Spoiler Warning: Funny Games
I just walked out of the theater and I am still recovering. This was a terrifying movie experience that I knew nothing about before heading in. The first scene where we see Jake Gyllenhaal feels reminiscent of Haneke’s Funny Games. The aggressors keep pretending like everything is fine, like they have a good reason for their behavior, like they aren’t the crazy ones — and that genuinely rattled me. In Funny Games, it was all about wanting another two eggs, and then another few, and then another few. The dread could be felt, but the situation itself didn’t seem to necessarily warrant that dread, which is why Naomi Watts keeps giving more eggs, and it is why everyone is tense when things start to go wrong because it seems like people are overreacting. With Nocturnal Animals, the aggressors kept pounding inside the family’s heads that they are supposed to pull over after an accident as if this whole situation was their fault. Then they offered to fix the flat tire, which they proceeded to do. If a police officer popped up at the scene and asked for statements, there is nothing that could be said that could replicate the dread that everyone in the car, and everyone in the theater, was feeling. All of the scratches on the car would be due to the accident they refused to pull over for.
Let’s back up for a second and establish that there were three main timelines going on in this film. There was the past (where Susan and Edward had their relationship), the present (where a long-time ex-husband Edward sends Susan his manuscript), and the story that is in the manuscript, acted out as a representation of the feelings Edward is communicating to Susan. One parallel that was used to establish the dynamic of Tony being Edward and his feelings was the line, “you’re a good man,” said by Susan to Edward about how he should call her brother and later used in the story timeline by Bobby the cop in the diner.Despite the opening and closing scenes of this movie being centered on Adams’ character, this movie was about Edward, not Susan. Even though we are never shown Edward in the present timeline, his absence is deafening. Susan goes behind Edward’s back to abort their baby in the past timeline. The entire story timeline, the story that Edward wrote and dedicated to Susan, was his feelings on that matter. As Tony (Gyllenhaal’s character in the story Edward wrote) was yelling out that he should have stopped it, the novel was breaking the fourth wall. In the story, the line is setup to mean Tony should have stopped the aggressors from kidnapping, raping, and killing his wife and daughter. This was Edward speaking directly to Susan through Tony. Edward feels like he lost his wife and his child and that it was within his power to stop it from happening, but he didn’t. What makes the story bite is the fact that we know Susan left Edward for another guy and we know Susan did the abortion behind Edward’s back. Susan was the one who took away his wife and child, and he has held onto that anger for a very long time. This book that he wrote, Nocturnal Animals, was meant to harm her.
At the end, we catch Susan in a place where she is willing to step outside of her marriage. This new guy and this new life aren’t satisfying her. She is acknowledging that what she had with Edward was actual love. The writing made sure to include that parallel. Susan is asked near the beginning of the film if she loves her new guy, and she dodges the question. Near the end of the film, she is asked if she loved Edward and she matter-of-factly remarks with a yes. Or maybe these are just new feelings that are occurring as a result of reading “Nocturnal Animals”. After all, she seemed to be distraught by the way Edward was demonstrating the events that had transpired between the two of them. Susan does note that she had been thinking about Edward recently before the manuscript arrived, and we see Susan’s new husband already in an affair, so I do think it is fair to say she had been having these feelings before reading the book, and not as a result of reading the book. So we have the emotionally not-okay Susan reaching back out to Edward after she is confronted with her feelings and actions head on with Edward’s cathartic vilification of a novel, and Edward agrees to meet with her. I genuinely felt the movie was at the midway point, and they were going to introduce Edward into this present timeline, but no. Edward didn’t all of a sudden feel better after writing it all out. He sent the manuscript to Susan with the intention of letting her feel hurt the way he felt hurt, echoing what Tony yelled at Ray, wanting to feel the hurt that his wife and daughter had gone through. I often find myself getting lost in a movie, in the narrative the writer and director are trying to tell, so I did not expect for Edward to blow her off, but it made sense. This was another blow he was dealing. He is still pissed and upset, at himself for not stopping it, at her for taking it all away. And because we watch this all through Susan’s POV, we feel the pain of stepping outside of your marriage only to have them not show up.
I enjoyed the final emotional payoff of feeling the way Susan felt. It resonated with me through the credits, as I left the theater, and still does now.