Every year there seems to be some movie that I really disagree with the other critics and reviewers on. But that’s the point right? If I agreed with every other reviewer out there, why would anyone need me? So here’s my take on Nocturnal Animals.
We meet Susan (Amy Adams) as she opens up a new art exhibit. She’s cynical and dark and depressed. She’s married to a man (Armie Hammer) who is seemingly cheating on her and she’s generally unhappy with it all. Then in the mail, she receives a novel written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The movie then alternates between her real life and this novel, which we’re not sure is based on truth or is a metaphor… That is the mystery. In the novel, Gyllenhaal plays the lead character Tony, who has an intense encounter on a Texas highway with his wife and daughter, with a confrontation with a terrifying Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass, Avengers: Age of Ultron). We also have Michael Shannon in this novel story as well.
Some people love this movie and are saying it’s one of the best of the year. I can see that because this movie is art. It’s a dark look at art in a very meta way, with layers upon layers. People that want to sift through metaphors and try to infer meaning will find a lot to enjoy here, as it’s dripping with subtext and untold stories.
It’s also incredibly tense. This highway encounter that starts the novel is incredibly uncomfortable and I had an internal debate if I wanted to leave. I didn’t enjoy it, so I had to fight my urge to leave. I tend to prefer escapism at the theater, over confronting dark and tragic events. This sequence is unforgettable, whether that’s good or bad.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is perfect and it reaffirms that he’s one of the best in Hollywood right now. Hard to believe he came from Bubble Boy. Michael Shannon is great, Amy Adams is fine (not near her performance in Arrival, I don’t think). The other real standout is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who was nearly unrecognizable in both appearance and personality. We’ll see a few Oscar nominations from this pool, for sure.
What doesn’t work?
Now here’s the problem with a movie that relies entirely upon metaphors and inferences. The final scene in the movie, while perhaps brilliant, will upset most of you. The whole lead-up and the mystery of how this novel connects to real life is unanswered, unless you give it serious thought. Most of you though, don’t want that. If you want an answer, if you want resolution, this movie will taunt you in its final moments. That’s why this movie is so divisive because you may love it or may hate it, based on what you want from it. If you want artsy and metaphors, this will be your new favorite film, but if you want answers, this movie will dissatisfy.
And in this case, I found myself dissatisfied.
Before I get comments saying I didn’t get it… I did understand it. I get it. I know what the director intended but I just didn’t like it.
That ties into the bigger thought here. I didn’t enjoy most of this movie. Other than the one intense sequence at the beginning that I could hardly bare, I generally felt upset. It’s dark and scary, even with a few jump scares. It reminded me of A Requiem for a Dream, which I loved but I never want to watch again. This is like that, but I liked it much less. It’s traumatic and very affecting, but I didn’t enjoy it.
With a somewhat high percentage on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m in the minority here but I think my more casual audience will appreciate my candidness. This is a dark movie, sometimes gut-wrenchingly intense, that offers up a thousand things to think about and leaves the ending unresolved, unless you put on your critical-thinking caps and put in some mental effort on the metaphors. To most of you though, this will be upsetting. The other folks in my theater were very vocal about their dissatisfaction as we walked out, as I imagine you would be too. For the rare person who wants to think and dissect and analyze here, this is a goldmine. For the rest of you, it’s just a headache.