This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film “Nocturnal Animals” (2016). Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals” is a psychological thriller based on a novel of the same name written by Austin Wright. The film stars Amy Adams as Susan and Jake Gyllenhaal as Edward. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
The film “Nocturnal Animals” is about a woman (Susan) who receives an “unexpected” manuscript from her ex-husband (Edward). He used her as inspiration for the book, and now Edward wants to know her opinion. “Nocturnal Animal” is Edward’s nickname for Susan.
What Happens in “Nocturnal Animals”? (Plot Explained)
“Nocturnal Animals” uses a dual narrative structure to present its story. There is the “real narrative”, the one that takes place in the present. And then there is the “book narrative”, which is essentially Edward’s interpretation of his breakup with 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 is in 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.
One year later, Andes asks Tony to identify Lou. Then the detective tracks down Ray. However, due to the lack of evidence, Andes lets the suspect go. Out of options, the detective decides to take matters into his own hands.
With Tony’s help, Andes kidnaps Lou and Ray. In the process, the culprits attempt to escape, but Andes shoots Lou. Meanwhile, Tony goes after Ray. At the shack where the murders took place, Ray confesses to his crimes. Then, Tony shoots Ray, but he also injures himself and dies at the end.
Present Time (Reality)
As Susan reads the novel, she reminisces about her past with Edward. It seems that Susan’s mother never really liked Edward, she deemed him unworthy. Nonetheless, Susan decided to ignore her mother’s opinion. She married Edward.
The couple eventually drifts apart due to their different life aspirations. Susan’s goals were mainly material-driven, and Edward’s career wasn’t going anywhere. During this period of her life, Susan met Hutton (her current husband).
Tony eventually finds out about Susan’s affair with Hutton. In addition, he also learns that she had an abortion. As a result, Edward decided to completely cut ties with Susan. When Susan finishes reading the novel, she decides to reach out to her estranged ex-husband.
The Ending of “Nocturnal Animals” Explained
The ending of “Nocturnal Animals” shows Susan arranging a meeting with Edward. She gets ready for her date and arrives at the restaurant first. Hours pass by, and Susan is still sitting all alone. As the restaurant slowly empties, it becomes clear that Edward is not going to show up.
It seems that Edward was trying to get revenge on Susan, but not in the way the latter imagined he would. Although Edward’s novel is pretty violent and brutal, he never had the intention of physically harming his ex-wife. He just wanted to let his feelings out and write a novel about them.
Since Edward never showed up, it’s up to the viewers to decide what happened to him. The way Edward’s novel ends has nothing to do with reality. In the novel, Tony’s death symbolizes how the divorce wrecked Edward. However, in real life, the man has moved on.
So what happened to Edward? The ending of “Nocturnal Animals” represents Edward’s revenge on Susan. Through his novel, he proved his ex-wife wrong. Edward finally showed Susan that he is a great writer. Not only did Edward make his point across, but he also made Susan feel humiliated and “abandoned”, which is how Edward felt back then when she left him.
As mentioned before, the novel that Edward dedicated to Susan has tremendous significance for Edward. The story depicted in the novel is essentially a metaphor for his relationship with Susan. With his novel, Edward also managed to say everything that he couldn’t back then to Susan. From his point of view, she just left him.
One could say that Edward got what he intended. Susan’s current marriage isn’t going very well. As a matter of fact, when Edward reached out to her, she was sort of excited to see him. Nonetheless, Edward crushed all of Susan’s hopes when he stood her up.
While it seems that Edward has finally moved on, Susan’s future is not looking so bright. Despite being a successful art gallery owner and living a rather comfortable life, she is still somewhat miserable. There is very little warmth or love in Susan’s life. No one seems to care about her, including her cheating husband, Hutton.
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Nocturnal Animals (2016) [Blu-ray]
Nocturnal Animals Analysis and Themes
The film “Nocturnal Animals” uses symbolism to explore the themes of revenge, betrayal, and guilt. When Edward wrote the novel, that was his “revenge” on Susan. He wanted to prove her wrong regarding his writing capabilities. Also, Edward wanted Susan, in a way, to regret leaving him.
In the novel, the revenge is more literal. The story is about a man who seeks to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter. Despite catching the culprits in the end, Tony, the main character, also dies in the process of seeking revenge.
The immense sense of betrayal was the main reason Edward wrote the novel. He dedicated his story to Susan, not to flatter her, quite the contrary. Edward wanted Susan to know the pain and deception he felt after their divorce.
As Susan reads Edward’s manuscript, she can’t help but reminisce about the past and feel bad about Edward. Not only that, Susan begins to reflect on whether she made the right decision regarding leaving her first husband. After all, things aren’t so great with her current husband, Hutton.
The Symbolism in Nocturnal Animals
There is a lot of “red” in the film, which is primarily used to express violence, death and revenge. It appears in the “novel narrative” as the blood of the victims, the car of the criminals, and the couch where Tony finds his wife’s body. Then, in the “present narrative”, it shows up as the colour of Susan’s lipstick, office background and art pieces.
Then, the novel itself is a metaphor for Edward’s feelings of loss and anger after Susan left him. So who is who in the story? Tony represents Edward, a man who loved his wife and fought to protect his loved ones. Interestingly, Ray is Susan, the one who took everything away from the protagonist. Meanwhile, the wife and daughter represent the life Edward could have had with Susan.
The title of the novel “Nocturnal Animals” itself has its own meaning. These are creatures that are active at night and have adapted to survive in the dark. This could symbolize both Susan and Edward, who have their own ways of coping with their pain and resentment.
Last but not least, the contrast between Los Angeles and Texas. On the one hand, there is beauty and glamour, which represent Susan’s life on the surface. Then there is the stark contrast of Texas, which symbolizes the ugliness and brutality of Tony’s reality.
The film “Nocturnal Animals” is an amazing visual experience. I mean, what else would you expect from Tom Ford? In addition, it’s impossible for the viewer to feel indifferent about the story and its characters.
Personally, I have a lot of mixed feelings regarding Edward and Susan. So, I kind of have sympathy for Edward’s point of view. Nonetheless, I also feel that what he did to Susan at the end was sort of a “bitch move”. Meanwhile, I feel that Susan kind of deserved being stood up, but I also believe that she wasn’t that awful.
In retrospect, what did Susan do to Edward that was so horrible? Yes, she did cheat on him and had an abortion without his knowledge. Although Susan’s actions are reprimandable, at the end of the day, the woman just left what she deemed an unfulfilling relationship. Is that enough to make her a vile woman or the villain of “Nocturnal Animals”?
This might be an unpopular opinion, but maybe Susan’s mother was right: the two weren’t a good match. Susan came from a wealthier background than Edward, and she wanted “nice things”, which unfortunately, Edward couldn’t give her at the time. Having said that, maybe it’s not unreasonable to say that both were responsible for their failing marriage.