Somewhat ironically given my profession, I’m not a big movie buff. As an English teacher this is often considered sacrilege, but the fact remains that in my down time I don’t often like to think since I spend altogether too much bloody time thinking and dissecting. In this sense, Tom Ford’s new film ‘Nocturnal Animals’ tricked me and I should be pretty mad about it. Frankly though, I’m not. In a way this kind of makes sense. Tom Ford is a fashion designer slash director slash cosmetics maker slash perfume maker, so he’s sort of the result of both of my major career paths colliding in a weird artsy and potentially pretentious hybrid. This is predominantly why I saw the film in the first place. On visuals alone any fashion or beauty enthusiast will enjoy Nocturnal Animals, but there’s a lot more to be found.
The adverts for the film, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal amongst others, paint it as something of a mystery/thriller. Being a fan of thrillers but appreciating that most of them don’t make me think all that much, I went into the movie expecting some interesting plot twists and maybe a bit of violence. I certainly got that, just not in the way I expected.
Nocturnal Animals predominantly follows the life of Susan, played by Amy Adams, an unhappily married gallery owner who is clearly approaching some kind of personal crisis. As her life falls apart around her in a painfully predictable pattern, she receives a novel manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) that tells the story of a teacher whose family runs into danger. If I seem like I’m being vague, it’s intentional. This is one of those films that you’re better off knowing as little about the story as possible before you see it.
A quick glance at Google will tell you immediately that this film has received highly mixed reviews (and I suggest you avoid them because even the spoiler-free ones seem to spoil a lot). The criticisms are not invalid, however I can’t help but feel that had the director not been a fashion-designer-turned-director, people would not have been as quick to attack the aesthetic of the film as overdone. It is certainly a film which has had as much thought put into its appearance as to its actual story, but… well, frankly, that sort of fits with the whole damn point of it. Similarly the suggestion that the point of the film is to try to make us feel sorry for a bunch of rich white people kind of misses the mark – if anything, the message is the complete opposite.
There is a lot to like in this movie. The interwoven stories are interesting and engaging, there are some stellar performances and aesthetically it’s almost ironically pretty to look at. The themes, however, are what intrigued me largely because they felt, well… real. Nocturnal Animals copped a lot of flack for its ending and if you stepped into the cinema expecting a Gone Girl-esque plot, I can understand why. But this is not Gone Girl. Tom Ford is not actually trying to shock and amaze. What he’s doing is pointing a finger in our own directions and laying it out: this is what we are and this is what we do to each other.
Frankly, I find that a lot scarier than the statistically less likely psychopath.
So, Tom Ford, you have my attention. It’s clear that this man is an artist; noticeable not only in the way the movie is composed but also through the tongue-in-cheek manner with which it approaches the idea of art itself. Fashion and beauty enthusiasts will enjoy the stunning visuals and those looking for a bit more depth will find it. Nocturnal Animals deals with relationships, family, nostalgia, regret, revenge, violence and hatred. Most importantly, it leaves you feeling unfulfilled and a little bit empty.
But that’s kind of the point.
(Feature image courtesy of Universal Pictures)