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Nocturnal Animals: My take on the book behind Tom Ford's film starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal [TRAILER]


I have a neighbor who is always passing on books to me, saying “I don’t want it back.’’ She’s a lawyer and prolific reader with little room in her one bedroom apartment for the sheer number of books, fiction and nonfiction, she plows through. I typically lend her novels with the caveat that I am a book hoarder. “No rush, but please return it when you’re done. Enjoy!’’

It doesn’t matter whether you keep a book on your shelf, store it in your nook or kindle, donate it or return it to the library, some novels stay with you. Like it or not.

That’s how Tony & Susan by Austin Wright struck both of us “I have so many questions!’’ Lucy tells me. I do too. First we wonder how much director Tom Ford has changed it in his screenplay for Nocturnal Animals. I tell her I know he has made Susan into an art dealer, while in the book, she’s a professor teaching a few classes at the local community college. Ford has admitted Susan is him.

Edward is Susan’s ex–husband of twenty odd years. They’re not on friendly terms, or even in touch, but Edward sends Susan his manuscript Nocturnal Animals with a note asking her to read it. She’s always been his best critic. The truth is Susan never liked Edward’s writing and gave him lukewarm support. In Nocturnal Animals, Tony is the key character, a husband and father whose trip with his wife and their daughter is interrupted by some thugs. Tony is ineffective in the way he deals with the men and things go from bad to worse. Very worse!

Susan finds Edward’s novel, the so-called Nocturnal Animals surprisingly good, as do we. It’s a real old-fashioned page turner. She can’t help wondering why Edward has sent it to her, or thinking about the kind of mind her ex-husband has, that he can imagine these evil characters. Between sessions she also thinks about her husband who is away on a business trip, wondering if he is having an affair.  A college professor who teaches just a few classes, letting her ambition go, not publishing, not expanding her world, she is constantly—albeit unconsciously—questioning the choice she made to leave Edward, to marry Arnold. 

Finishing the book, she thinks long and hard about what she’ll say— and how she’ll say it—and waits for Edward’s visit but he stands her up. Without a word, he leaves her dangling. 

Why did Edward really send Susan his manuscript? Is he rubbing his achievement in? Is he nailing home the point that he could do this thing she said he could never do? Why does he stand her up? Is his protagonist Tony, Edward’s alter ego? Does he wish for Susan the same kind of ending he gives the wife in the book? 

And what about Susan? Her dreams and ambitions have been so muffled by time and marriage to a controlling man. When and why did that younger, opinionated woman allow that to happen?

They say living well is the best revenge, and it seems to me, Edward—who we never meet—with his perfect little nail biter of a book, is the one who lives well in this scenario.

Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford's film starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal just made its debut at Venice and took home the Grand Jury Prize. A sort of second prize as the Golden Lion is the most prized prize. 

Nocturnal Animals is now playing at the Toronto Film Festival, Ford had this to say to the Jenny Yuen in the Toronto Sun:

The fashion entrepreneur-turned-filmmaker admits he often feels torn about “letting go of things in society,” when he is an obvious contributor to consumerism. His second stylish thriller, Nocturnal Animals, is a homage to letting go – but being unable to.
“We're constantly bombarded with things,” Ford said at the Princess of Wales Theatre Sunday night, ahead of his TIFF premiere. “Buy this, you're going to feel this way, get that, you're going to be happy, have this and you're going to get the guy of your life. We sort of push a sort of happiness that isn't life. Life is happy, life is sad, life is painful. And I realize that I am one of the people creating all these products and I've often been very torn about that and that's what this film is about."
Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, Amy Adams plays Susan, a successful Los Angeles art gallery owner troubled by her absent travelling doctor second husband, played by Armie Hammer. A manuscript arrives on her desk written by her long-estranged first husband, Tony, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal. Reading the script, she’s forced to confront the demons of her past.
“I began by not liking (the character), but it’s not my responsibility to judge my character, but sometimes I’ll have a gut reaction about them,” Adams said. “I realized she didn’t like herself and once I figured that out, that was a great starting point, then I could get into the core of who she was.”
Clearly Ford has made some changes! Did you read Tony & Susan by Austin Wright? What do you think? Does it sound like Ford has taken the novel and layered some of his own preoccupations and concerns within the story? We’ll have to wait and see. Nocturnal Animals doesn’t open here in the states until November in some major cities like NY and LA, December 9th across the country. Those of you visiting from the UK and other European countries expect to see the movie at your local theater beginning in November.

Isla Fisher takes on the role of Tony’s wife in the novel within the novel, while Armie Hammer plays Susan’s current husband, renamed Hutton Morrow. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon play the thug Jake, and the thuggish cop, Bobby Andes, who play huge roles in the story within the story.