Nocturnal Animals is a weak script on the theme of a writer demeaning women. What do I mean by weak script? Well, for one thing, none of the characters (except maybe the villain) are ever introduced properly, so there’s really no reason to care about them.
The story is about Amy Adams’ character (let’s call her “whatsername”) being punished for making her own choices. The punishment, from her deranged-but-how-like-unto-a-god-in-form-ex (Jake Gyllenhall, aka “Man”), is a book he’s written about her and her daughter being kidnapped, raped and murdered. This is not okay.
Let me just repeat that, in case you missed the point. Man writes to woman who broke up with him two decades ago and sends her a story where she’s the subject of a kidnap, rape and murder. She thinks this is just tearfully-awesome because it’s the best writing she’s ever read. What the fuck? She went to college and this is the best writing ever? No, nothing about this is okay.
Oh, but it’s a metaphor, you might say. That’s just what she reads into it! Yeah, no. I don’t think so. Adams is very clearly cast as both the reader and the victim. So the message of the metaphor is exactly what the writer/filmmaker shows us. Man wants to show whatsername how much he wants to hurt her. Objectification. Kidnap, rape, murder.
There is perhaps one way this might be ever so slightly okay; if the subject of all that male ego ever had to deal with his obvious misogyny and general fuckedupness. But he doesn’t. There’s a scene where Gyllenhall’s character (Man) goes off on a rant about how whatsername doesn’t “get” him and his writing. It’s incredibly petty and self-absorbed. Presumably Tom Ford had a “wordgasm” at that point with this onanistic mansplaining. Several people around me left the theater during that scene. Others left before and after.
Even with all this heavy crap, which we’re supposed to “respect” because “isn’t the writing wonderful?” we still don’t care about whatshername. We still have no clue who she is or what she cares about, apart from being defined by her relationship or lack of it with Man. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is beautiful but Ford’s writing is callous and puerile. Non-linear structure with a thin sheen of fashion all masquerading as art.
In the end, nothing happens in a lackluster display of douchebaggery where whatsername sits alone and is left pretty much where she began. Her character has journeyed from point A to point A on a one-dimensional emotional yo-yo and has “got the message” that she “fucked up”. Now she must “pay the price” by living with the knowledge that only Man, the all-powerful, could have saved her from her wretched existence. But he’s chosen not to, so now she’ll just have to suffer in the knowledge that she hurt Man.
This screenplay was nominated for a Golden Globe. Presumably because it has no spelling mistakes or because of an incredible marketing campaign where people judged writing based on the cut of the filmmakers’ suits. Maybe they published the title page with tear off sections for rolling newly-legalized tranquilizing spliffs. Who knows. It hurts perception of the craft to imagine this might have been nominated by people who thought this was great writing.
One last thing, the music. I was surprised when they brought the composer on stage for the self-congratulatory Q&A. There was a composer!?! I honestly thought they’d used clips from other soundtracks. I can’t quite place it, but it seems like I’ve heard this score before, especially the main theme.