Nocturnal Animals Completely Explained
Nocturnal Animals is an amazingly dark morality tale of revenge and deceit that is a really complex movie to really understand and decipher. IMDB
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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”.

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33 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Gries

    Hi Taylor, I have some thoughts I wanted to add for your consideration.

    Nocturnal animals

    In the opening sequence, fat, naked cheerleaders are shown in slow motion, dancing and lit dramatically. What a contrast compared to the beautiful, healthy, fit young women that are objectified in our society.

    We soon learn it isn’t Susan’s art statements but simply her gallery. (I find it fascinating and edifying,that so many people were challenged and even angered by this scene, yet scenes of the latter are widely accepted without so much as a bat of the eye!)

    Susan is so out of touch she fails to see the meaning in this show, although the message seems important not to mention, blatant to me. Furthermore she has lost touch with the artists she represents and how important their individual statements are to themselves and the public that are touched or affected by the art

    Susan gains her strength, money and power off the backs of other people’s art. She never believed in her own artistic potential and so never explored it.

    Edward, on the other hand, lives his dreams, ever the suffering artist, eventually becomes emasculated by Susan’s rejection of his work.

    The massive fight that Edward and Susan have seems to have been triggered by the fact Susan has recently found out she is pregnant with Edward’s child (information that she withholds from him) all the while pushing for him to step up to the plate and make something of himself (in order provide for her and the baby).

    When she realizes he will never do so, ever the romantic, and unwilling to give up on his dream she tells him it is over. She also doesn’t believe he has a book in him or will ever amount to anything , the poisonous pregnant seed her mother planted at the beginning of their relationship further grows.

    Edward asks her if she still loves him and when she admits she does, argues that love doesn’t give up. But pregnant Susan panicks and begins confiding and growing close to Hutton (whom she met at a play?!) Who she sees as confident and successful, all that she perceives Edward will never be.

    Susan decides to abort her and Edward’s baby, weeping to Hutton (who drove her to get the abortion), while they are sitting in his car immediately afterwards that she knows she will live to regret this, and that she already does. She goes on to say that Edward must never know, but she sees him standing in the rain behind the car at the abortion clinic, and realizes the full impact of what she has done and all she has taken from him. She leans into Hutton for strength and he tells her he will always take care of her.

    Susan (19 years later) has a conversation asking her young assistant about whether one’s life choices could add up eventually to a single awful mistake. (Flashback to her ominous words outside the abortion clinic, that she would live to regret this)

    Clearly Susan is deeply unhappy in her present life/work/marriage and realizes that she has made a horrible mistake leaving Edward. A couple years prior she tried to reach out to him but he hung up on her, clearly still angry with her.

    Present day Hutton (19 years into the marriage) no longer has the time for Susan nor her gallery. It has turned out he has not taken care of her nor supported her emotionally but rather has affairs, that she obviously suspects but only now, confirmed. Or perhaps she has known all along but it is something painfully unspoken between them.

    From the first moment Susan comes into contact with Edward’s gift/manuscript (magnum opus) she is wounded by it (paper cut) our first clue.

    I suspect the three antagonists in the novel, Ray and Turk and the faceless third man, represented the abortionist, Susan and Hutton.

    When Susan reads that Laura and Indiana (the wife and daughter in Edward’s novel) have been found dead, by none other than Tony (Edward) she is so deeply affected and shaken that she immediately calls her own daughter, (the child she birthed with Hutton soon after aborting Edward’s child), just to hear her voice and reassure herself that her daughter is ok.

    Again, I liked the director’s use of the naked female form here… cutting from the nude dead bodies of the fictional wife and daughter to the flawlessly, sensuous naked body of Susan and Hutton’s teenage daughter. It causes a momentary brain lurch, not unlike the effects of a Buddhist Koan, (a paradoxical riddle or anecdote that challenges reasoning and logic), as did our cheerleaders from the opening sequence.

    Then to one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film. Susan, walking with another assistant, stops before an art piece, asking where it came from. The painting is nothing more than three lines of letters that spell out “revenge”. Susan does not recall giving approval for the gallery purchase some six years prior.

    During this exchange her assistant is distracted by something on her cell phone. When Susan asks her what she’s doing, the assistant passes her the cell, explaining it is an app for keeping in contact with your baby when you are away from home. The screen shows a surreal green image of a baby in a crib.

    The baby is moving a little and cooing. Susan stares at the screen as the assistant explains she can even talk to her baby and the baby can hear her. Suddenly the cell screen fills with the face of a man coming into view and out of the phone at Susan. This jump/scare (the hell out of both myself and husband… we screamed like little girls and stopped the movie at this point) Susan screams as well (I think, but difficult to know for sure with all our screaming going on an NO WAY were we going to rewind!!!) and drops the cell phone, breaking the screen. I think Jump/scare man is abortionist, rapist, murderer all rolled into one.

    Susan apologizes, saying she replace the phone but assistant tells her not to bother as there is a new one coming out in a week (slight nod to aborted baby being swiftly replaced with new pregnancy with Hutton).

    The swiftness with which the antagonist in this scene appears then disappears akin to the sudden and unexpected strike of the Grim Reaper (or the Spanish Inquisition, cause no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!)

    Susan had reached out and tried to make contact with Edward a couple of years prior (from present day), as she was/is clearly unhappy and had been for some time, but he hung up on her, clearly deeply hurt still.

    Edward,in the meantime, begins working on his magnum opus, and never remarried as there is no time for anything but getting his revenge.

    He dedicated the book to Susan

    Title of book his nickname for her Nocturnal animals, what is the significance of this nickname? The three men that Tony and family run into at night are Nocturnal Animals.

    In the book he is emasculated by the strangers in the car. They laugh at him and tease him , take his wife and daughter all without using a weapon and leave him in the middle of nowhere. When they return for him calling out that his wife wants to see him instead of going to her he hides

    The lawman, Bobby, clearly judges him, further emasculating Tony when he admits the assailants had no gun. You can see in the Bobby’s eyes that he thinks Tony is weak.

    In the novel Edward killed off both Laura and Indiana, symbolically killing Susan as well as her and Hutton’s daughter just as he had been robbed of his own child with Susan. Edward never remarried.

    I am curious and unsure about the final moment in the novel where, blind and wounded, Tony makes his way out of the trailer where his wife and daughter were raped and murdered and where he took the life of the final rapist and head antagonist in the story (finally empowering himself). Once outside he shoots off what seems like a call for help and then he collapses or falls on the gun. At this point I am unsure if he shot himself by accident on purpose or even if he shot himself at all. Very powerful watching Susan’s expression as we listen to his heartbeats slow, then stop

    It was easy for Edward to have information about Susan’s very public life, thanks to the internet, and for him to correctly guess of her sadness and dissatisfaction with her life, since she’d reached out to him two years prior.

    Perhaps this reaching out was what finally spurred Edward to write Nocturnal Creatures, and dedicate it to Susan. Once she”d read it he dropped the bait, (saying he would be in town), he knew he had her when she asked to meet with him. He allowed her time to anticipate seeing him again… time for her body to alight in anticipation with the possibility of his touch… time to allow hope to grow… time to fantasize about a possible future with him… and then he ripped it all away… by standing her up he got his hollow revenge by denying her the only happiness she had ever known and in so doing, his own as well.

    The film ends with Susan waiting for Edward, further numbing her already anesthetized life with alcohol. We have watched the entire movie through both the filter of Susan’s numb life, juxtapositioned against the pain, humiliation and loss of Edward’s life through his writing. She only really begins to feel again through Edward’s story.

    Clearly Edward was seeking out feelings of empowerment through Susan’s final validation of his talents as a writer and also by her desire to be with him again and his position of powder to toss her to the curb.

    Sad, sad film.

    • Khongsai

      I guess The faceless third man was Susan’s Mom. She was the one who asked Susan not to marry Edward.

    • Lillian Lough

      Really great dissection. R u educated in film, a critic, or r you really gifted? Not joking, could give a lecture on this film. The info on Marfa, TX is true & explains the trip & why, “Mom is in charge.” I believe the store closed this year, 2017, however not sure.

      Your insight is much greater than 1st dissector of film. I would add, however, that I believe Jake G. didn’t kill self as there was no 2nd shot heard. I believe his death represents how the trauma of his wife’s infidelity & lack of belief in him drained his soul/life. He made a statement by shooting into sir, just like confronting her & [email protected] abortion clinic. There couldn’t be any other ending for him after such heartbreaking devastation & betrayal. He was done.

    • Ace

      Did anyone notice that Edwards Mercedes follows Susan’s car into her drive way in the very beginning?!

  2. Mohammadreza

    This film was deep and amazing, so neither Susan nor Edward werrn msThere was Edward daughterdead and it was novel but there are still complications and misunderstandings for me even with your almost complete explanations, what did it mean susan daughter (unborn) sleeping with a boy naked while her mother called? What was the meaning of dead bird suddenly after edward scene? Did Susan have the child of hutton aborted or edward’s? Did susan really betrayed edward? This film is like Mullholland Drive film, that complication luzzle and beauty even somehow else. Tkanks

  3. Elizabeth Gries

    I feel certain it is Susan’s living daughter that she called (the naked girl in bed with boy)… daughter to her and Hutton, conceived shortly after aborting Edward’s and her baby. I wonder if the dead bird and the death of the Tony in the novel, means the death of Edward? He could have taken his life? Or perhaps he is saying she is dead to him?! Curiouser and curiouser… Yes, amazing and deep… will stick with me a long time. Thanks so much for your reviews and feedback!!

  4. Laura

    Great dissections! All so helpful for me, who had to turn to them to help me understand nod this sad film.

    However, I did catch one additional thing. Under The Hastings Storyline, the reviewer says that we don’t know specifically where the Hastings family is headed… They are just ‘passing through.’

    In fact, in the movie, as they are packing up the car, they say they are headed to Marfa. Marfa is a hidden little art community in Texas, with supremely individualistic outdoor art installments, such as a full-scale Prada storefront in the middle of nowhere. In fact, as I write this, it occurs to me that the artist came to Marfa, fed up with the materialism of the art community in his previous home in NYC. This ties directly to your thoughts on Ford’s contrast of Susan’s view of art vs. Edward’s. Other items of interest in Marfa are a bizarre and unexplained nightly light display. Very clever, Tom Ford!

  5. noah peznoff

    Any ideas about why the cop, Andes, doesn’t show up at the cabin (after Tony kills Ray)?

    What happens to Bobby Andes?

  6. Elizabeth Gries

    Thanks, Laura, for the info on Marfa. Really interesting and certainly fits with Edward’s motivations.

    And good point, Noah. Why didn’t Bobby come to see what happened with Tony at the trailer, as he was the one who directed Tony to go there. Clearly enough hours would have passed that Bobby would have begun to wonder what happened at the trailer? I imagine it was more symbolic of Tony being sent out on a male initiation ritual, much like is still done in some of our more “primitive” cultures, symbolically defining the moment when he leaves boyhood and becomes a man. These rites are seen as an opportunity to weed out the weak from the strong, thus keeping the tribes stronger.

    Although ultimately Tony did the deed, by killing his assailant, he ultimately died, wether by accident or his own hand we will likely never know. We do know he sent out a call for help just before that moment… but as with any rite of passage, one must also be able to come back out from the wilderness unaided in order to succeed. In this, Tony failed.

    • Cy Bazaar

      I think Bobby symbolizes who Tony becomes toward the end of the novel, no longer emasculated, and completing the revenge by shooting the last perpetrator. But just as Bobby is dying of cancer, Edward is dying of the guilt that he stood by and did nothing to save his family. In the last scene of the novel, Bobby could have appeared but he doesn’t, because Tony has become Bobby, his transformation complete.

      Also recall that Bobby had a daughter who wasn’t much help to him in his condition. This could be a reference to either Edward’s aborted daughter or to Susan-Hutton’s now adult daughter.

  7. Joel

    So I just saw this the other night, and it suddenly dawned on me. Susan had a daughter with her current husband who is now in college so at least 18 years old. We know it had been 19 years since she and Edward divorced. This is probably reading way too much into it but in the ensuing years couldn’t Edward have remarried and had a daughter? Is it possible that the book “Nocturnal Animals” is a novelization of something that actually happened to Edward? Edward and susan are
    From texas. The family in the novel are traveling back to Texas. Is it possible that even beyond Edward getting revenge on Susan he is also telling her the story of something that actually happened? I realize Tony does in the “novel” but could that also be for Edward a symbolic death that he is finally past his old self? I may have some of the details wrong and it’s clear Mr Ford has explained his ending — but that would make (to me anyway) the ending that much more

    Thinking out loud ….

  8. dibdoosquaterly

    Hello Taylor,

    Thanks for your review. Your analysis is fairly thorough, and I agree with all of it except for your interpretation of the end; moreover, there is an aspect of the film’s philosophy which you didn’t mention which I’d like to bring up. That aspect is Existentialism and Absurdism.

    For the record, there will be spoilers for Nocturnal Animals in this, as well as a partial spoiler for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

    Existentialism/Absurdism posits that
    1. There is no God.
    2. Therefore there can be no meaning.
    3. Therefore one must:
    3.1) hate one’s life and eventually kill oneself. (Existentialism)
    3.2) embrace the absurd and create your own meaning. (Absurdism)

    Susan and Edward are at odds with each other because she characterizes herself as a realist, while he is an idealist; he is someone who holds out a genuine hope for positive (but improbable) things such as the realization of his novel, while she is perfectly willing to give up such hopes and would rather reach for certainty and stability through power. Edward rejects the first tenet of Existentialism at least partially because he is Catholic, but Susan seems to have accepted it. Because neither character is willing to budge his position, this difference is irreconcilable. Susan decides to do what she thinks will make her happy, regardless of morality or who she hurts in the process.

    These choices ultimately lead Susan to ’embrace the absurd’ in her elite, decadent liberal circles, but doing so leaves her isolated, hollowed out and miserable. Nineteen years after divorcing Edward, she has recognized that there are no answers in Absurdism, and she recalls the sincere hope that Edward had and she rejected; now she wishes she could have a part in that hope and fantasizes about returning to Edward in order to have it. When he writes to her, she experiences the first surge of this hope and is eager to take him up on his offer to meet. This leads to her drinking and waiting alone in the restaurant.

    Our interpretations are compatible with each other up until this point. The idea of Absurdism is simply a different aspect of the narrative you described. My interpretation of Edward’s story, however, is quite a bit different from yours, although one must admittedly read into the story no matter what conclusion one reaches, so you could still be right. My conclusions are based on the idea that Edward’s book is not only about Susan but about himself as well; this is something which you also maintained throughout most of your review, but you deviated from its implications in the end.

    My take on Edward’s half of the story is this:

    The first scene of his book, in which his car is run off the road, and he and his family are harassed by the three men seems to be a description of existentialism. The three men represent the brutal and uncaring nature of life, before which Edward’s hope is impotent and foolish. The character in his book is not engaging with the truth of the situation and does not fight back, leading to the deaths of his wife and daughter without even having fought for them. I think one can draw a parallel between this scene and one from the end of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo here:

    The main character of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is investigating a serial killer and ends up going searching through his house at night; while he is searching, the killer comes home so the investigator rushes from the house, trying to get away without being seen. However, he is spotted and ends up pretending like everything is normal, ultimately going back inside and having a drink with the person who he knows is the killer by this point; the main character pretends like nothing is wrong to the point of stupidity and when the killer draws a gun on him it’s no surprise. The killer then says something to the effect of people being more willing to put themselves in harm’s way than being rude, even to someone who they know is evil. This is part of what Edward is doing in that scene, he knows that the people who have driven him off the road are dangerous and evil, but he continues to cooperate with them as if nothing is wrong, even as they escalate the situation more and more.

    I believe that this scene represents what Edward experienced when she left him; his optimism was turned against him, and he was brutalized by life. He comes to view the genuine hope he had as something absurd and rejects it, accepting the first existential tenet. Being bitter and ruined, however, he does not want to be happy so he does not ’embrace the absurd’, opting instead for existentialism. His only desire is to take vengeance on Susan, and once he has done this what logically follows is for him to kill himself.

    The final scene of the book seems to be ambiguous concerning the question of whether he shot himself intentionally or not, but that he does shoot himself is very clear because his stomach and chest are bloody as he breathes his last. The fact that he falls on his gun makes me think of people ‘falling on their swords’ to commit suicide, but it does also look like he genuinely stumbles so I’m not completely sure if it is intentional suicide or an indifferent death. The way that the director interweaves Susan’s breathing with his as he dies is also meant to be representative of the fact that their suffering is the same; their emotional and spiritual states equally fallen. It is a very powerful moment because it is only in this pair of images that the viewer grasps the breadth of her despair.

    You argued that by not showing up to the date he had arranged with Susan, he was making a statement of dissociation from her – that he was essentially in a healthy place – but this doesn’t seem consistent with the revenge theme of the book or the fact that he dedicated the book to her. It also seems more reasonable to me that he would have told her that he wanted nothing to do with her via e-mail instead of leading her on and standing her up if he didn’t have any sinister intentions and was in a good place personally – it was a cruel action, even by your interpretation of it.

    In any case, having interpreted Existentialism into his experience and assuming that his state of being in the book is meant to accurately reflect who he is in real life, I think it follows that he also kills himself in real life. His final blow to Susan is to give her as much hope as he possibly can before he tears it all away, leaving her with neither genuine hope nor the false hope of absurdism. What is left to her but the existential worldview that she thrust on him?


    It’s worth noting at this point that the moral message of the story, even with this darker read, is very good. It makes the point that there is nothing good in either existentialism or absurdism, and it seems to imply that the only possibility of genuine goodness lies in faith. While that possibility is not explored, the film exhaustively demonstrates that there is no good solution if there is no God.

    At least that’s my take on it, in any case ;)

    • Taylor Holmes

      Yes, fair enough…
      to take revenge on someone instantly implies unhealthyness no matter the form of said revenge. I agree. And yet, like the ending of The Clouds of Sils Maria, walking away is infinitely more healthy than staying engaged. I think that was solely the point I was trying to make. In proportion to the alternative… grading on the curve… healthy-er. Tho, not exactly healthy, at all.

      Hahah. Thanks for the interesting insight good sir. I also read couple pages of your blog as well. Interesting reading.


  9. Thomas

    It goes without saying: Tom Ford’s poignant, and grim drama Nocturnal Animals is one of the most spiritual movies ever made. Not only does Nocturnal Animals revolve around a series of events that are disturbing, but the execution of the story is incredibly thoughtful, and yet ironically just logical. What makes Nocturnal Animals particularly relevant, is that it’s a case of the ability of logic being the theme of the movie. More precisely, Tom Ford’s drama is about the war between the link between morality and reality’s origin and the ability of that link.

    On the surface, Nocturnal Animals can come across as a nuanced story about revenge, and guilt, however, at a deeper level the film is an exploration of the immorality of empathy, because for empathy to be valid that meant that empathy always needed to be a reaction to something valid (in this instance, the absurdity of logic being the deaths of Laura and India Hastings). Regardless of the actual plot, an interpretation of Nocturnal Animals is that each of its events are part of a chain, and that the chain is an examination of the identity of the moral perspective.

    Throughout the story, characters react, and they have perspective. And while this in itself would seem a pointless thing to point out, because of the uniformity relative to other stories and movies, the uniformity is destroyed because of the sense that the perspectives and reactions throughout the film are in fact counter-productive to the conventional morality of the movie’s events. Susan, played brilliantly by Amy Adams, and Gyllenhaal’s Tony Hastings share a pattern of visual symmetry from start to finish, while at the same time both being part of opposite realities as the intended theme seems the wrong interpretation: the self-awareness of Nocturnal Animals could be that its mission is to justify the isolation represented by Susan and Tony. Susan’s visceral reactions to the story of Tony are moral, but not the moral perspective. Of course, Susan’s perspective on the story sent to her by Edward is the conventional morality, and thus the point of Nocturnal Animals is to understand the true significance of reaction.

    The horror, and the gruesome events that define the life of Tony Hastings need the capitalist lifestyle that Susan’s life is defined by, and yet oddly, the intelligence of Nocturnal Animals is to understand that the capitalist system is the creator of empathy – reality’s symbiosis. And even within the context that capitalism as empathy’s creator is an inevitable thus pointless understanding, somehow, Nocturnal Animals just plays so that its mission isn’t pointless. The very image, the very moment of the discovery of the corpses of Laura and India is a perfect, root demonstration of the concept of conundrum.

    Fascinatingly, if the argument of Nocturnal Animals is that the moral perspective is synonymous with the concept of conundrum, the issue becomes how to perceive the individual chains throughout the movie. Again, perhaps this can be tied to the point about the inherent power of Nocturnal Animals simply being the impossibility of irrelevance. At heart, this movie is a masterful display of storytelling, the kind of movie that doesn’t just put other movies to shame, but which actually makes many other movies immoral.

    Nocturnal Animals has the power to use immorality on the basis that the immorality can’t be used by pre-Big Bang, despite pre-Big Bang and Nocturnal Animals being the same.

  10. Thomas

    Whereas Nocturnal Animals has the ability to do things that are both not needed and void of philosophy as a mode of philosophy, the 1996 film Scream is unable to emulate this ability.

  11. Bill Wilkinson

    I keep coming back to the idea that fictionalized TONY symbolizes real-life SUSAN.

  12. Allison

    I think he shoots himself on accident in the end….and that either this makes the end of the movie make you believe either his heart stops beating for her in real life…or he killed himself..or hes dead inside. and i question if the daughter is actually her and huttons daughter and not really his….does it ever say with definition that it isn’t his…i understand they are in the car but is it possible she hadn’t gone through with it? 19 years later would put her right at 18 with 9 months to give birth….so i question if she lied and kept it from everyone….kept his daughter from him…and the truth from hutton.

    • John Corbin

      Excellent thoughts, Allison. I just commented below on whether or not India were real. I’d sure like to talk to the director or author to ask about this. But I think your comment was very insightful.

  13. Thomas

    After further examination of Nocturnal Animals, it’s possible that the images of Susan Morrow at the restaurant at the end of the film are the means the ending the history of the universe, and the history of the Second World War

  14. John Corbin

    Q: If “India” merely represents Edward’s unborn child “taken” from him, essentially by Hutton, then why, while Susan is reading the novel, she stops reading for a time, she calls India? It makes it seem, at first, that the toad trip did happen, but it didn’t go the way Edward depicts it 1in his novel. How could Susan call India if she weren’t real?

  15. Mary Elizabeth

    I’m with Bill W. on this one. I think fictional Tony is real life Susan. It was her cowardice and shame that killed her unborn child by Edward and her spouse (figuratively speaking). The goons represented Susan’s mother, Hutton and circumstance.

    Lou was literally like Susan’s mother… in the way that he was a bully and emotional rapist.

    Tony dies alone painfully in the desert, shot down by an accidental bullet understanding that the success of his revenge redemption of his bravery was all too late and meant nothing, leaving him alone, blind and dying… just like Susan at the restaurant.

    Ultimately, though Susan had blamed Edward for being a weak romantic fool… she was the the weak mind trying to obscure a “junk” reality with nonsensical romantic fantasy. I mean, the gallery opening was almost excruciatingly painful to watch. And yet she throws her romote control in disgust after watching (we could just hear the TV sound) an exchange between two black women talking about some guys lack luster sex performance and she walks away after saying …”that’s beyond!” She condems the very “beyond and junk” fantasy she exploits to maintain her fake but comfortable lifestyle.

    Susan’s problem isnt admitting her life is fake or junk but she could not face the fact that she was NOT like her mother but rather she was like Edward… afraid.

    We can discuss the merits of fear/weakness next time.

    If you notice… the fat women in the opening scene are also sitting outside the bar when Tony waits outside while the cops round up Lou. Dare I say that I think they were wearing red glitter lipstick?

  16. Kay Alexander

    I think, like everyone else, that the movie is about revenge. No one seems to have mentioned the “handwriting on the wall” painting in black and white, big black and white letters, spelling out REVENGE. That was the central theme of the movie, everything else, comments about the meaninglessness of rich, moneyed people, how absurd pop culture/art is, abandonment, Susan becoming her mother, all of it revolves around Edward and the revenge he exacts on Susan.

    I don’t think he kills himself at the end. I think that his not showing up at the restaurant was part of the plan. “Just tell me when and where.” That was written to make Susan feel at ease enough to go ahead and go. That he had let bygones be bygones. Clearly, she didn’t connect the dots about the parallels between her and the character in the book. I suspect that she was so broken up with grief about her marriage falling apart, the fact that the money and success wasn’t what she thought, she wasn’t sleeping, after all; that she just didn’t get it.

    If she had realized what Edward was saying, that she was the wife in the story, the aborted (and living) daughter was the daughter in the story, it would have been clear to her that Edward still had strong feelings for her, even after twenty years of not being together. Kinda pathetic, really. He hated her, hated what she’d done…I don’t think it was the other man’s baby she’d aborted, I think it was Edwards…and he never could let it go.

    Again, I think she was so tied up in knots about her philandering husband, she arranged to meet Edward with the idea that she would sleep with him as a form of revenge against her present husband. She waited for Edward for hours not so much, I believe, because she absolutely had to see him, I think she was planning on using him to ease her pain a bit.

    Did anyone notice the “fat ladies” that were the object of the exhibit were also outside the bar when the characters in the novel go looking for the killers? I think all that is Tom Ford’s commentary about the people that exist in the fashion/art/retail industry.

    In fact, I think the whole thing is Ford’s commentary on not only the fashion/art scene, but his life, as well.

  17. Kay Alexander

    I just wanted add another thought about the painting. She ask her co-owner(?) where the painting came from? Her reply was “you bought it, remember?” Or something to that effect. That meant that Susan brought the revenge on herself.

    Some have speculated that Edwards’ not showing up at the restaurant meant that he’d killed himself. I don’t think so. I think that Edward’s having killed off all the characters in the book meant that he’d finally moved on by doing away with everyone in his past. I think it cathartic for him and his denying Susan an even slight chance of being in his life (again) was part of his plan for revenge.

  18. Thomas H Cullen

    Nocturnal Animals is about the logic of life being after death. Movement is only logical if it’s after no movement, which means that movement becomes a reaction to no movement. Reaction is the only living force, which is nonsensical from the perspective that reaction is meant to be a judgement. Why is judgement correct if it’s a reaction to nothing? Judgement is moral perspective, and in the story of Susan Morrow moral perspective is because of nothing.

    Nothing creates morality, which is the theme of Nocturnal Animals. This would suggest that morality then constitutes self-division, because the creator of morality is incapable of being made up of anything. Morality is self-conflict. Self-battle is morality, as opposed to morality being a reaction to conflict. Judgement isn’t a reaction, but is reaction and cause.
    Cause and effect is synonymous with perspective.

    The United States should be ended because of Nocturnal Animals, because of just how sublime and how philosophical the movie is

  19. Randy H.

    The credits offer an interesting clue,,,,

    Samantha Morrow……played by…..India Menuez

    While her name is never spoken in the film we learn that Susan’s real life daughter has a first and last name, and that her last name indicates she is Hutton’s daughter. I considered the possibility that she (Samantha) might be the biological daughter of Edward but there was a scene early in the film in which Susan mentions
    Edward’s name and Hutton doesn’t remember who he is. I doubt that would be the case if Hutton had knowingly raised another man’s daughter.

  20. Dylan

    The ending confused me. At first I thought Tony was going to show up at the dinner with a busted eye. My main question was how Tony able to finish his book if he was dead. Then I came to the conclusion that Tony was a ghost so I wondered how did he send the book to Susan if he was a ghost. This site cleared it all up for me. Thanks

  21. Adeline

    Not sure if this was already mentioned in the comments, but I just have a few corrections…Ray and Turk (not Lou and Turk) come back to look for Tony after Lou leaves him alone in the desert. Also, Edward gets Susan pregnant (not Hutton) and they abort his child. Finally, Ray is shot by Tony at the end and Ray strikes Tony’s head and knocks him out at the end (not Lou).

    • Taylor Holmes

      Not sure if you’ve been here before, but man, I have the worst time with names. Awful. Even worse, I scrabble pronouns like nobodies business. It’s ugly! hahah. So thanks for helping me out. I’ll sort that out here soon. Appreciate the assistance.

  22. Ky

    Cool, good work.
    Mr. CULLEN DO YOU MIND ELABORATING, i can barely sort out all those anapharisms ot whatever the ssst this is that..and that is this is called. But u may hav a point in there!

  23. Dr R

    All good Stuff here! did anyone notice that the three bad guys in the Hastings storyline are unknown actors and practically everyone else is a pretty well-known even the assistant Jenna something in real life from Donnie Darko .. also I started to wonder who that could be in the green screen of her phone when she’s watching her baby the mustache and long hair looks a lot like the main bad guy I think his name is Ray. then Amy Adams says I thought I saw someone but how would she ever know what he look like I also wonder because she has insomnia is it possible that she’s deluded or delusional about this whole story that she received from Jake Gyllenhaal’s character does he even exist in her world anymore the only clue telling me that he exists at all is that her mother mentions him but remember Armie Hammer doesn’t know who she’s talking about even her co-owner doesn’t know that she had an ex husband. I think the three characters in the book could directly relate to three characters as in real Jake in the past real Amy and the real daughter weather aborted or not if anyone has anything to refute the delusions remember she’s going through insomnia and probably having weird hallucinations or something she might have even imagine the book being dropped off as I don’t think anybody else reads it anywho Love This Thread please let me know what u think about this idea, taylor and gang..
    P.s. How about all the odd nudity in this film..lou on the toilet and the painting behind amy adams when they mention the dashing and handsome hutton, fisheyed style i think its referred to..a red head with an enlarged butt? Obv the daughter laying on her side in both the “book” and when she calls her sunday morning to which th daughter is very kind and genuine unlike her supposed parents !!?

  24. Ken

    This review is so shallow and poorly written. I’m not even sure its author was watching the movie really.

  25. Dr R

    Taylor.. is Ken replying to you or me: Dr R.
    Anyway his brain seems feeble, I would appreciate it if you took a look at my post, agree , disagree or delete it. because I don’t wish to receive any emails, saying there is a reply, when it’s trolls like Ken.
    Thank you


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