Nocturnal Animals :: A Devastating Study of Lost Love and Fear…

Cineville - Nocturnal Animals
Review contains some mild, generic spoilers that could prove irritating. Proceed with caution.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Edward, a writer. He also plays Tony, the central character in Edward’s novel, which is entitled Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams plays Susan, Edward’s ex-wife. Edward and Susan haven’t seen one another for 19 years. Susan spends a weekend reading Nocturnal Animals, while her current husband betrays her in another state.

There are three stories. There is the story of the present weekend, of wealthy Susan with her painfully loveless if ostensibly perfect life, reading her ex-husband’s brutal novel; there is the genuinely shocking story in the novel of a family terrorised by psychotic rednecks; and there is the story of Edward and Susan’s relationship, their rise and fall, how they got here.

Cineville - Nocturnal Animals

At one point, Susan describes the novel as ‘devastating’. As so often is the case in this highly literary film, it is the perfect word. The whole film is devastating.

It is a film about losing love, about cowardice and true weakness, about choosing security over creativity. It’s also a story about story-telling itself, as many of the best stories tend to be. It moved me deeply.

From the outset, I felt very close to this story, somehow almost inside of it. It all felt really intimate to me. I felt the pain and the anger of the failed writer, tortured by loss and haunted by weakness, taking his revenge on the woman who betrayed him because her fear was stronger than her love. And I felt the loss of the woman who’d thrown her love away for a life of superficiality and aching, hollow glamour.

Cineville - Nocturnal Animals

I had heard accusations of ‘all style and no substance’ levelled at Nocturnal Animals, but I find them foolish. I found the film to be extremely substantial.

There is always so much going on, so many levels of meaning to so many of the scenes. I found it very rich and textured, but still felt I'd only scratched the surface of everything that was going on. It’s a film I will definitely go and see again.

(I don't believe I've ever used the word textured before. Now was the right time.)

As well as the substance of course, the film is extremely stylish, and very beautiful. From the opening credits, through which giant mostly naked women dance in slow motion as in a David Lynch dream sequence, I was absolutely entranced by everything on the screen. There is a meticulous attention to detail.

Cineville - Nocturnal Animals

I loved too all the clues and nods and repetitions and references to what’s really going on spread throughout the film. There is a paper cut early on that’s just beautiful, and perfect.

The performances are also wholly involving: Amy Adams is the picture of tragic isolation from the first shot; Michael Shannon is tremendous as the darkly carefree detective; and Jake Gyllenhaal – because of the set-up of the story – is everywhere. He plays two roles but even when he isn’t onscreen, he is. Ultimately, this is Edward’s film, which is what makes it so … devastating.

Heartily recommended.


Cineville - Nocturnal Animals
Cineville - Nocturnal Animals


The Viewing

This was my first ever morning viewing here in Amsterdam, back at the FilmHallen, and the first morning showing of the Cineville 'film of the week', Nocturnal Animals. I had my seat, in front of an estimated 50 people, which I thought was a pretty excellent amount for an 11.15 showing. I settled in, wondering if my cinema-going might be pulling me into the arena of the unwell. Addiction-wise. I have an awful lot of work to do which frankly, I’m not doing. And the reviews pending are mounting up. If it weren’t for the pressure of the ticket stub, this would have tanked before it got out of the gate. You get me?

Jordan Wolfson’s horrible child is great on the big screen – giant flashes of abuse and malevolence.

Cineville - Nocturnal Animals

I left the cinema buzzing with this film in my head, thinking it over, turning it over and relishing it, trying to squeeze more meaning out of it, because I know there was a lot more meaning in there that I just hadn’t had the time to figure out. It’s a film that I will see again with pleasure. [Update: It's a film I did see again with pleasure.] 

Oh, and there’s a fantastic interview with Tom Ford here. Now there’s an intelligent and self-assured man.

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you’ll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already.

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