Jul 2, 2017

Nocturnal Animals


While I would not really expect a flaming fag fashion designer that once recommended that all straight men suffer the supreme debasement of taking a dick in the ass at least once in their lifetime to know much about the nuances of serious heterosexual relationships, Tom Ford—a Texas-born queen that was once absurdly described as “the straightest gay man in the world”—has demonstrated with his second feature Nocturnal Animals (2016) aka Tony and Susan that he is somehow capable of crafting one of the most emotionally true and undeniably unforgettable of contemporary dark tragic romances. Indeed, Ford’s debut feature A Single Man (2009) is so good in terms of emotional resonance and maturity that it would probably trick many people into thinking that gay men have the same exact wants and needs when it comes to love as straight men, yet I really did not suspect that he had the interest or insights to understand the nuances and dynamics of the sick sad joke that is contemporary Western heterosexual love and its badly misbegotten bastard son known as lovesickness, but his latest cinematic effort certainly proves otherwise.  Not surprisingly considering his last film, Ford's second feature also reveals that he has a keen queer eye for the aesthetically rich and sometimes just plain downright cinematically decadent. In terms of his knack for brutally honest melodrama that swiftly and coldly pierces the heart like a seasoned serial killer on a midnight stroll in the red light district, Ford might be best described as the American Fassbinder of fag high-fashion, though his newest film also reveals some flirting with genre conventions, namely that of the western and film noir. Of course, it is hard to imagine that someone that would appear in a pseudo-zany Ben Stiller vanity piece like Zoolander (2001) would have even a shred of artistic integrity or brilliance, but it seems that designing tons of fancy female clothing and hanging out with tons of fucked up beauteous models with coke problems and severe daddy issues equipped Ford with the carefully crafted tools to assemble a film with the masculine prowess of a John Ford flick but the strange sensitivity for socio-sexual politics of Douglas Sirk.  Ford also seems to have a hard-on for hicks, as Nocturnal Animals features an intentionally sexy yet savagely murderously sadistic redneck gang that has more in common with James Dean and early Marlon Brando than NASCAR and Marlboro Reds when it comes to sheer style.

 A film that demonstrates the absolutely devastating effects of the callous and oftentimes romantically fatal female instinct of hypergamy and how it leads to the destruction of true love and the abject emotional nightmare of loveless and sexless marriages, Nocturnal Animals—a relatively faithful adaptation of the novel Tony and Susan (1993) by belated novelist and literary critic Austin Wright (1922–2003)—is a revenge tale of the heart where a redheaded rich bitch that has everything but orgasms and a husband that loves her receives her just deserts in the form of a cleverly crafted literary assault by her ex-husband who reveals via a fictional narrative the unwavering sense of betrayal and heartsickness that he has suffered as a result of being thrown away like rotten trash by his oh-so-bourgeois ex-wife nearly two decades ago. Simultaneously a neo-western, ghost-less ghost story, neo-noir nightmare, allegorical romantic tragedy, and metaphysical revenge flick, Ford’s second feature is like a Bergman flick like Scenes from a Marriage (1973) if it were made for genre-obsessed American philistines, though it would be somewhat dishonest to say that the majority of American filmgoers enjoyed it (after all, imdb.com is flooded with countless highly negative, emotionally-charged reviews). A virtual obituary for a savagely raped and slaughtered romance in the form of an emotionally grotesque revenge fantasy where no one really wins in the end, Ford somewhat surprisingly reveals a certain latent primitive masculinity behind his weepy yet ruthless melodramatics. I also suspect that Ford had some influence from Douglas Sirk classics like All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956), though the film probably owes more to the Coen brothers' debut Blood Simple (1984) in terms of aesthetics and atmosphere when it comes to the eponymous novel-within-a-film. 

 Auteur Ford might make a living designing insanely expensive superficial clothing for superficial rich people, but in Nocturnal Animals he deals a coldly precise and unrelentingly deadly blow to the sort of vanity that fuels such an innately soulless industry.  In short, Ford seems to have modeled a number of the characters after people he personally knows (in fact, he has described the female lead as being of a somewhat autobiographical natural).  A film that might teach some girls not to listen to their insufferably cynical and materially motivated mothers and instead embrace both who and what they genuinely love, Ford’s flick might sometimes succumb to certain irritating clichés, but it also demonstrates in a decidedly emotionally devastating way that true love is worth all the wealth in the world and that the greatest tragedy is that most people will probably not realize this until it is far too late as they have already disposed of their beloved for a terribly banal yet insanely well paying career and fake philandering husband. Indeed, the film’s sharp-witted yet virtually terminally melancholic fire-crotched protagonist Susan Morrow (Amy Adams)—a stinking rich art gallery owner from LA that peddles absurdly priced pseudo-artistic degenerate trash that would probably only appeal to kosher capitalists—has everything a gal could want materially speaking, but her fiercely forlorn eyes reveal that she is deader inside than a Muslim gang rape victim. Somewhat ironically, Susan was at her happiest when she was at her poorest and still married to her struggling writer ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), but she eventually got tired of the fact that her beloved was more creatively than monetarily motivated so she divorced him for some fake preppie fuck and dedicated her life to advancing her career.

 As revealed at the very beginning of the film by her tragic cold stare during a campy degenerate art exhibit at her gallery that involves naked morbidly obese women dancing around in anachronistic cabaret hats, Susan is completely dead inside and lately she has been thinking about the estranged ex-husband that she dumped 19 years ago. In short, Susan is an unloved and unsatisfied middle-aged beauty that suffers from a serious case of sehnsucht, though only a handful of her friends seem to suspect this.  In fact, not even Susan's husband or daughter seem to realize that she is in the middle of a deep and dark existential crisis.  In what proves to be a cruel yet fitting instance of kismet, Susan is somewhat bewildered to receive a package containing a manuscript written by her long estranged ex-husband that is dedicated to her. Featuring a provocative eponymous title, Susan instantly knows that the novel is about her due to the fact that her ex-hubby Edward used to call her a “nocturnal animal” due to her tendency towards sleep deprivation. Needless to say, upon beginning reading the novel, Susan finds her insomnia getting worse as she soon discovers herself the deserving victim of an intricate form of literary-based revenge that only she can truly understand on an any intrinsic level.  Indeed, while Edward's novel is getting published and might be a big success, he was clearly mainly motivated to write it as a semi-hermetic means to express to Susan in a deservedly emotionally vicious and barbaric fashion that she put him through a sort of perennial pandemonium of lovesick lunacy as a result of betraying him nearly two decades ago and divorcing him in a most devastatingly despicable fashion.  Indeed, not only did Susan divorce Edward, but she took his family away and destroying all of his hopes and dreams, at least those not pertaining to writing.

 Just under two hours in length but feeling like a dark romantic epic, Nocturnal Animals ultimately offers two relatively elegantly interwoven films (and three subplots) in one. Indeed, aside from depicting Susan’s present-day humdrum life and flashbacks from her failed marriage to Edward, the allegorical story contained in her ex-husband’s carefully tuned manuscript is depicted as she reads it, thus adding an extra layer of pathos that ultimately expresses more about the essence of the aborted romance than the flashback scenes. Indeed, by the end of the film, the viewer not only learns why and how Susan ruthlessly sabotaged her marriage with her ex-husband, but also the violently visceral emotions Edward felt after being cravenly betrayed by his one-true-love. Somewhat provocatively, Edward is never depicted in the present, yet his spirit ultimately dominates the film via his novel, which is naturally more exciting than Susan’s insufferably phony and contrived real-life life.  Vaguely Lynchian in character and containing a sort of neo-retro/neo-noir aesthetic comparable to the underrated crime-drama Cold in July (2014) directed by Jim Mickle, the novel-within-the-film is certainly the most enthralling aspect of the flick and acts as a nice contrast to the sad and pitiful banality that is Susan's post-love (non)existence.

Naturally, Jake Gyllenhaal portrays both Edward and the tragic hero Tony Hastings of Edward’s titular novel, as the character is semi-cryptically autobiographical. Not unlike Edward, the protagonist of his novel, Tony, loses his family, albeit in a much more brutal and cinematic fashion that underscores the novelist’s long brewing deep-seated rage, irrevocable sense of sorrow, Weltschmerz, obsessive self-loathing, and undying thirst for the ultimate form of revenge. In the novel, Tony’s wife Laura (Isla Fisher), who bears a striking resemblance to Susan, and bratty teenage daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are brutally raped and murdered by a fearsome redneck threesome that includes head honcho hick Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his two swarthy and similarly poorly shaven underlings Lou Bates (Karl Glusman) and Steve ‘Turk’ Adams (Robert Aramayo). After being forced off the road by the gang in the middle of the night on a secluded highway in West Texas, Tony finds himself being immediately intimidated and ruthlessly emasculated by Ray Marcus and his mad mongrel crew. Indeed, without the protagonist even putting up any sort of a fight, Tony’s wife and daughter are kidnapped and he is forced by Lou to drive himself to a secluded desert dumping ground where he would have surely himself been killed himself had he not had the foresight to immediately hide from his stupidly sinister redneck tormentors.

Of course, it is not long before Tony discovers what has happened to his wife and daughter and he is immediately wracked with severe guilt, which is only nature for a poor mensch that lost his entire family in the most dehumanizing of fashions without even putting up a fight (just as Edward did not seem to put up much of a fight when Susan divorced him for another guy). Luckily, a bad ass cowboy named Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon)—a character that acts a symbolic voice for Edward/Tony to take action/get revenge—that believes in justice at any cost is assigned to Tony’s case. While Detective Andes eventually catches the killers (sans ‘Turk,’ who is killed in a botched robbery), shady judicial politics leads to them being set free due to lack of evidence. Dying of lung cancer and unwilling to lose his final case as a proud man that is being forced into early retirement against his will, Andes offers Tony the rare opportunity of vigilant justice and he naturally takes it. In the end, Tony manages to get revenge against the men that raped and murdered his wife and daughter, but he ultimately dies soon later in a freak accident that involves him shooting himself with his own gun upon falling on the weapon following becoming blind after an injury he sustained during his final showdown with mad dog Ray Marcus. 

 Undoubtedly, it is no surprise that the protagonist Tony of Edward’s novel dies in the end, as the character’s miserable yet strangely triumphant demise is symbolic of the novelist’s own sort of post-marriage spiritual death. Indeed, as he communicates to her in a somewhat hermetic fashion in his novel, Susan killed all of Edward's hopes and dreams in regard to having a family, thus leaving him with a non-existence that is arguably worse than death. As the film eventually reveals towards the end that really underscores the true extent of the heroine's cravenly self-adsorbed treachery, Susan not only divorced him but also went completely behind his back and aborted his child without even telling him she was pregnant. To add insult to injury, Edward caught Susan with her new secret boyfriend Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), who she later married, sitting in a car together outside of the abortion clinic right after she had done the dirty deed in what is indubitably one of the cruelest scenarios of cuckoldry in cinema history.  Naturally, the teenage daughter that is raped and murdered in Edward's novel is symbolic of the unborn daughter that Susan so callously aborted (notably, Susan has a daughter with her husband Hutton that was clearly conceived not long after she aborted Edward's child).

As to why Susan divorces Edward, it can probably be summed up simply in Nietzsche's words, “Whom does woman hate most? – Thus spoke the iron to the magnet: ‘I hate you most, because you attract me, but are not strong enough to draw me towards you.’” Indeed, while the love was clearly mutual between the husband and wife, Susan eventually began to resent Edward for not being ‘strong’ enough for her as a spouse as a man with a mediocre book store job and lack of monetary ambition.  While the film features a number of cruel ironies, arguably the cruelest is the fact that Edward is only able to gain the strength to be a great and successful writer after Susan has destroyed his life and turned him into a perennial bachelor that devotes himself completely to his work and lives a life of relative solitude (or so the viewer can only assume).

Undoubtedly, Edward’s completion of his magnum opus Nocturnal Animals was his best revenge against Susan, as she never had faith in him as a writer and largely dumped him because he valued his art over mere monetary gain. Of course, it is a perverse irony that the perennial lovesickness that Susan caused him would ultimately equip him with the highly personalized inspiration that he needed to pen such a provocative pathos-ridden work. Naturally, Susan is left completely devastated by Edward’s morbidly tragic novel, but that does not stop her from setting up a fancy dinner date with her ex-husband. Unfortunately for Susan, who got all dolled up for the special reunion, Edward does not show up for the date and she is left to look pathetic and lonely at the restaurant while waiting in vain for the man she loved but senselessly threw away.  Susan is clearly crushed as a result of Edward blowing her off, as the date is the only thing she seemed to look forward to in the entire film.  Additionally, by being stood up by Edward—a man that she once crushed like a fly and destroyed his entire life without much hesitation—Susan must come to the dreaded conclusion that no one loves or cares about her anymore, including the overly emotional ex-husband that wrote an entire novel dedicated to her.  As for Edward, the viewer never sees him in the end, but I think it is safe to say that he is quite happy to be finally free of the red beastess and that his carefully executed existential revenge is complete.

 Surely, one of the more intriguing aspects of the film is that it dares to depict the deleterious effects that mothers can have on their daughters. Indeed, as depicted in a flashback, Susan’s mother Anne Sutton (Laura Linney) made a rather aggressive attempt to talk her daughter out of marrying Edward despite the fact that he is a longtime respected family friend.  As the best friend of her estranged gay son, Anne always felt that Edward was too weak and surely not adequate material for her strong, energetic, and entrepreneurial oriented go-getter daughter.  While Susan only had bad things to say about her mother and somewhat pathetically describes her as, “religious, conservative, sexist, racist, Republican, materialistic, narcissistic, racist,” Edward somewhat ironically noticed that the two have ‘positive’ similarities and even once stated to his beloved, “you both have the same kind of sadness in your eyes. You and your mother. Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you. I just . . . She just always seemed sad to me. She has sad eyes. And I’ve thought that since I was a little boy. You have the same eyes. They’re beautiful.” While Edward attempted to encourage her to be a vulnerable artist that was willing to express herself instead of selling out and establishing a safe career, Susan’s mother ruthlessly mocked such sentiments and recommended that her daughter play it safe and keep her eye on the money like a good bourgeois whore.

Unfortunately, it seems Anne understood her daughter better than Edward ever could, as she is a spoiled poor little rich girl that grew up living a life of luxury and thus incapable of maintaining a happy marriage with a romantic starving artist type. In fact, Susan’s mother made an accurate prediction when she warned her regarding her materialistic tendencies and how it would ruin her marriage in the long run, “I know you think that we don’t care about the same things, but you’re wrong. In a few years, all these bourgeois things, as you so like to call them, are gonna be very important to you, and Edward’s not gonna be able to give them to you. He has no money. He’s not driven. He’s not ambitious. And I can promise you, if you marry Edward, your father’s not gonna give them to you either.” As the brutally bitter breakup of Susan’s first marriage revealed, Anne was quite right when she somewhat ominously stated to her daughter in regard to her beloved Edward, “The things you love about him now are the things you’ll hate in a few years. You may not realize it, but you and I are a lot more alike than you think.” Of course, it probably came as a great source of shame for Susan when she remembered her emotionally glacial mother’s foreboding words, “We all eventually turn into our mothers.” Naturally, it should be no surprise to many viewers that queen auteur Ford has described Susan as a sort of stand-in for himself, as most gay men seem to take after their mothers. 

 In his magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character, suicidal Viennese semite Otto Weininger put forth the provocative thesis that the archetypal woman is both innately soulless and lacking any sort of true individuality, or as he wrote in his book, “Undine, the soulless Undine, is the platonic idea of woman. In spite of all bisexuality she most really resembles the actuality. The well-known phrase, "Women have no character," really means the same thing. Personality and individuality (intelligible), ego and soul, will and (intelligible) character, all these are different expressions of the same actuality, an actuality the male of mankind attains, the female lacks.” Undoubtedly, heroine Susan epitomizes Weininger’s harsh remarks, as a hopelessly weak and impressionable dame that ultimately gives up the love of her life and her art to become a mindless and lifeless bourgeois bitch that has passively dedicated her life to vomiting bromide to her equally fake friends (including a dumb twat that is proud of the fact that she is married to an effeminate gay man that literally sports Tom Ford designer clothing) and projecting a safe yet lame image of opulence. Had Susan had even an inkling of personal integrity and, in turn individuality, she would still be married to the man she loves, but she just cannot find it in herself to be a genuine human being in the way a serious man can, hence why she is a character that can hardly be described as sympathetic. In short, Susan is a sort of archetype from the perennial tragedy that is womanhood.  Indeed, Susan ultimately adapted herself to her new materialistic husband Hutton and inevitably became something she always dreaded and ultimately hated, but as Weininger noted, “As a rule, the woman adapts herself to the man, his views become hers, his likes and dislikes are shared by her, every word he says is an incentive to her, and the stronger his sexual influence on her the more this is so.  Woman does not perceive that this influence which man has on her causes her to deviate from the line of her own development; she does not look upon it as a sort of unwarrantable intrusion; she does not try to shake off what is really an invasion of her private life; she is not ashamed of being receptive; on the contrary, she is really pleased when she can be so, and prefers man to mold her mentally.  She rejoices in being dependent, and her expectations from man resolve themselves into the moment when she may be perfect passive.”  Of course, Susan ultimately chose the wrong man to be influenced by, as he is philandering prick that does not even attempt to hide the fact that he cares more about money than her.

 While Nocturnal Animals adequately demonstrates why Susan ultimately decided to divorce Edward and abort his unborn child, anti-feminist Jewess Esther Vilar surely provided further insight as to why their relationship was an abject failure when she wrote in her classic text The Manipulated Man (1971), “As a result of ‘love,’ man is able to hide his cowardly self-deception behind a smoke screen of sentiment. He is able to make himself believe that his senseless enslavement to woman and her hostages is more than an act of honor, it has a higher purpose. He is entirely happy in his role as a slave and has arrived at the goal he has so long desired […] Since once can expect nothing from a woman but love, it will remain the currency for any need she might have. Man, her slave, will continue to use his energies only according to his conditioning and never to his own advantage. He will achieve greater goals and the more he achieves, the farther women will become alienated from him. The more he tries to ingratiate himself with her, the more demanding she will become; the more he desires her, the less she finds him desirable; the more comforts he provides for her, the more indolent, stupid and inhuman she will become – and man will grow lonelier as a result.” Indeed, aside from never realizing that love was never enough for Susan, Edward never considered that most women are innately materialistic and expect real physical currency as opposed to the largely imaginary sort that women so effortlessly and passively provide. As to why Susan wanted to so desperately see Edward after reading his novel, she wrongly (and quite arrogantly) believed that he—the effete emo-fag-esque loser she once threw away like outdated clothing—would be her virtual ‘security blanket’ and provide her with the love and emotionally support that her philandering husband, seemingly slutty daughter, and army of servants were incapable of providing her with.  Undoubtedly, if Susan is the victim of anything in the end, it is her own hypergamic female instincts just as Edward was a victim of the deluded male belief that ‘love’ means the same thing to women as it does to men.

 Admittedly, Nocturnal Animals somewhat surprised me and left a fairly deep impression on me for largely personal reasons, namely in relation to how the heroine shares many of the tragic irrational feminine qualities that some of my ex-girlfriends had. For example, I have been in relationships with women that, despite having genuine artistic and intellectual talents and political views that were sometimes at the right of Savitri Devi, could not bear to quit a ‘multicultural’ corporate job that they hated because they instinctually prioritized the material over the spiritual, cultural, emotional, and artistic, as if they were possessed by a evil tormenting spirit that geared them towards masochism and nihilism, among other things.  Indeed, this intrinsic material need seemed to outweigh virtually any other consideration, including their own future and fertility. Not unlike the lead heroine, one of these girls that I knew was totally brainwashed by her similarly cold and seemingly soulless mother, who was not beneath using emotional blackmail and monetary threats against her daughter.  Of course, the greatest tragedy is that she opted to waste her intellect and artistic talents when she clearly had the talent to be a notable writer that used her talent for good instead of contributing it to a sinister globalist realm full of semites, arabs, indians and other untermenschen that she could not even bear the sight of.  Like Susan, she listened to her deluded mother and never even once seemed to consider that she had genuine talent that could be used for good.  Admittedly, unlike the male protagonist of the film, I never felt the need or desire to ‘get revenge’ against this girl after she betrayed me because there was no question in my mind that her own irrational actions and cowardly self-betraying conformist behavior would lead to her own misery. In that sense, I see the male lead’s literary revenge to be somewhat effeminate and pathetic, even if I can empathize with his plight.  In fact, I am ashamed to admit it, but I cannot shake my empathy and compassion for her to this day.

 Notably, in an interview with deadline.com, auteur Tom Ford—one of a number of fashion designers that have been heavily influenced by the films of R.W. Fassbinder—revealed he has always had refined tasted in cinema when he stated, “You know fashion designers are probably some of the greatest experts on film that you can imagine because every time we start to design a collection, that is an inspiration. I have built entire collections around Fassbinder’s BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT. We know film backwards and forwards, and images and sets and clothes and costumes and people and characters, and so we’re storytellers in that sense.” Indeed, Nocturnal Animals does not seem like the work of a second time filmmaker, just as A Single Man did not seem like the work a first time filmmaker. Aside from Fassbinder’s clear melodramatic influence, the high-camp opening of Ford's flick featuring grotesquely obese naked women is so disgustingly degenerate that it would probably even make Werner Schroeter blush as a result of suffering from an acute case of fremdschämen.  Indeed, while Schroeter was certainly not beneath casting chunky spinsters and horrifying trans-weirdos in his films, I doubt that he could seriously stomach the truly all-American Wal-Mart-esque white whales featured in the singularly loathsomely campy opening of Ford's flick.  Not surprising, Ford has had kind things to say about these extra big-boned (sub)human blimps, as he sees them as the polar opposite of the tragic heroine in the sense that they completely embrace who they are to the point of gleeful self-exploitation. While the film has been sold as a sort of drama-thriller-mystery hybrid, Nocturnal Animals is pure and unadulterated melodrama of the vaguely masculine sort.  Like his Mongol-eyed Aryan hero Fassbinder, Ford thankfully believes more in real pathos and realistic endings than Hollywood-esque sugarcoated happy endings, hence why the film seems to have sharply divided both professional film critics and lemming filmgoers alike. 

 Tom Ford might be a flaming faggot fashion designer, but he is not that much of a pretentious twat as he has no problem admitting what his film is truly about, or as he stated quite clearly in the short featurette The Making of Nocturnal Animals in regard to the central theme of his film, “This story, for me, is really about not throwing people away. You know, we live in a culture where we throw everything away, it’s so disposable. We throw people away. And, so, Susan’s at a moment in her life where she’s achieved everything that she thought she should achieve, from the outside of what her life shoul look like, yet she’s dead inside. And then all of a sudden, this novel arrives, and it reawakens a lot of things that she’s already feeling. You know, it’s really the last straw that frees her. And, um, so that’s the central theme, and to me that’s an important one. When you have someone important, someone that you love, don’t throw them away, don’t let them go. And, to me, that was the thing, really, essentially about the story that spoke to me.”  Indeed, the film depicts the most tragic yet all-too-human of wastes and reveals that regret is one of the most decidedly debilitating of emotions.  In that sense, I would argue that Nocturnal Animals is one of the few contemporary films that has the capacity to provide the viewer with a borderline traumatizing experience depending on the background, especially when it comes to the perils of love.  On the other hand, the film can also provide certain lovelorn male viewers with a strangely optimistic message.  Indeed, when Nietzsche wrote, “Sickness is a powerful stimulant – but one has to be healthy enough for it,” he might as well have been explaining the formula for turning lovesick misery into a potent aesthetic weapon, which Edward surely accomplishes in the end.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you, man. You really put your heart on these reviews. Every text is a piece of art and the films gain more soul as I read them. God bless you.