Nocturnal Animals (2016) Ending Explained

This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of Nocturnal Animals (2016). What happened to Edward? Why didn’t Edward come? Beware of spoilers.

nocturnal animals 2016 revenge

Directed by Tom Ford, the 2016 neo-noir psychological thriller stars Amy Adams as Susan and Jake Gyllenhaal as Edward.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Plot Summary

Susan is an art gallery owner. One day, she receives an “unexpected” manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward. He dedicated the book to her and now he wants to know her opinion. “Nocturnal Animal” used to be Edward’s nickname for Susan.

The Novel (Nocturnal Animals)

Tony Hastings is a family man on a road trip with his wife (Laura) and daughter (India). On a fateful night, he runs into three local troublemakers: Ray, Lou and Turk. First, Ray and Turk take Laura and India away from Tony. Then, Lou forces Tony to drive Ray’s car. Later on, Tony manages to escape to a nearby farmhouse and calls the police.

Detective Roberto Andes, who’s in of charge of the case informs Tony that Laura and India are dead. They found the bodies in an abandoned shack with signs of torture and rape.

An year later, Andes asks Tony to identify Lou. Then, the detective goes after Ray. However, he lets him go as there wasn’t enough evidence to support a conviction. That’s when, Andes decides to take matters into his own hands. With Tony’s help, he kidnaps Lou and Ray. Meanwhile, both culprits attempt to escape. Andes shoots Lou, but Ray manages to escape.

On his own, Tony tracks down Ray. At the shack, where the murders took place, Ray confesses raping and murdering Tony’s wife and daughter. Tony shoots Ray, but he still manages to hit his head with a iron bar. Due to the head injury, Tony stumbles and falls into his own gun, shooting his own abdomen. It the end, he dies.

nocturnal animals 2016 ending explained

Present (Real World)

As Susan reads the novel, she reminisces about how she and Edward met. During the entirety of the their relationship, Susan’s mother was always against them dating, deeming Edward unworthy of Susan. Nonetheless, Susan decides to ignore her mother’s disapproval of Edward and marries him.

Due to different life aspirations, Susan and Edward eventually drift apart. Edward’s writing career wasn’t going anywhere and Susan’s goals were mainly material-driven. During this period, Susan also started an affair with Hutton (her current husband). Meanwhile, Edward cuts ties with Susan when he learns that she had an abortion.

When Susan finishes reading the novel, she and Edward arrange a meeting at a restaurant. Edward doesn’t show up.

Nocturnal Animals (The Novel) – Ending Meaning

So who is who in the novel? Let’s start with the most obvious, Tony is Edward and everybody else is a representation of Tony’s feelings about the breakup.

In the novel, Tony has a wife and a daughter, which symbolizes the life he could have had with Susan, if they didn’t breakup. In Edward’s story, Tony is as a happy family man on a trip with his loving family. The three individuals that ruined his life, appeared out nowhere. That’s how Edward probably felt about the divorce and the abortion.

Susan is Ray, the major culprit in this story. In Edward’s eyes, she took away their chance of being happy together, when she decided to leave him and not have his baby.

Who are the other two culprits (Turk and Lou)? Probably, Hutton (Susan’s current husband) and Anne (Susan’s mother). Hutton knew that Susan was a married woman, when the two started having an affair. Why is Anne a “bad guy” too? She always disapproved of their relationship, calling Edward unworthy of Susan.

In the end, Ray dies but Tony dies too. Why? Ray dying in the story, is Edward’s way of saying f*ck to Susan for what she did. In addition, he hopes that Susan gets what she deserves. As a matter of fact, karma has already hit her door: Susan’s current husband is unfaithful and neglectful of her. Tony dying in end, represents the impact that the divorce had on him. It wrecked him.

Nocturnal Animals (The Film) – Ending Explained

Let’s talk about that inconclusive ending. What happened to Edward? Why didn’t Edward show up? There are mainly two different ways to read the ending of Nocturnal Animals.

Ending 1 – Edward dies. He kills himself and the book was his last goodbye to Susan. What Susan did to him was too unbearable and he is not able get over what happened.

Ending 2 – Edward doesn’t die. Nothing “bad” happened to Edward for him to miss that dinner with Susan. Yes, the main character in his book dies but that was just a metaphor to illustrate how Edward feels about Susan. The book was his way of showing that he can write a pretty damn good novel and that he has finally moved on.

Personally, I’m more inclined towards the latter: that Edward didn’t die and that he has moved on. After all, he won. Edward wrote an amazing book (inspired by the break-up) and now Susan is in a loveless marriage with a cheating husband. Do you know what’s even sadder? Susan is now a lonely woman. She got all dressed up for dinner, with hopes of getting back with Edward (or at least get his attention back). However, he doesn’t show up. Edward’s ultimate f*ck you to Susan.

Now was that a bitch move? It might sound like a funny question, but it’s also a legitimate one. You see, I have very mixed feelings about Edward. On one hand, I’m like: “poor Edward, Susan really broke his heart”. But on the other hand, it’s been years since she dumped him. I mean, isn’t it time to move on? Living a great life is be the best revenge. Susan moved on: she got herself a new husband and had a daughter. Having said that, if you ask me, yes it was sort of a bitch move.

Final Thoughts

The film was an amazing visual experience — pure eye candy. What else would you expect from Tom Ford? Whether you like the man’s persona or not, you cannot deny his talent. However, that’s not everything. As a viewer, it’s almost impossible to arrive at the end of the journey without judging (at least once) the two main characters: Susan and Edward.

When the film’s end credits were rolling I didn’t have a good opinion about Susan. “She had it coming”, I thought. But then, I was like: “Did she really deserve it?” What did she do to Edward that was so horrible? Let’s see, she had an affair and got an abortion without telling Edward about it. He found out later, after he caught her with another man. Well, that’s pretty bad. However, is it enough to deem her as a vile woman?

Let’s go back to the beginning of their relationship. To be honest, Edward and Susan come from very different worlds. Although, they share a similar educational background, Susan comes from a wealthier family than Edward. At the beginning, that fact doesn’t really matter, because they were still in the honeymoon phase.

Marriage changed everything because reality set in. Susan wanted nice things (as she always did) but she wasn’t getting them from her relationship with Edward. It’s sad, but Edward’s writing career wasn’t making any advancements at the time. In addition, he kept accusing Susan of not being supportive of his career. So can you really blame her for leaving him?

After some careful thought, I decided to cut Susan some slack. Yes, she did have an affair. Yes, she did “kill” Edward’s baby. However, she didn’t do it to intentionally hurt Edward. Susan felt trapped in a unfulfilling relationship. What she did wasn’t right, but she didn’t have malicious intent behind her actions. Therefore, it would be unfair to make her the bad guy of the story.

Overall, Nocturnal Animals is a very interesting film that raises difficult questions. Susan is not a villain, she is a career-driven woman that left a man that did not met her standards. That makes her a non-conformist, not a bad person. However, it’s difficult to see her in that way when you bring your own gender biases to the table.