I saw the movie Nocturnal Animals about a week ago, and I have been flip flopping back and forth about whether or not to do a full in depth overview of this movie. And yet, I’m sure there are going to be so many of you that just come out of the movie theater with your head completely spinning. I did actually enjoy the movie – the story within a story, the amazing acting, the literature feel and format – really everything. But it was dark. And epically foreboding. I considered just doing a truncated ending explanation – but I realized if I didn’t discuss the entire movie and the vantage I am coming from 90% of you would be lost when I dive deep on the ending.
So normally how I do my movie dismantling is fairly simple. I talk through what the movie is about for those who haven’t seen it yet – a spoiler free overview. A drop a trailer on you and then I shew out the non-viewers in order to talk solely with those that have already seen it. And then I do a high level overview of the important occurrences in the film followed by potential theories that explain what just happened in the film. And then you all eviscerate me in the comments. (No, I jest, you are all way kinder than I deserve in all practicality.) Does that sound like a good game plan?
Quick Nocturnal Animals Overview
For those of you who have not seen the film yet, the movie deals with the life of a woman, name Susan Morrow, that appears to be wildly successful as an art collector and promoter. And yet, everything isn’t right in Denmark. Something is off. And as we are realizing this, she receives a draft of a novel that was written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield. The story moves forward with the novel and novel reading all happening in an intertwining and dovetailing fashion. The book is a story about a man, his wife, and his daughter, and a particularly tragic day in their life. And as both stories go we learn more and more about Susan’s life and how it intersects with that of Edward’s. That’s probably plenty for now for you to make a decision about seeing it or not.
Right, so there you have it. About as much spoiler free material that I can muster. If you have not seen the film, I would highly recommend that you leave, see the film and then come back. Fair enough? Great.
Nocturnal Animals Timeline
Probably the first thing we need to chat about is the timeline of Nocturnal Animals. It isn’t super complicated, but isn’t a straight linear timeline. First, we start with the timeline of reality – which I will denote (or is it connote, I always get those two confused: “Although both words broadly mean ‘to signify’ they are technically quite different. Denote refers to the literal primary meaning of something, whereas connote signifies the attributes of a word aside from its primary meaning. For example, winter denotes a season of the year, but connotes cold weather.” Aha! Denote, definitely. Later we’ll use a lot of connote) with alpha characters – A, B, C, D, etc. The second timeline is the timeline of the book which I will denote with numbers 1, 2, 3 etc. And with that in mind – the timeline would go something like this:
T, U, 1, V, 2, W, 3, A, 4, B, 7, C, 8, X, 10, Y, 11, Z…
So it starts out at the end of Susan and Edward’s life timelines (T, U, V) and then flips into the story of the book (1, 2, 3, etc.) which remains chronological (though jumps forward regularly) and then jumps to the beginning of Susan and Edward’s relationship and marriage. All the while jumping back and forth between the book and real life.
In Depth Nocturnal Animals Overview
Now that we have the basics of the timeline down, let’s take the movie overview in two big bites. The first bite being the thread of Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield. And then the second bit being the book and the characters of Tony, Laura, and India Hastings.
The Morrow/Sheffield Storyline
When the movie starts we are with Susan at her latest, and biggest, and most important art opening. Personally I averted my eyes for most of it as it was the epitome of beyond the pale. But maybe that’s just me. But we know that this is an important and critical opening for Susan, as she tells her husband, Hutton Morrow, as much the next day after he makes his excuses for not being there. And why was he not there? Because he was too busy sleeping with his latest fling, that’s why. Well, her husband, as it would turn out doesn’t want to go with his wife out for the weekend. He would rather lie to her and tell her he has to work, when in fact, he doesn’t. And so suddenly, Susan has the entire weekend to herself. At which point a package arrives for Susan from Edward. A manuscript entitled Nocturnal Animals. And after a bit she sits and begins to read it.
A day or two later, she is out with some friends, and her friend Carlos is chatting with her about her opening. Generally attempting to be encouraging, but Susan would have none of it.
Susan, “Junk culture.”
Carlos, “Junk culture is right. It was a strong opening.”
Susan, “I hated it.”
Carlos, “Then why do we do it?”
Susan, “Because we are driven and a bit insecure. Because we think they mean something. And then we find out that they don’t.”
Carlos, “Susan, enjoy the absurdity of our world, it’s a lot less painful than the real world.”
And as Susan’s story line progresses, she begins to read, and to think. And as she thinks we see her thoughts go back to the beginnings with Edward. And we see how they meet and the struggles that Susan has with her mother over Edward. Her mother believes that Susan is better than Edward, that she will drive to succeed and Edward will not. They fight over whether or not Susan will regret Edward. And basically, he mother plays the part of the prophet of doom because everything she says is exactly correct, except it plays out more tragically.
Regardless, Edward and Susan marry, and soon Susan is pushing Edward to do something more than to be a failed writer. Edward is shocked because he had assumed that he adored that about him. The struggling artist. The insightful muse that doesn’t fold under peer pressure. But alas… not so much. Then one day, Susan meets Hutton Morrow and they have an affair. And Susan and Edward have a massive argument about getting a divorce. Edward makes the case that love doesn’t give up quite beautifully in my mind. But what he didn’t know was that she was already sleeping with Hutton Morrow. (As an aside, did anyone else catch the fact that Susan’s name was Susan Morrow… Susan Sorrow? Just curious.) And with that, Susan and Edward break up. Susan marries a high powered real estate exec and then Susan goes on to become a well to do art show promoter and voice in the art world. And the final few details of this story line we’ll cover down in the ‘ending explained’ section momentarily.
The Hastings Storyline
Pardon me while I state the obious here, but… the Hastings family is a fictional family. But they are incredibly interesting to our main story line of the Morrow/Sheffield thread. And not just a little bit. I mean, 1 to 1 correlation interesting.This is Edward’s masterpiece work of art that he has been threatening to write his whole life. And we know that he generally wrote about himself because Susan had told him to stop doing it.So as you remember back through the events of what happened in the book, your number one goal is to see how they snap in with the other dovetailed reality.
The story starts simply enough with Tony, Laura, and India Hastings driving. They are obviously passing through. Though we don’t specifically know where they are going. But they come upon two cars blocking the road. Everything very quickly escalates into your own AAA nightmare. Cars collide, and eventually all three cars are on the side of the road after a bit of a chase. A struggle, some arguing, a flat tire that is replaced, more groping and arguing. The key here, the big big give away that you need to see, is how emasculated Tony is by all of this. How completely and totally disempowered he is through this exchange. He is separated from his wife and his daughter and never sees them alive again.
Ray and Turk take the women in Tony’s car. And Tony drives Lou’s car to follow after them. They drive to a shack where Tony’s car is parked, but Lou tells him to keep on going. And eventually he dumps him out on the side of the road and leaves. And there Tony is, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the night. Eventually Lou and Turk come back to look for Tony… “Your wife and daughter need you!” But it’s only a trap. They want to kill him too because he is now a massive loose end that they need to tie up. (literally.)
Eventually Tony escapes the back country that he was dumped in and makes it to the police. Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) take on the case and Tony and Bobby basically become inseparable for the rest of their story line. They track down leads, and hunt down potential perpetrators. Eventually they find Lou and Turk but the prosecutor doesn’t want to prosecute the case because they say that Bobby screwed up the evidence and the procedural details. And so Bobby and Tony track down Ray and Lou in order to exact revenge.
Nocturnal Animals the Ending Explained
Let’s tie these two threads together now and get to the explanation for what the heck happened at the end. These stories are actually one story and tell a single truth. We know this for a fact because Edward had once called Susan a “Nocturnal Animal”. Which then paints the rest of the novel in a completely new light. I think first, we should go back to the Morrow/Sheffield story ending. While Susan and Edward are still married Hutton gets Susan pregnant. So Susan and Hutton go and get Susan an abortion. And while Hutton is still speaking about how he would never let Edward know we see him standing outside in the rain beside the abortion clinic. So Edward knows that Hutton has killed his child. Ok?
Cut to the story now. Edward is Tony. Laura, Edward’s wife is Susan in real life. And India Hastings is Edward and Susan’s unborn child. And Hutton? Hutton is Lou, Ray and Turk rolled up in one. Ok? So Edward is exacting his revenge on Susan and Hutton by doing a couple of things simultaneously. The first being creating a critically acclaimed novel. The second by killing Hutton in the book.
Did you notice how Edward was basically emasculated the entirety of the book until the very end? So Edward becomes someone else entirely to get his revenge. He becomes someone he hates. Someone that repulses him. But Edward/Tony will do anything to get his revenge, even becoming someone he hates. So let’s go back to the story. Tony has Lou held at gunpoint. And he forces Lou to tell him what happened, to admit what he had done. (To admit he killed Edward’s unborn child.) And then Tony shoots Lou a couple times and with the final shot Lou cracks Tony in the skull and knocks him out.
Current score card? Edward is out cold. Lou is dead. And Edward steps out of the shack fires once into the sky and then falls to the ground. I have seen some comments that say that Edward then kills himself. But I don’t see that in the ending at all. I think that it is the act of exacting his revenge that has killed Tony. The wounds of the murder which have exacted their own revenge and as a result killed Tony.
Now, cut to the Morrow/Sheffield story line. Susan has just read the end of the novel. And has contacted Edward and asked to meet. Edward replies with “anytime, anywhere”. So Susan gets gussied up (then removes the lipstick, a sign that she was trying to impress Edward and not Hutton) and heads to the restaurant to meet Edward. She has a drink. Then two. Then three. And Edward never shows up.
What is the meaning of Edward’s Not Showing?
There are several possibilities as to why Edward doesn’t show up. It could be that Edward was literally exacting his revenge on Hutton while Susan was at the restaurant. It could be that Hutton was just saying to Susan that she doesn’t deserve him. Or most likely, it could be that Edward was saying that he wasn’t going allow what happened to Tony in the book to happen to him by even engaging with her again. He wasn’t going to allow what Hutton did to him, kill who he is.
I believe that Edward was telling Susan one thing. That he was not going to be a Nocturnal Animal by even associating with her again. By writing the book he was telling her what she had done to him. That she had killed him on the inside. That she was a horribly hateful and vindictive person. And that despite her hate Edward had risen above what she did to him in order to create something beautiful (his book) out of the ashes.
Cut to Susan, getting drunk in the restaurant. She is alone. Her husband is having affairs behind her back. Her endless pursuit of money, fame, and acclaim was actually a hopeless pursuit. Originally she followed the path her mother predicted she would take which was a pursuit of power, and acclaim. While sitting there alone at the restaurant, she is reviewing her past choices and the wasteland that has become her life. And the fact that Edward is telling her he’ll have no part of her or her pursuits anymore.
Does that make sense?Am I missing something? It is a dark movie, but with a very good message. Success is not more important than love. Family is more important than money. And we should do everything in our power to avoid the allure of this “Junk Culture”.