s novel, whilst reminiscing about their relationship and the pivotal moments, which signaled its demise including her eventual affair with Hutton. Edward’s novel tells of a family run off the road by several young men, with the wife and daughter kidnapped, raped and murdered. The husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal again) then searches for justice against his family’s killers.
Maybe this was his way of dealing with the unfinished business left by their broken marriage.
It is not lost on us, the audience, that the wife (kidnapped and murdered) in Edward’s novel represents Susan (the double roles played by Jake make it plainly obvious). It would seem that Edward has sought vengeance against his unfaithful wife through turning her into fiction and then destroying her. He takes the ultimate revenge by sending Susan his manuscript. Edward wanted to guarantee Susan’s full attention to his words. Maybe this was his way of dealing with the unfinished business left by their broken marriage.
It’s not usual, in therapy, for clients to find resolution through writing. Be it through a journal or an unsent letter
It’s not usual, in therapy, for clients to find resolution through writing. Be it through a journal or an unsent letter. This film certainly demonstrates the powerful nature of the written word. We are sometimes able to express the most painful parts of ourselves more effectively by putting pen to paper. There is safety in the container formed within the writing process. For me, as a trainee therapist, the real power comes from the reading of such words to another. To have your heart heard can be deeply moving and transformative.
We watch Susan close-up as she turns the pages of Edward’s manuscript. She slowly comes to terms with the damage she has caused to Edward and her current unhappiness. Ironically Susan confronts her reality through a work of fiction. The lines between Susan’s current life, her past and Edwards’s novel become blurred and intertwined. In a strange way, Edward gave her an absolute gift in his writing.
With her reading complete, Susan agrees to meet Edward. We watch, as she gets ready for their reunion. She makes a conscious choice to remove some of her make up and jewellery. A sign of her removing part of her false self (the art dealer who looks as perfect as her wares) and returning to a more natural and authentic look.
Ford allows us, the audience, to gain in excitement and anticipation of Susan and Edward’s meeting. She sits at a table in a fancy restaurant; drink in hand, waiting for him. The film ends. We are left in the unknown as to whether Edward will appear or what the next chapter of Susan’s life will be. It certainly seems that she can never go back to the place she was before. Through his novel, Edward has given her a massive (and harsh) dose of reality, one that would be impossible to ignore.
Nocturnal Animals is written and directed by Tom Ford. Focus Features, US, 2016. 116 minutes.