‘Nocturnal Animals’ is an engrossing psychological thriller by director Tom Ford that showcases powerful acting performances by Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal. Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s Ray Marcus and as well as Amy Adams’ Susan are memorable performances as well. This film, that has another film embedded inside it, is one of those movies that brusquely ends and leaves you slightly unsatisfied but gets immensely better on a second viewing. Personally, it is definitely one of the best movies that I watched in 2016. It’s a shame that the screenplay of the movie didn’t get enough recognition. That’s probably because of the subtleties and the need for interpretations that the film requires. The confusing Nocturnal Animals ending also didn’t help the matter. In any case, it’s a stirring cinematic experience. Owing to the seemingly open-ended and abrupt ending, this movie invites a lot of explanations. Here’s my explanation:
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The plot in short
There are two different plots in the movie. The seemingly unrelated plots have lots of correlations between them. In the main story-line, we follow Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner, who receives a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The package is a manuscript of his novel. The story of the novel, which is the second plot, is unraveled when Susan reads it.
The story of Edward’s novel
The novel begins with a family road trip. Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura and daughter India are driving to Marfa, Texas. During the night drive through somewhere isolated in West Texas, the family is being troubled by a gang of three men in a car, Ray Marcus, Lou and Steve Adams. During the commotion, Ray (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Steve drives off with Laura and India while Lou forces Tony to drive the other car into the desert and leaves him there. After hitchhiking all night, Edward reaches the police in the morning. Detective Bobby Andes(Michael Shannon) is assigned the case and they find Laura and India abandoned near a shack after being raped and cruelly murdered. After a year, Bobby manages to arrest Lou. Steve got killed in an unrelated incident leaving Ray as the only culprit left to punish.
Due to the circumstantial nature of the evidences, they are unable to charge Ray. As someone who is dying of terminal lung cancer, Bobby decides to go off the books and helps Tony to exact revenge by dealing with Ray by themselves. They abduct Ray and Lou and decide to extort a confession out of Ray during which they both try to get away. Bobby shoots and kills Lou while Ray successfully escapes. Bobby and Tony goes looking for Ray independently. Tony finds Ray in the shack where Laura and India were found. During the violent encounter, Ray hits Tony in the head with an iron bar while Tony fatally shoots Ray. Blinded and walking aimlessly in the desert, Tony falls, accidentally shoots himself and dies.