Life and love are crafted through choices and sacrifices. Tom Ford’s adaptation of Susan and Tony, by Austin Wright, clearly shows how choice and sacrifice have an unequivocal role in determining one’s path in life. Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar.” The choice and sacrifice made on the part of Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams, meets these criteria and dictates both her life and that of Edward Sheffield, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.
There is a jarring freshness to the plot of Nocturnal Animals that I did not see in other films in 2016. The plot follows Susan, an art dealer, in the midst of marital problems. She receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, called ‘Nocturnal Animals’. The story unwinds a lost thread between Susan and Edward that takes the viewer on an intense and deeply engaging ride. The film cuts back and forth between ‘real life’ and the manuscript as if waking from a nightmare only to fall right back in.
The manuscript is a representation of the struggle and subsequent coping that Edward has gone through since his separation from Susan. The creative intensity of the story crafted by Edward has a raw energy that keeps you fully engaged. The emotional exploration that his character endures is both powerful and liberating. The screenplay certainly stands out by being skillfully crafted and executed by Tom Ford.
To top it all off, the acting is on point. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are well casted and create a strong foundation. However, the outstanding performances come from the support. Michael Shannon is one of the best contemporary actors and never ceases to establish a powerful presence on screen. He is intense as fuck in almost every role and he does not fail to bring the same intensity to this role. Aaron Taylor-Johnson brings an unsettling nature to the film, that even upsets me now as I write this. The performances by the lead actors may draw you in to Nocturnal Animals, but the supporting cast will end up stealing the show.
I want to dive in and try to deconstruct the plot within the manuscript, but that would be an unnecessary spoiler and would be too much to get into. Instead, I will be brief. By the end of the movie we, the viewer, understand everything that has transpired between Susan and Edward and that the manuscript is his reconciliation with those events; that much is clear. Through his exploration of love and loss, Edward also learns a great deal about inner strength, coping, the nature of revenge, and fully accomplishing creativity through his writing.
There is no way I can wrap this up without talking about the opening sequence. The opening scene caught me off guard, as I am sure it did most. It made me wonder for a moment if this was a Lynch production. The visuals prime us for what is about to come, both with its naked, provocative, and sexual nature and with the juxtaposition of the creativity it embodies followed by a shot of the main character, Susan, who struggles throughout the film to be creative herself and self proclaims her inability to create and her fear surrounding that fact. It is interesting that within a story as risk taking and creative as Nocturnal Animals, the main characters struggle with their own creativity and taking risks. Their fear of failure coupled with weak fortitude leads them both down the path they were trying to avoid.
Directed by: Tom Ford
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Screenplay by: Tom Ford
Music by: Abel Korzeniowski
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Runtime: 1h 56m
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Distributed by: Focus Features