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Nocturnal Animals
18 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The Metafictional Flamboyance of Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals (2016) opens with a sequence that has been attacked for being disgusting, demeaning, misogynist and irrelevant. The sequence features a number of obese women provocatively dancing nude, which turns out to be part of an exhibition put on in an art gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). I just can't help but wonder whether viewers would have had the same reaction if the dancing models were slim SuperBarbies or six-packed young men. Just wondering.

The sequence is shocking, and it sets the entire tone of the film because it unveils the stark discrepancy between reality and our individual perception of what reality is - a kernel component of the story.

We then follow the extremely classy Susan to the coldness of her prodigal house and get to know her dashingly handsome, and equally distant, husband Hutton (conveniently played by Armie Hammer). Susan receives the manuscript of a new novel written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she hasn't seen in years. She decides to occupy her sleepless nights reading the book which, according to Edward's note, was inspired by and dedicated to her. Here, the diegetic narrative unfolds into other two storylines treading two different paths: fictional and chronological. As Susan reads the emotionally devastating story about Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) who takes his family on a trip that ends tragically with the rape and murder of his wife and daughter, she helplessly reminisces about her self-sabotaged relationship with Edward.

It's a no-brainer figuring out that Edward's novel is an allegory of the emotional turmoil caused by Susan who had aborted his child and run off with a wealthier and worldlier man. In the end, Tony takes revenge on the men who killed his family, and Edward... well, he doesn't exactly kill Susan, but he does something similar: He stands her up at a restaurant. Yes. That's it. I know how absurd the comparison may sound but please bear with me.

Edward is a writer. He is wired to creatively put himself and his emotions on the line and transform his reality into art. Susan, on the other hand, who married Edward solely to rebel against her parents' selective lifestyle, willingly traps herself and limits her emotions to the reality of a rigid, materialistic world. It is hard to miss how the blue and white colors dominate the scenes in which Susan is on screen, whereas red and green are the main colors in Edward's story. They both stand in contrast to each other, yet visually negotiate the relation between reality and fiction.. what it is and what it feels like.

Edward's payback is epic by all means; just as Susan had pumped reality into his art by providing him with the painful experience and memories, he has contaminated her fragile, dry reality with his emotionally powerful art. By making Susan read his novel, allowing her the pleasure to suffer and catharize her sense of guilt, offering her a glimpse of sentimental freedom, and getting her hopes up about loving and being loved only to crush them down is just as harsh as a bullet to the brain.

Tony had a gun. Edward had a story.

Tony, Edward's metafictional persona, is blinded after shooting the deranged murderer Ray (a wickedly excellent performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and accidentally - or not! - kills himself. The scene is ostentatiously grotesque if we think about it in realistic/Susan's terms. However, it perfectly resonates with Edward's pain and his creative attempts to emotionally strip in front of everyone - an act virtually similar to suicide.

And if you think that the novel is an exaggerated expression of a relatively less painful hardship, add the film itself as another non-diegetic layer of artistic exaggeration of a seemingly humdrum experience. Ford brilliantly embraces and manifests art as a lavish exaggeration of the mundane; this is not only evident in the story but in his picturesque style and rakish colors and frames as well. Nocturnal Animals is a Charlie Kaufman-esque film with the flamboyant sensitivity of Tom Ford.

The film features an outstanding cast who don't shy away from flaunting their admirable talents around. And still, the effortless greatness of Michael Shannon who plays Bobby Andes, the hard-boiled detective who helps Tony find the murderers, has left me in awe.

Here comes another film from screenwriter and director Tom Ford, and along comes another sea-parting controversy over his competence as a filmmaker. À la the hassle that followed A Single Man (2009), critics and viewers alike are quite unsure what to make of Mr. Ford's work: Should he be banished back to the flamboyant world of fashion design? Should he be hailed as a stylishly exuberant auteur? Whichever stance people take, the only thing that annoys me is the insistence on using Ford's renowned career in fashion against him. The sensibilities employed to create fashion and visual art in general are extravagant, but isn't cinema all about the extravagant symbolism of the image?