Nocturnal Animals (2016) Review

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Directed by Tom Ford

Based on Tony and Susan by Austin Wright

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

My Opinion:

Well! This movie was certainly… interesting? I love Amy Adams but sci-fi is my type of thing so Arrival is the only one I’d planned on going to see (it’s EXCELLENT, by the way – I’m posting my review tomorrow). Hubby saw Nocturnal Animals then was weirdly insistent on me seeing it too while being cryptic as to if it would actually be worth my time. Now I understand: This is one of those movies you want other people to see so you can talk about it & discuss your theories on the meaning of the symbolism and the different characters’ actions & intentions and, umm……. Okay – This is one of those movies you want other people to see so they can maybe tell you what the f*^k is going on. 😉

Was Nocturnal Animals worth my time? Yes. It’s easily in my top ten 2016 movie releases now & I’d be surprised if it’s not still there by December 31st. But it’s a difficult watch and I can’t exactly say I had a “fun time” watching it. I highly doubt I’ll ever watch it again and, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. It’s intensely disturbing and I was kind of glad when it finished. Am I selling this one to you yet?! Ha! I’m pretty sure I’ll never be asked to contribute a quote for a movie’s poster.

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from seeing this. In fact, I very highly recommend it. However, I’d only recommend it to a small selection of people who I think would appreciate it, like several of my fellow movie bloggers who may be reading this. You just need to be warned of what you’re getting into if you watch Nocturnal Animals: I guarantee you’ll either love this or you’ll think it’s the most pretentiously boring piece of shit you’ve seen in a long time. There’s my movie poster quote for this!

I always say this but I turn to movies for escapism, which is probably why I go for sci-fi & fantasy and never for gritty realism. I don’t like the ugliness in this world so I don’t enjoy things like true crime dramas, serial killer movies, etc. I say that because this movie is partly “gritty crime drama”. Well, it is yet it isn’t… Just be warned that these parts of the film contain violence more extreme than I’d been expecting (hubby – you could’ve warned me, dude!). The gritty parts are necessary, though, as you start to realize the full meaning behind them so I managed to muddle through despite finding these scenes very uncomfortable.

I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible with this review but I think it’s safe to say that this movie is a story within a story (the book written by the ex-husband of Amy Adams, which she reads throughout the movie). So we go back and forth between Adams & the story in the book which, on the surface, is nothing more than a standard pulpy crime drama. But it IS something much more than that & only Adams and her ex-husband (and hopefully the film’s audience) will be aware of that.

I often don’t go for the “story within a story” thing (er, unless it’s The Princess Bride… Best. Movie. Ever.) but I was completely engrossed every time the movie went back to the book’s crime drama story. Yes, the story feels like formulaic “pulp” (probably why the ex-husband, Jake Gyllenhaal, apparently never made it big as an author) yet it’s so intense & so brilliantly acted that you’re drawn into this story far more than the real-life story of Adams and her superficial art gallery world. But that’s the whole point: Unlike Adams’ real-life extravagant lifestyle, the book’s “fictional” world feels far more real & is full of a raw emotion that I’ve rarely seen captured so well on screen. Honestly, I found these scenes so profoundly & disturbingly moving that credit must be given to everyone involved in their making whether you like the movie or not. Though extremely upsetting, I found this film to be one of the most immersive movie experiences I’ve had since seeing Room, although the emotional effect was the exact opposite (Room filled me with pure joy).

As always, Adams is very good with an understated performance but it’s Gyllenhaal who really shines in what is actually the far more important role. I’ve never been a big fan of his and, though I’ve seen him in plenty of highly regarded roles, I think this is the film that has finally made me appreciate him as an actor. I also loved Michael Shannon in quite a small role as the sheriff in the book’s story. Again, he’s someone highly regarded yet I’ve paid him little attention so, for any of his fans reading this, this movie is worth you checking out just for his role. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the actual movie but he’s fantastic.

I know this is only fashion designer Tom Ford’s second film and I’ve not seen A Single Man but I definitely want to see more from him after this. I think there’s some true brilliance in this film that will unfortunately be too casually regarded as pretentious. I can totally understand why it would be labelled as such, though, as it initially appears that way with beautifully artistic shots & with rich art world snobs moaning about their superficial problems. But the movie itself is the same as book’s story within the film: On the surface it’s superficial & formulaic but deep down it’s an allegorical tale. Wait… The movie is an allegory of itself! No. Um… The book in the movie is an allegory of the real life story in the movie while the movie itself is an allegory of… Something! Maybe. I just like throwing the word “allegory” around. Trust me, there’s some crazy allegorical shit going on here. I’m sure of it!

Is the film itself as deep as its story within a story? I don’t know. My mind is still working on that but I like that I’m still thinking about this movie days after watching it. That’s what I consider true art and only a handful of movies play on my mind for days afterwards. Nocturnal Animals is definitely not for everyone but, if you’re someone who wants something more than just pure entertainment, you may be the type to find this movie an intensely rewarding experience. Or you may just be pretentious. 😉

My Rating: 8/10

**To all the pretentious snobs like me who’ve seen this movie, feel free to discuss it with me in the comments! Full-on spoilers allowed, so avoid reading the comments if you’ve not yet seen this – I think it’s not yet out in America? I want to talk about this one. I want to discuss the parallels in the movie’s story & movie book’s story. The meaning of some of the imagery. The overall meaning of the movie: is it deep like the film’s book or superficial like the film’s real-world. What was with all the naked butts?!? The real life book this is based on (as opposed to the book within the movie) – has anyone read it? Should I dye my hair the same color as Amy Adams in the hope that I’ll look exactly like her? Discuss! 🙂


35 thoughts on “Nocturnal Animals (2016) Review

  1. Now I’m even more excited about this than I was before. I love both, Adams and Gyllenhaal, so I was going to see this anyway. Everything about Nocturnal Animals sounds interesting and after reading this I just can’t wait! Although I think the wait is awfully long… It’s out in here in two weeks but as I now live here in periphery I doubt I’ll have any chance to see it.

    • Glad I have you even more excited for this one now! : ) Honestly, it’s one of the most intense things I’ve seen in a long time and I don’t know if I loved it or actually hated it. But I mean that in a good way – it’s such a powerful film that it’s actually quite upsetting to watch (it’s far from a “feel-good” film!). I hope you manage to see it – it’s one that’s not mainstream enough to play in cinemas for very long. I was lucky to catch it. I wish “thinking” movies were given more of a chance & shown more widely.

  2. Great review! This is one of those movies where I feel like it’s weird to say I ‘loved’ it, because some of those scenes were so awful to watch. It plays on your mind though, and I love an ending that does that to you! My husband and I can’t agree on it, I got the feeling that Jake’s character might have killed himself in the end, but my husband thinks he was just after revenge.
    – Allie

    • Thank you! I know exactly how you feel! I sort of loved/hated this film. It’s done so well that it was very disturbing to watch yet you have to respect the talent involved to get such strong reactions from an audience. I can’t see wanting to ever watch it again as it’s so emotionally draining but I’m still trying to put the pieces of it together, which is awesome. I wonder if, where Adams in the book is portrayed as two characters (the wife as well as, mostly, the actual killer) that Jake is not only the husband in the book but also a little bit of Michael Shannon’s character? Maybe Jake has been diagnosed with cancer so he’s taken this opportunity, many years later, to finally put into words what his ex-wife did to him & how she destroyed his life. So he may or may not be dead at the end but I like to think he just stood her up as a final revenge (although he is going to die soon). ?? I think most of the real life characters are represented by more than one character in the book. I’m most confused by the real-life daughter, though. She had such a small role. Was she real? She seemed the sort of age where she was either Jake’s kid or Adams had a baby with her new husband very very soon after her first marriage ended. Shannon’s character had a daughter who had nothing to do with him, right? Is that linked?? Did Adams actually abort??? Okay – maybe I do need to watch this one more time. And sorry I keep using the actors’ names – I’m rubbish with character names! : )

    • Thank you! I must admit that this film blew me away. It’s very disturbing but amazing that I’m still thinking about it weeks later & trying to put the pieces together. Most people will probably hate the film so I hope it gets the praise it does deserve. Would love to know your thoughts when you see it! A very discussable film… : )

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  5. Hahaha that part about some allegorical shit going on 😊😊 Very nice review and I enjoyed reading it alot. I agree, it does seem a tad pretentious, and maybe that’s why I don’t feel as attached to it even though I think it’s a beautiful movie. Love the cinematography especially, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal kcnocked it out of the park as well.

    I was a little confused throughout the film but this is my conclusion. Edward wanted to depict his experience of heartbreak and loss in his novel, and so created a fable in its likeness. What do you think? And what about the end? It seemed like Ed changed his mind ,coz just like his character who died in the novel, the part of him has already ‘passed’…would be sick if he wanted her to feel the sense of loneliness as he has been feeling all this while haha. I’m afraid the movie’s artsy perfection might be pretentious to some, but I think it deserves much more for the risks it takes. I liked it alot, but I can’t say I ‘connected’ with it as much.

    And the intertwine of the three narratives was very trippy and amazing to watch. Can’t wait to write my review on it! Sorry for the long ass comment, I just really love getting into discussions like this XD

    • Love the long comment!!! That’s exactly what I wanted – to discuss this film with other film fans. : ) The novel is a definite fable on his marriage to Adams, with every character in it representing someone in real life. I think. I’m still thinking about who each person may be. Adams is the book’s killer as well as the wife but I think Gyllenhaal is a bit of Michael Shannon’s character as well as the husband. I know some think real-life Gyllenhaal may be dead at the end but I think he may possibly be dying like Shannon’s character from cancer or something, but he stood Adams up as he does want her to feel the rejection & heartbreak that he felt. What I’m most confused by is the real-life daughter we see only briefly when Adams calls her. Is this girl real? Did Adams have her with her second husband right away or did she not actually go through with the abortion & that’s Gyllenhaal’s estranged daughter (the way Shannon’s character has an estranged daughter)?? The girl looks about 20, which is when Adams was still with Gyllenhaal. Maybe I missed something but, honestly, I don’t think I have any desire to ever watch this again to fill in the blanks. It’s brilliant but too disturbing for my tastes. I appreciate movies like this, though – it’s great to know that stuff like this does get made. : )

      • Woah I didn’t think of Michael Shannon’s character representing the husband a little, though it makes alot of sense. He’s sort of symbolic of the husband’s rational side that calms his rage, it tries to find reason and truth amid the chaotic state of mind. But then even Shannon’s cop character becomes as fueled with rage, and so he dies because he ceases to exist…the husband is now beyond the state of trying to find reason anymore(or it doesn’t matter to him anymore)…he’s given up the rage and the past, and writes his own death to signify that he’s completely over this. But I can totally see where people might think he’s actually dying in real life. For me its more metaphorical 🙂

        And dayum…I didn’t even stop to think if the daughter was real and who’s was it! But now that you mention it, it gets me thinking urgh so…many…layers…….I don’t think it’s Gyllenhaal’s daughter coz he must have been sure they aborted her,and that’s a big part of why he’s so heartbroken. But it does seem mysterious doesn’t it…why did the movie include the scene? It could easily be real or imagined…and that’s just so haunting.
        But whatever the case, I found the ending so complete and powerful. Once the story was over, everybody has left in some form or another. Even the relationship with her current husband has already ‘left’. And as the restaurant guests leave till she’s all alone, the sense of quiet and isolation is deafening. Hit me hard.
        Yup that’s so true, we need more movies that explores things through a new perspective. I’m a sucker for haunting films…haha I’m a weirdo like that. The darker the better 😝😉😉 Loved the film!

      • Whoa… Now I have a headache! Lol. I do like a dark film, although this one truly left me emotionally exhausted. I loved the ending and the absolute loneliness & emptiness of that moment. That’s powerful filmmaking. Hey… What was with the baby monitor jump scare thing on the phone? I really do need to watch this again as I know I’ll have missed stuff. But I just can’t! : )

    • Oh, I highly recommend Nocturnal Animals! Thoroughly disturbing but powerful stuff. Basically, it follows two stories (the “real life” story in the movie & the story in the book that’s in the movie). But the book’s story is an allegory of the real life story. It’s great to compare the two…

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  8. Finally got round to watching this! I thought it was pretty brilliant. I didn’t feel like it was pretentious at all… but that may be me watching too much other really pretentious stuff from time to time! Or possibly I just haven’t thought about it enough yet. Definitely some food for thought in the comments here. Like, the daughter. Hadn’t occurred to me she could actually be Gyllenhaal’s, or imaginary. She has the same surname as Armie Hammer’s character in the credits… but what if Amy Adams didn’t abort and raised the kid as her new husband’s? Maybe that was her horrible act — actually having his kid but making him think she’d aborted it. I dunno if that makes sense, I’m making it up as I type!

    I think loneliness and isolation must be important to the film, too. Again, didn’t strike me until I read the comments. But right near the start, when Adams is talking to her assistant / security guy / whatever and saying that he doesn’t need to work this weekend, she says something about everyone appreciating some loneliness sometimes… or something. To be honest I forget exactly, but with hindsight I feel that line may’ve been more loaded.

    So, yeah, a fascinating film for sure.

    • Yay! More people to discuss this movie with!!! Lol. I’m still a bit obsessed by it. Someone else said about the daughter that she’s the aborted child, so is imaginary. Would make sense, I guess… I do think it’s one that needs to be watched multiple times as I’m sure I missed a lot. But I really don’t think I could watch it again! 😦 But I definitely think Shannon was partly Gyllenhaal’s character. And I’m still confused by the baby monitor bit on the mobile phone…

      • I think she was just seeing things on the baby monitor, but crikey did it make me jump! Not often a movie catches me out with a jump scare anymore.

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