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Review: Nocturnal Animals

Roslyn Hull

A story inside a story, in which we follow a woman named Susan who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband, a man she left 20 years earlier, asking for her opinion.

We also follow the actual manuscript, called “Nocturnal Animals,” which revolves around a man whose family vacation turns violent and deadly. IMDb

Immediately after I saw this film I thought I would be writing a piece about how many, many artists suffer from second-song-syndrome. Tom Ford created a superlative movie the first time he dipped his toe in the water. A Single Man is the movie Colin Firth SHOULD have gotten his Oscar for and was both written for the screen and directed by Ford. It is gorgeous cinema.

But I’ve now had 24 hours to think … and I have not been able to stop thinking about Nocturnal Animals!

This is the proverbial slow burn, with escalating tension whose only release is an abrupt shock. Where the contrast between the real and the fictional worlds is immense but obviously related, and where an ending that seems inadequate for the story can grow in power after it is over.

I now think that what the ex-husband (or Adams’ own guilt) is able to create in the real world has an emotional violence that challenges the fictional bodily violence created in the manuscript. Of course, I may be the only one who thinks that, as the theories have started in the chattering web as to who is really who in reality vs. fiction, whether the manuscript is even real or imagined by Adams’ character and what the ending actually means.

Ford is on record as saying he deliberately left the ending open to each viewer’s own interpretation, so don’t expect a neat conclusion. That is the aspect that left me initially dissatisfied when comparing it to A Single Man but now I think it may be much, much more clever than my first instincts suggested. Clever, dark and bitter.

The opening scenes of obese women dancing naked would have been confronting if the women were not showing either contempt of the audience or joy in their dancing. So we are wrong-footed even in the opening credits and that disquiet continues throughout.

There are moments of great visual beauty, even in the violence. In both films, Ford films the human body as a piece of art and every aspect of the design and movement in each scene is wonderfully precise – just like the fitting of a Tom Ford suit. By the way, not one piece of Tom Ford merchandise was used in the film.

It plays a little like a self-consciously earnest art film but I think that is another deliberate act of a very clever man, as are his wicked digs at the Hollywood lifestyle, the acceptance (or not) of homosexuality in polite society and even the self-conscious act of creativity. The arthouse trope disappears when you look at the cast list though.

All the roles are played extremely well. However, the star is undoubtedly Amy Adams. Her scenes are so still, so measured and elegant and yet so desperate that it is a little like watching a single musical instrument being played beyond its limits.

I think I may be gushing, so the executive summary is this: off balance, violent and voyeuristic this psychological thriller will draw you into its double web but may leave you questioning the ending.

Roslyn saw this film as a guest of Dendy Cinemas.

Image via


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

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