I’m going to be absolutely honest – Nocturnal Animals was not really my kind of movie. I don’t mind psychological thrillers. In fact, I absolutely adore them. But I wouldn’t really describe Nocturnal Animals as a traditional psychological thriller. Most films in the genre will really attempt to mess with the viewer’s head in a deliberate and obvious way, whereas Nocturnal Animals jabs the viewer’s mind with small, subtle pin pricks, but will then suddenly hack at it violently at unexpected moments. I didn’t find the film particularly enjoyable, but I’m guessing that it wasn’t meant to be enjoyable.
The plot of Nocturnal Animals is simple enough, but provides room for interesting developments. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a successful art gallery owner, is haunted by memories of her relationship with her ex-husband, Edward Schaffer (Jake Gyllenhaal), when she reads a manuscript he has sent her after years without contact. There are several recurring themes, imagery and symbolism throughout the film, and it makes a fun game to make note of them while you eat your popcorn. In my opinion, I think that Nocturnal Animals would be a good addition to an NCEA Level 1 English paper – the figurative themes and symbolism are subtle, but easy enough to be detected from an adolescent perspective. The story itself is not something to be really enjoyed, at least by most people. Some scenes are clearly meant to shock people, and some are even meant to be deliberately upsetting. I turned twenty-one years old this year, and to be honest, some scenes left me wondering whether or not I should be watching the film under adult supervision. It wasn’t just me, though. Some scenes had the entire audience gasping out loud. I heard the man in the seat next to me mutter a drawn-out “Whaaaat?” under his breath during one of these said scenes.
Tom Ford directs movies like he designs clothes: exquisitely and dramatically. The aesthetic of the film itself is a treat for the eyes. Some scenes are shot with impeccable artistry and impressive attention to detail. The film switches between three different realities: Susan’s current perspective, her flashbacks, and Edward’s novel, which (coincidentally) shares the name of the film. Some of the transitions from one reality to another are cleverly executed, clearly indicating the parallels the viewer is supposed to notice. Other transitions are jarring, and some are ambiguous, only vaguely indicating the switch from one narrative to another. These inconsistent transitions kept the film interesting and somewhat tolerable, and for me, they were a highlight of the film.
Big props to Jake Gyllenhaal and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who play well-opposed antagonists to each other. Even though the entire cast was star-studded, I was a little disappointed at the miniscule amount of screen time some actors and actresses received, particularly Michael Sheen, who I was really excited to see.
Did I enjoy watching Nocturnal Animals? Not really. Would I watch it again? Unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass on it. But did I regret watching it? Heck no. Nocturnal Animals was a wild ride from start to finish. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from watching it either.
Special thanks to Paramount Pictures for sending us tickets to Nocturnal Animals!
Nocturnal Animals is playing in New Zealand cinemas now.