NOCTURNAL ANIMALS directed by Tom Ford (USA, 2016)
“All the animals come out at night” – Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver (1976)
“Now it’s dark” – Frank Booth – Blue Velvet (1986)
Inspiring comparisons with the finest works of Martin Scorsese and David Lynch is a sign of how impressed I am by this magnificent movie.
Tom Ford’s equally fine debut A Single Man from 2009 can no longer be dismissed as a one-off.
Well-established as a hugely successful fashion designer, Ford does not need further acclaim or money. Wealth does not guarantee creative inspiration but it does buy a certain freedom. Perhaps this is how he has been able to be so uncompromising and daring in his adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan.
The central character of the movie is Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a conceptual artist who, like Ford, inhabits a world of the super-rich with its executive hotels, sleek galleries, high-tech offices and fashionable restaurants.
Over the opening credits, we are exposed to examples of her installations which feature massively obese women dancing or posing naked in a bizarre freak show that presumably aims to mock the vogue for designer porn.
There is a voyeuristic fascination for these slow motion images of billowing flesh but there is also something crudely fetishistic and disturbing about them. The distorted representation of the female body is too grotesque to work as satire and borders on the exploitative. It seems like the work of an artist who wishes to challenge accepted notions of beauty and good taste but the extreme nature of her subjects repulses rather than fascinates.
Susan’s emotional aloofness seals the impression that hers is a life out of joint. She is trapped in a loveless marriage and seems ill at ease in a synthetic world which is so evidently detached from ‘reality’.
As with Scorsese and Lynch, Tom Ford shows how a surreal cocoon of privilege, respectability and comfort offers only a fragile protection from the darkness and evil which is always ‘out there’.
Paradoxically for Susan, real life intrudes through a work of fiction. She receives the draft of a novel written by her ex-husband, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), which opens up old wounds. The story is dedicated to her and entitled Nocturnal Animals after the nickname he gave her after restless nights of insomnia.
The violence and horror of the story she reads (and which we see) is an invention, but also brutally mirrors the conflict and betrayal that destroyed their marriage.
More than simply portraying the gulf between the lives of the haves and have-nots, the movie also incisively exposes the anthesis between good and evil; trust and infidelity; beauty and ugliness; creativity and commodity.
The film boasts blazing central performances and a strong supporting cast including Aaron Taylor-Johnson as scary villain Ray and Michael Shannon as laconic Texan cop Carlos Holt. There’s also a brilliant soundtrack by Abel Korzeniowski.
It all combines smartly and stylishly to make for what is far and away the best movie I’ve seen all year and one that I think will rank as one of the best of the decade.