3. Thematically resonating
As the use of this story-within-a-story reveals, creating art can be a troubling thing for those close to the artist to comprehend. Susan herself works at an art exhibition and we see some pretty zany art on display in the film’s opening credits. But she doesn’t seem so interested in its artistic value; rather, she regards its place in her exhibition from the perspective of a curator.
However, her reaction to art becomes much more introspective and personal when she receives the manuscript for Edward’s novel, which is dedicated to her, and its title (Nocturnal Animals) is the expression by which Tony used to refer to her.
Using this story-within-a-story, the film paints this violent and depraved allegory that’s loosely related to Susan and Edward’s troubled past relationship, with the fate of Tony’s wife and daughter in the book a more dramatic version to what happened to his wife Susan and their child. It’s a cruel concept of vengeance that hasn’t been seen much in other films, and the actions of both Susan and Edward can be mused over by audiences for ages, rationalizing which of the two were in the wrong.
At one point, Susan does seem to express interest in one piece of art, a painting with the word ‘revenge’ displayed on it. This seems pretty on-the-nose, but revenge is perhaps the only notion on Susan’s mind after reading her ex-husband’s book.
2. Directorial handle on style and substance
Finding the right balance between substance and style can be a tricky aspect of filmmaking to get right, and it’s even trickier for the Academy to award a film that manages to get both right. Even last year’s Oscars proved this, with many punters believing “The Revenant”, a grandiose and cinematic film with a very lightweight plotline, would win the Best Picture award. However, it lost to “Spotlight”, which had a far more detailed screenplay, but had the cinematic appeal of a TV movie.
“Nocturnal Animals” has the best of both worlds, as it has a stunning aesthetic that gives the film the feeling it was made for the big screen, though this style never becomes so pretentious or self-indulgent that it overshadows the engrossing and thoughtful story being presented.
It’s appropriate that the glossiest looking scenes are in Susan’s narrative, as the film’s sterile and clinical aesthetic matches that of her upper-class gallery owner lifestyle as well as her cold emotional state. The editing is also flashier during her scenes, with occasional aerial glimpses of the city where she lives, rendering Los Angeles at dusk in a haunting manner that also represents Susan’s troubled life.
In contrast to this, the novel narrative following Tony aims for a more realist filmmaking style, especially during the roadside scene with handheld camerawork adding to the chaos and menace of this intense sequence.
The style is sensibly intertwined with the substance, something that Ford has proven he is capable of when he made “A Single Man”. It’s no surprise that this renowned fashion designer intricately crafts every aspect of his films to make them impressively detailed and gorgeous to look at, but he likely wouldn’t be as critically lauded during awards season if his style wasn’t backed up by a hefty amount of story, drama, intrigue, character development, and room for contemplation.
There are a number of critics who have complained that “Nocturnal Animals” isn’t a substantially satisfying film to watch. However, this is just the nature of this divisive film; although it doesn’t aim for any big and obvious emotions, it is still ultimately grounded in human experiences and tries successfully to cleverly and artfully comment on them.
1. The experience
As it goes for films, the most important aspect of them is the experience. For a first time watch, “Nocturnal Animals” can prove to be an absolutely stirring, involving, and captivating experience, with the second watch allowing viewers to be more thoughtful and analytical of how the stories that brought upon such emotions the first time can be strengthened in their impact the second time.
The concept of the film may sound light, but it delivers a heavy impression on the audience with the manner in which it was crafted, with many surface-level contrasts and underlying similarities in mood and theme being made between the two narratives.
The roadside scene where Tony and his family are confronted by the thugs is the central scene of the film and an absolute hot contender for the most intense movie moment from this year, showing us a harrowing and rather lengthy piece of thrilling drama that keeps the audience wondering how (badly) it’s going to end.
It’s scenes like these that engross the audience so much that they can take them from the cinema and place them within the conflict that is occurring on screen, proving that cinema still has the power to be transcendent.
The film in its entirety is just as absorbing, with each scene giving us either thrilling entertainment, thoughtful musings on its art / artist relations, or both. It isn’t quite the clean, tidy production that the Academy tends to fawn over, so it’s not going to be everyone’s kind of film, but it is worth watching by any moviegoer who values narrative drama films.
“Nocturnal Animals” is a lot of things at once, but it succeeds in all of its ambitions; it’s a tense and almost frightening thriller, it’s a thoughtful portrayal of the relationship between art and reality, it is gorgeous and always has the appropriate visual style, and it’s a subtle and intriguing examination on a past marriage. If “Nocturnal Animals” doesn’t end up receiving the recognition it deserves this awards season, hopefully it can still gain a legacy as being one of the best films of 2016.
Author Bio: David Morgan-Brown is an Australian lover of movies, films, flicks, and kino pictures. He does written reviews for Colosoul, video reviews for Flim Reviews, and does comedic skits with his mates for Carpool — go laugh with (or at) him.