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Nocturnal Animals starring Amy Adams & Jake Gyllenhaal: My take on the movie based on the book by Austin Wright

I saw Nocturnal Animals yesterday, Tom Ford's film starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Beyond saying I was glued to my seat, where do I begin?

If I begin at the beginning I was dumbfounded by the opening credits, a series of obese women dancing slow-motion in the nude for an extended period of time. I wish I’d timed it but I was too aghast to think of that. But it had to be long, 2 to 3 minutes, certainly. Having read the book, I knew the images did not come from the novel. They had nothing to do with the storyline as Wright wrote it. They had to come from Tom Ford’s mind. What on earth was the point?

Fat Shaming?

But what I took as fat-shaming, Ford says is really a celebration of the freedom these women have. 

Speaking with Vulture, Ford said

“Politics being what they are right now, I want to make a statement about America. And I remembered that great poster that I had hanging in my room when I was a kid, when I thought I was straight, of Farrah Fawcett in that red bathing suit. America was always tan, beautiful teeth, tits and ass. So, guess what? I want to talk about America today: Gluttonous, overfed, aging, sad, tired.”
BUT a funny thing happened on the way to filming the sequence 
He fell in love with these women, admitting, “I actually felt guilty that that had been my original intention. I found them so beautiful, so joyful, and so happy to be there. They were so uninhibited, and I realized that actually, they were a microcosm of what the whole film was saying. They had let go of what our culture had said they’re supposed to be, and because of that, they were so totally free. This is what’s restricting Susan. She’s being who she thinks she needs to be: I need to live this way, I need to look like that.”
They truly do shake their booties. And set the mood for what is to come.

As the film begins we see these images are part of a gallery showing, the obese woman dancing playing on a series of humungous screens throughout the space. Amy Adams as Susan sits on a platform nearby, a lifelife nude (a sculpture, performance art?) nearby. Bored and distracted by some inner turmoil, we learn she is the gallery director. The work is her responsibility. 

Story within a story

Nocturnal Animals encompasses two stories, the first is that of Susan who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the mail and her reaction to it, both the story and the memories it evokes about her relationship with Edward. The other story is the one written by Edward, about a man, his wife and daughter taking a road trip. While reading the manuscript, Susan casts her husband Gyllenhaal in the role of Tony, the main character in his own story. 

As it was in the book, Edward’s manuscript is gripping, terrifying. The reader/audience is affected by that terror as much as Susan. Key to the success of that dramatization is Isla Fisher as a Susan/Amy Adams lookalike, Aaron Taylor Johnson as a thoroughly old-fashioned, slimy bad guy, Michael Sheen as a detective who skirts the rules and Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a regular guy, not unlike most civilized men, expecting everyone to play by the rules of the road, outwitted and outsmarted when they don’t. The parallels between Tony and Edward are clear. We judge Tony, his weakness. She, Susan, judges him too but realizes it is Edward who has the last laugh. 

Remember, REVENGE is a dish best served cold. Ford has a nice little visual reference to this in the film which you can't miss. He also gives us a second look at the dancing women from the opening credits. Let me know if you catch it when you see the movie.

On the surface, Susan’s world is sophisticated, moneyed. It’s all pretense, artificial, an inorganic form of art. Her home is as cold and glossy as her stainless steel garage gate. Her marriage, the husband played by Army Archer, is cold too, just as empty below the surface as their bank balance is in actuality.  

Tom Ford’s decision to transform Susan’s character was genius. He’s taken her from a more passive role as the reader of the tale to someone who has more dramatically made choices that ultimately made the dissolution of her marriage to Edward inevitable. Ford’s decision really ups the stakes, making both the manuscript and the story that envelops it, equally tense and masterful. I’ve read that Ford sees himself as Susan, making the film’s message of valuing what you have and who you truly are, without making choices based on others definition of success, even more potent and powerful.

Both Adams and Gyllenhaal were their usual riveting. In my opinion, the film, which also stars Isla Fisher, cast for her resemblance to Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor Johnson and Michael Sheen is a must see ASAP.