Director: Tom Ford
Screenplay: Tom Ford
Based on: Tony and Susan, written by Austin Wright (first published in 1993).
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough; Michael Sheen.
A dark emotive story within a story that’s sometimes confronting and always thought-provoking.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is living the life she thought she always wanted: a successful gallery owner married to a handsome husband. But as her marriage begins to disintegrate she begins to think of her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), often. When she receives a manuscript from Edward, dedicating the novel to her, the film shifts from the life of Susan Morrow to the story written in the novel.
There’s a stark simplicity in both tales here, yet together they create a delicate knot of tragedy.
The garish setting and understated elegance of costume and character is how director and screenwriter, Tom Ford, shows the reality of Susan Morrow. Art can be trash – ‘It’s trash’ states Susan. A statement of regret and a hint of her feeling of loss. Yet the second story, the novel, is a stark crime novel, set in the desert of Texas. A tale of family, murder, revenge; of the simplistic reality of life. A gut wrenching story compared to her quiet grief and disbelief of the life she’s currently living.
Nocturnal Animals shows the emptiness found in life where priorities made outside ourselves lead to choices that are later realised as mistakes. And living with those mistakes creates an emptiness. What was so important is no longer what life is. Sometimes, it leads to so much trash.
There’s an influence of the superficial world of fashion here, stemming from Tom Ford’s past life as a fashion designer. But he uses the contrast the two stories (the life of Susan Morrow against the story written by her ex-husband), of the beautiful house and extravagance of the successful against the dust and murder in the novel, together, to combine both stories into the complex emotion of loss.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the ex-husband and character in the novel as a sensitive, complicated yet good man, well. There’s just the right touch here, a subtle and realistic tone.
I remember first seeing Amy Adams in the film Junebug (2005) – those soulful eyes used by director Tom Ford so well here. It’s remarkable how well she plays tragic torn sadness.
And the highlight, Michael Shannon as the down-at-heal Detective Bobby Andes. A likable character. The only truly likable character which makes the story all the more real because the characters are complicated.
The film is based on the novel, Tony and Susan, written by Austin Wright. The novel unsuccessful at first because thought to be too literary, but then enjoying critical acclaim when released in the UK. Then taken up and written for the screen by Ford. An ambitious project. Yet the cast, pacing, orchestral soundtrack (Abel Korzeniowski) and setting frame the story beautifully. But this isn’t a beautiful story, this is a thought-provoking tale, shown to confront the audience because the truth is fragile and delicate.
It’s difficult to rate this film as I didn’t particularly enjoy watching. Yet, the film resonates. It’s not about the enjoyment, but capturing the emotion of regret.
‘I have no right to be unhappy because I have everything’, says Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). ‘Happiness is relative,’ replies her friend at a dinner party. A bourgeois luxury. Yet grief and loss equalises all.