Nocturnal Animals with Direction and Screenplay by Tom Ford

If I were to describe my visceral reaction to Nocturnal Animals, the new Tom Ford, I’d say it was a series of peaking electric shocks followed by cardiac arrest, or as a looming tide of fear and dread which waxes until I’m forced to swallow it. Two or three times I considered leaving the theater, which in my case means I’m probably watching an exceptional film.

I remained in my seat and felt the pressure of the story on my eyelids. I challenge you to watch the opening credits without flinching.

Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, the owner of a glamorous art gallery in L.A.. She used to be an aspiring artist but she lacked the courage to follow-through, so she owns great art instead. She’s at an opening at her gallery but she doesn’t seem too happy about it. She’s plagued by insomnia and has trouble concentrating on what people are saying to her.

It doesn’t help that her woman-magnet, trophy second husband has skipped her opening. He only had to put in an appearance for 15 minutes but he couldn’t manage it. She virtually begged him to come. He’s due to fly back to New York in an attempt to save his failing business. Even though he’s scrupulously sleek about it, you sense that he can’t wait to get away from Susan.

Planning to be alone for the weekend (She is sending the servants away.), Susan receives the galley of a novel from her ex. The name of the novel gives the film its title. Susan decides to read her ex’s novel on her solitaire weekend.

Nocturnal Animals then splays into elegant triple parallel plotting. We see the novel depicted on the screen in increasing intensity. It’s a brutal tale of rape, murder and revenge in isolated West Texas country. Nothing could be further from the slickness of Los Angeles and New York City that’s shown in the rest of the story. In a stylish noir touch, when Susan closes the galley, we wipe out of the depiction of the novel. When she goes back to the novel, it’s depicted again on the screen.

The third plot stream is the story of the failure of Susan’s first marriage to the writer. We see that Susan had a choice early in life between risk and security. It’s a commonplace, brought up in the film, that daughters turn into their mothers. But what if you were well aware of that risk and turned into your mother anyway? Wouldn’t you be doubly damned?

There’s a scene in the film where Susan visits a museum to attend a meeting. She sits on the board. In her passage to the boardroom through seemingly endless flights of pristine white staircases, she sees an over-scaled painting depicting the word “Revenge”. When she refers to the painting at her board meeting, she has to be reminded that she is one who acquired the work for the museum. Susan lives in a world of owned, super expensive objects of which she is only dimly aware, like Citizen Kane in his Xanadu.

My mind keeps jumping back to that galley, the galley of Nocturnal Animals. I’ve received many galleys in my time with their plain white or light blue covers. But when we see the galley for Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford makes me feel like it’s the calm before the storm and the storm is Judgment Day.