Title: Nocturnal Animals
Rating: 4 Stars
Well, first of all, let’s talk about how the movie starts. It opens with naked, aged, morbidly obese women performing exotic dances. The women danced with the practiced boredom and dead eyes as if they’d been doing it for 40 years, never knew anything else, and know that this is all they’ll ever do.
Eventually, the movie pans out and it is revealed that the dancers are part of a gallery opening (although I still have to say that the dancing went on uncomfortably long enough to become gratuitous). The director of the gallery is Susan Morrow, whose life in some ways mimics those of the dancers. She made an early career choice, is good at it, but clearly now regrets the choice that she has made but sees no path forward to get out of it. In a similar manner, she’s married to a gorgeous businessman, but it quickly unfolds that his business is failing and that he is cheating on her.
In short, she appears to have everything in her life, but is deeply unhappy.
In the midst of this, a package arrives that is from her first husband and her first true love. In the package is a novel that he’s written that he has dedicated to her. She begins to read it.
And thus begins the story within the story. Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a man with his wife and daughter driving along when they are accosted by three men in a car. The three men force the Hastings’ car off of the road. In a series of tense scenes, the men drive off with Hastings’ wife and daughter, while he can only feebly and futily fight back. He is left for dead but eventually manages to get back to a house where he can call the police. Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) is assigned to work the case. Hastings is crushed by the shame and guilt of failing to protect his family. Ultimately, all three men are tracked down by Andes and Hastings and all three end up dead.
As the inner story is unfolding, Morrow is re-living her relationship with her ex-husband. They had an idyllic relationship but ultimately she was not able to provide him the support that he needed to become a successful writer. She ultimately cheats on him and he discovers this in the most brutal way imaginable.
By the time that she’s finished reading the book, she has contacted her ex and requested to meet. She is clearly excited to meeting him and holds some hope that perhaps they can rekindle what they once had. They agree to meet, she shows up, but he never does. With a breaking heart, she realizes that the novel that he sent her is revenge for her betrayal to him, proof that he can be a successful novelist, and that he has moved on beyond her. The movie ends with that realization.
So, yes, a pretty emotionally brutal movie of grief and revenge, in both the main story as well as in the inner story.
This was an engrossing movie with great visuals (as you’d probably expect from Tom Ford) and a sophisticated plot. It was refreshing to sit in a theater and sit glued to your seat trying to figure out what’s going on on the screen and what it means to the overall plot.
Not only was it engrossing, but there was also one legitimately scary moment that no one saw coming in the theater. It’s interesting because it makes me wonder if there was more such moments that was left on the cutting room floor. Regardless, it came out of nowhere and was genuinely shocking.
My quibble with this film is similar to the Green Room. Just like blindly loyal non-thinking skinheads is kind of an old trope, so is the hick Southern boys having their way with the elite sophisticates. It is an obvious battle between rural and urban where the viewpoint is heavily skewed towards the urban.
The elites are polite and well mannered while the rural hicks are drunk, boorish, and violent. The elite is man-handled and un-manned by the rednecks. Ultimately, the elite man learns his lesson, toughens up, and beats the rednecks at their own violent game.
Maybe this kind of social commentary was fresh during the time of Deliverance, but can we possibly have a slightly more nuanced point of view then uneducated, rural Southerns as drunken, raping, murdering buffoons?
If the liberal Hollywood elites paint the rural population like this, is there any reason that the elites aren’t hated in the flyover states?