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Film / Nocturnal Animals

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"When you love someone, you work it out. You don't just throw it away. You have to be careful with it. You might never get it again."
Edward Sheffield

Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 psychological thriller written and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a Los Angeles-based art gallery owner stuck in an ailing marriage with her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer), who seems more interested in his occupational dealings than repairing their relationship. The morning Hutton leaves for a business trip, she receives a proof copy of a novel called Nocturnal Animals by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).

In the story, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) is a Texan man roadtripping with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their daughter India, when they're assaulted by a trio of hoodlums led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) intent on terrorizing him. While Tony makes it out of the ordeal alive, Laura and India are raped and murdered by the men. With the help of Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), Tony works to bring his family's murderers to justice, even if he loses his own life in the process.

While reading the novel, Susan has flashbacks of her time with Edward, ultimately agreeing to see him again upon finishing the book.

Also starring Laura Linney, Jena Malone, and Michael Sheen in minor roles, Nocturnal Animals is the second film by Ford, who previously wrote and directed the adaptation of novelist Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man.

Nocturnal Animals contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel this film is based on, Ray is described as "a balding man with bucked teeth." In the movie, he's played by the young, very attractive Aaron Taylor-Johnson, albeit with unkempt muttonchops.
  • Allegory: Edward's novel, Nocturnal Animals, is written as one for his tragic relationship with Susan.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Upon reading of Tony and Detective Andes discovering the dead bodies of Laura and India, Susan calls up her daughter. It's left unclear as to whether the girl's father is Hutton or Edward. The circumstances of the call strongly imply the latter, but that also requires assuming that Susan ultimately didn't go through with the abortion, and her conversation with Hutton involves her preparing to do so, but being scared out of it by seeing Edward.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Detective Andes asks Tony why he didn't go to Ray when he said he had his wife. Tony doesn't have an answer. This is just one of many emasculating positions that Tony experiences throughout the film.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of Ray's gang end up getting their comeuppance. Both Ray himself and Lou being the on-screen examples.
  • Ax-Crazy: Ray Marcus certainly qualifies, as he is a Card-Carrying Villain admitting that killing and raping is fun and does so after terrorizing his victims.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Detective Andes is willing to step outside his legal limits if it means satisfying his own personal sense of justice. It's implied that he used to be more idealistic, but he'd just seen too many rapists and murderers get away unpunished.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Downplayed. When Tony wakes up at the cabin the next morning after his shootout with Ray, the latter lies on the floor with blood from his mouth.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: In the manuscript, the nocturnal attack is conveniently set in a location with no phone reception.
  • Colour Wash: Scenes in the present day tend to be cold and desaturated, flashbacks are natural, and the film within the film is more saturated and harshly lit.
  • Cowboy Cop: Detective Roberto "Bobby" Andes is rather unorthodox, to say the least. And once he finds out he's dying from lung cancer, there's pretty much nothing holding him back after that.
  • Crowbar Combatant: Ray uses one against Tony during their final confrontation.
  • Darker and Edgier: Edward states in his letter that Nocturnal Animals is different from the sort of stories he used to write when he and Susan were together. It doesn't take her long to figure out what he means.
  • Dead Sparks: Susan and Hutton's marriage is on the rocks.
  • Disposable Woman: In Edward's book, Laura and India are just there to basically be raped, then murdered so Tony (i.e. his expy) can go on a quest for justice on their killers. That said, it's done well.
  • Downer Ending: All three plots end this way. In Nocturnal Animals, everyone, including Tony, ends up dead. In the flashbacks, Susan leaves Edward for Hutton. And at the end of the film, Susan goes to her dinner with Edward with the hopes of reconnecting with him but he doesn't show.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: The naked corpses of Laura and India Hastings are discovered the day after their abduction.
  • Emasculated Cuckold: Edward discovered that Susan was cheating on him with a tall, handsome, successful man, which was the final straw in their marriage. The feeling of emasculation that Edward felt is reflected in the constant emasculation that Tony experiences over his failure to protect his family.
  • Expy: Tony and his family are obviously intended as fictionalized versions of Susan, Edward, and their daughter. Susan may actually have two. The other one is Ray.
  • Fake Kill Scare: Detective Andes points his gun on Ray's forehead and pulls the trigger to scare him.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The opening credits of the film are set against a series of dancing naked women...who are all morbidly obese.
    • The Drop Dead Gorgeous scene.
    • Ray, shirtless and with his pants around his ankles... taking a dump.
  • Faux Affably Evil: After running the Hastings off the road, Ray toys with them by pretending to be an angry-but-helpful motorist who lectures them about doing right by the law and helping them get back on the road. It's all a ploy to make them easier to victimize.
  • Fictional Document: Nocturnal Animals, Edward's novel.
  • The Film of the Book: This film is based on Austin Wright's 1993 novel Tony and Susan.
  • First Love: Susan and Edward were this to one another.
  • Flipping the Bird: India flips Ray off in response to his traffic hijinks. Tony and Laura both chastise her, not wanting to incite a road rage incident, but things go even worse than they fear.
  • For the Evulz: Ray and his gang are motivated purely by sadism.
  • Framing Device: The bulk of the film's plot is a fictional tale written by Edward.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Susan possibly aborting Edward's child, and him finding out about this, is the final straw where he stops trying to repair their relationship. Given that she expresses strong dislike of the idea, it's possible Susan didn't do it.
  • Grey Rain of Depression: It rains in the scene where Susan and Hutton sit in the car and she cries into his chest while contemplating abortion.
  • Hate Sink: Ray and his gang are a bunch of sadistic bullies who terrorizes the Hastings in a drawn-out way for fun before raping and killing the wife and daughter. It represents all that Susan is in Edward's eyes now.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: At the end we hear Tony's heartbeat as it slows down and finally stops.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Susan relates that her mother and father are homophobes who can't stand that her brother is gay.
  • Hope Spot: Midway through the altercation on the road, a police cruiser approaches... and passes right on by. Marcus turns to his goons with a relieved smile and holds out his trembling hand to demonstrate how freaked out his was.
  • I Have No Son!: Susan says that her parents have disowned her brother because he's openly gay.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Tony accidentally shoots himself in the end and dies.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Susan's gay brother Cooper had a crush on Edward in their youth.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Detective Andes has a coughing fit early in his investigation, then a year later reveals that he has terminal lung cancer.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Ray claims that if people accuse him of something he hasn't done, then he's got a right to for real. His girlfriend accuses him of cheating? Well, then he will. A woman accuses him of wanting to rape her? He'll do it.
  • Ironic Echo: When Lou has Tony at his mercy, he taunts him by saying, "You gon' cry now?" Later, when Andes has Lou at his mercy, he taunts him with the same words. Whether it's a coincidence or Andes read the words in Lou's testimony is unclear. Tony clearly makes the connection, his lips twisting into a slight grin as he watches.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: Laura's daughter Samantha is shown lying nude with her boyfriend (from the back) on her bed, presumably in the wake of consensual sex, when she calls, after getting very disturbed by Edward's book. In the book, his expy's daughter was discovered lying the same way, but next to her mom (who's also naked) dead after both had been raped, then murdered.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Susan's mother is built up as a cold-hearted type who refuses to "understand" people who don't fit her standard (such as Cooper, for being gay). When we finally meet her... as cruel as her words of warning to Susan about marrying Edward sound, we already more-or-less know how it's turned out. And as the flashbacks progress, it's eerie just how point-for-point accurate those warnings actually prove to be.
  • Just Keep Driving: Lampshaded by Ray who asks Tony why he did not slow down after the two cars collided.
  • Lying to the Perp: Detective Andes tries to get a confession out of Ray by mentioning that his comrade ratted him out. It doesn't work.
  • Manchild: Susan's mother warns her that Edward will prove to be this, when all is said and done. Alas, she isn't that far wrong, if his apparent hostility towards any kind of criticism is any indication....
  • Match Cut:
    • When Susan is reading Nocturnal Animals the novel, and gets to the part where Laura and India's dead naked bodies are discovered laying on a couch, afterwards in the real world, she calls her daughter, Sam, who is naked in bed, in the exact same position as India was.
    • The film will occasionally cut between Tony and Susan when they're doing similar things, such as taking a bath.
  • Miranda Rights: Ray demands to have his rights read to him, which Detective Andes refuses to do.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Susan assumed Edward was gay because of how close he was to her brother, who actually is gay.
  • Mockstery Tale: There is a detective subplot (the storyline of Edward's novel), and a few surreal scenes blurring the edges between the two storylines (one of the hoodlums from the novel actually pops out at Susan in a cell phone video, causing her to drop the phone), but it's all just a Framing Device for the story of Susan's relationship with Edward.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Jake Gyllenhaal has a Shower Scene as Tony.
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • Amy Adams has several moments of this, when we see Susan at home alone—mostly Leg Focus, with a Shower Scene and Bathtub Scene for good measure.
    • Susan's daughter Samantha is introduced lying in bed completely naked, after presumably having sex with her boyfriend, with the audience getting a very good view of her backside.
  • My Beloved Smother: Susan's mother only shows up in one scene, but she comes across as very overbearing.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Susan is traumatized with regret over her actions in leaving Edward, and it all comes back in full force upon receiving the book.
  • Mutual Kill: Tony shoots Ray, but not before Ray knocks him out with a crowbar. The blow blinds Tony, who ultimately stumbles away, trips, and shoots himself with his own gun.
  • Never My Fault: In the flashbacks, Edward seems completely incapable of taking any kind of criticism, whenever we see him. And in the end, it's strongly implied that he puts all the blame on Susan for their relationship falling apart, and takes no responsibility for it, himself. His novel seems to suggest that he's changed though.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, as Andes and Tony in the novel approach Ray when he's on his outside toilet. It's just as unappealing as you'd imagine: they (and us) see far more than is preferable.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Susan's mother claims this about the two of them, noting that everyone turns into their mother as they grow up. Susan is adamant in denying that they are anything like each other, but this comes not too long after a scene where she's had to listen to Edward talking about the similarities between her and her mother (something that he invokes later in the film, as well). And, as detailed in Jerkass Has a Point above, Susan's mother is not inaccurate in analyzing how her marriage to Edward would play out.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: In the manuscript, India is busy with her phone the entire ride, which starts to annoy her father.
  • Rape as Drama: As written in Edward's book, Laura and India are raped and murdered by Ray and his crew.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Despite a lack of reconciliation with Edward, we've still seen Susan changing her mind on certain things regarding her art gallery, indicating that she's working on the parts of herself that had led to so much strife. As such, there's an element of hope amid everything, with Susan improving what she can, at least.
  • Revenge: Tony is convinced by Andes to get vigilante revenge on his tormentors. Edward's book is a bit of an act of vengeance on Susan.
  • Riddle for the Ages: We don't find out why Edward stands Susan up. Did something happen to him? Was it a deliberate snub?
  • Rom Com Job: Susan runs an art gallery, but this film is very much not a romantic comedy.
  • R-Rated Opening: Witnessing two minutes of nude women (all elderly and obese) doing erotic poses is quite an effective way to remind viewers they're watching an R-rated movie.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Hutton only really exists as a source of tension between Susan and Edward.
  • Screamer Prank: When Susan's coworker shows her iPhone nanny-cam, Susan looks at it when all of a sudden the leering face of Ray fills the screen with no warning whatsoever.
  • Self-Insert Fic: Nocturnal Animals can be seen as this for Edward, written as a way of dealing with his unresolved anguish over his and Susan's divorce. This is backed up by Gyllenhaal's portrayal of both Edward and Tony.
  • Settled for Gay: Alessia married Carlos knowing very well that he's gay.
  • Sinister Southwest: In Edward's novel, Tony and the family are driving through a rural road in the Texas desert when they get attacked by the gang. It ends with Tony's wife and daughter being sexually assaulted and then brutally murdered.
  • Snobs Versus Slobs:
    • Susan's family are clearly wealthy, and one of her mother's objections to Edward seems to be that he is not.
    • There is an obvious element of class resentment in the confrontation between Tony's family and Ray's gang. Tony drives a Mercedes and is clearly suburban middle class, while Ray and his gang are rural, working-class hoodlums.
  • The Sociopath: Ray Marcus, being a predatory rapist and murderer and enjoys doing so.
  • Stealth Insult: Susan notices that a coworker's appearance has changed. Later, when she reconsiders firing an employee, she looks right at the coworker and says that change isn't always a good thing.
  • Stood Up: Edward doesn't show up to meet Susan at the end of the film.
  • Symbolic Glass House: Susan lives in a loveless marriage in an open-plan, full-windowed house behind a heavy wall. The sterile opulence of her life juxtaposes with the content of Tony's story that she reads, which is about rape, murder, and revenge on a Texas highway, and allows her to become increasingly paranoid about Tony's intentions towards her.
  • Too Dumb to Live: India, go ahead and insult the drunk rednecks some more, that's a great idea!
  • The Unseen: Susan's gay brother Cooper is mentioned, but never seen.
  • Vigilante Man: When there isn't enough admissible evidence against them, Andes leads Tony in tracking down each of their rapists/murderers and then killing them.
  • Wham Line: Ray taunting Tony in their final confrontation by calling him "weak"—repeatedly—is seemingly meant to indicate that he's a second Expy for Susan, as we see Edward complaining in the flashbacks that Susan's called him that.