Directed by Tom Ford
Screenplay by Tom Ford
Based on the Novel TONY AND SUSAN BY Austin Wright
UK Release 4 December 2016
USA Release 9 December 2016
If you miss the first five minutes of one film this year, make it “Nocturnal Animals”!
Strange advice, especially coming from a reviewer who always looks out for you and makes certain you stay after the credits whenever there is a stinger. Trust me when I say I am looking out for you again. Although in the Lisa rating scale this film richly deserves an NC-17 rating (and not for anything fun, believe me *brrr*), the first scenes brought groans, protests, and retching sounds from the ten of us in the theatre. If you already know the words “gerontophilia” and “adipophilia,” congratulations, you are in the tiny demographic that is going to enjoy the opening. (God, I wish to take that word back.) The rest of you should wait patiently in line for your month’s allotment of sodium on its popcorn carrier without bitching to anyone. Maybe even go to the toilet before you walk between everyone and the screen at the most tense moment in the movie.
Warning delivered. Take it to heart. As I told the young man next to me, I can never unsee it. Now, as always, *No Spoilers*!
Susan Morrow lives in a ridiculous world. Her art gallery is the epitome of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Her home is a depository for endless truckloads of concrete and ludicrously expensive gewgaws that no one will ever look at again, much less use, until it is time to dust them. She has a pointlessly handsome husband who has filed her away in the same category as the outdoor pool — gorgeous, expensive — something he lost interest in long ago. The two of the actually have a staff, Downton Abbey-Style. Though she gives them all the weekend off thinking she and Hutton can have a weekend together. Perhaps the staff could wise her up.
Susan isn’t even the one who opens the package left in their mailbox. And the manuscript arrives.
“Nocturnal Animals.” A novel from her first husband whom she hasn’t spoken to in some nineteen years, the novel he always said he was going to write, finally personally delivered to her — Susan cannot wait to read it. She has the weekend to herself, to snuggle in in more outrageously expensively outfits, and read it through.
“For Susan.” The third page stops her in her tracks and we feel our breath catch with her, despite the fact the scene was in the trailers. There is something about seeing it with her eyes that gives us the shocking/frightening/sickening impact… Oh, right. Direction. That’s where Tom Ford’s hand is most visible, in those moments without dialogue, without violence and horror, where he is teasing the most emotion from an emotional story. This moment when we all realise that this is not just a novel, but a message from Tony to Susan, an incurable insomniac, a nocturnal animal, as he called her.
Now, get ready for the shift viewers have been griping about: a book within a movie. Don’t panic; you can handle it. Oh. And flashbacks.
Tony’s “Nocturnal Animals” is what should have earned this film an NC-17 rating. Be aware that there is extreme violence, sexual violence, sadism, gore, and more extreme violence. It is tough to watch, very tough. It is the story of everyone’s fear of a family road trip descending into Hell. Actually, I doubt anyone could imagine anything this nauseous. Susan pulls out of it when the reveals are too horrific to stand and we snap back to her world.
Little by little, we learn more of her past with Tony. Flashbacks tell of her memories of the life they shared and when they parted ways. In the trailer we hear her say, “I did something horrible to him.” So, what was this? The audience tries to glean from the scraps of flashbacks what this act was, not knowing if her memories are accurate or if she is lying to herself and us. Whatever it was, please, don’t let it be anything from the novel. Because even looking at that as fiction, it is too much to stomach.
Why did Tony and Susan become Susan and Handsome, Empty Hutton? Where did Tony go from there? Why has Susan grown to hate her life? Is there room for life for nocturnal animals among other humans? Excuse me, “among humans.”
The audience where I saw it left confused and, frankly, pissed. I’ve an answer to “what happened,” but that’s just for me. You have your own answer, Just remember to miss the beginning!