A Novel Approach to Revenge
Warning: This review discusses the movie’s plot and ending. Best to see this title before reading on.
If, like me, you had a partner who was initially attracted to your dreamy and creative side, but soon tired of it when she realised that it wasn’t going to provide the kind of security her materialist and aspirant side hoped for, so dumped you, indeed crushed you, for not being economically ambitious and obsessed with housing and status and all the other ten-a-penny shit she could get from any knuckle dragging no-mark, then you’ve probably thought getting your revenge using a long gestating but financially unviable passion project, like a novel.
But because you lack the strength your ex had been taught by Disney movies to expect in a man; the kind that would protect her in good times and bad, while conveniently absenting her from any responsibility to support you; the tome in question can’t be a direct attack on your former beloved, just an allegory, in which she’s represented by other characters, and her life-ruining choices by symbolic situations. That’s right, you want plausible deniability, because no one likes to be thought of as an embittered shit, but you definitely want the fucker to recognise herself and anyone who helped her hurt you, so you dedicate the book to her (passive aggressive, simple, but good and to the point), and give it a title that she alone will recognise as a reference to your relationship (a cutting in joke).
Well, I’m still hawking my novel around various agents, but it’s gratifying to see the concept visited in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, in which sad and dejected Amy Adams, two decades removed from her youthful relationship with novelist Jake Gyllenhaal, languishes in a loveless union with Arnie Hammer, the soulless beefcake she left him for. A woman who’s pursued her career as an artist for the social cachet and economic rewards, rather than the self-expression and intellectual stimulation her ex-husband believed in (and would surely have encouraged further had he been given the chance), Adams is immersed in conspicuous consumption and flanked by pretentious friends who tell her to see a therapist and embrace the absurdity of the art world; hardly a prescription for the spirit. It’s at this point she’s sent a personal copy of the eponymous novel and starts reading. Both she and we soon get the point that it’s a revenge memoir, signalled in-movie by the casting of Gyllenhaal in flashback as her former love, and as the protagonist of the novel; an unfortunate husband and father whose family is violated and extinguished by a predatory three-man metaphor for Adams and Hammer’s junk values and selfishness.
As we learn more about Adams and Gyllenhaal’s failed relationship, including the moment the heartbroken novelist spies her outside an abortion clinic with a supporting Hammer in tow (the new couple subsequently have a child of their own), the thematic and emotion parallels between their story and that of the emasculated man besieged and wrecked by Texan rednecks, becomes undeniable. Removed from its framing device, Nocturnal Animals the story, would be a nasty, nihilistic American nightmare, in which an unlucky everyman was forced to confront his failure to protect his wife and daughter from lawless subhumans. But as an allegory for a failed relationship, it’s devastating, not least because the conceit, once clear and developed, imbues the latter scenes with a power that, told using hardboiled fiction, neatly circumvents melodrama. When Hammer’s surrogate, an oily, arrogant rapist, tells Gyllenhaal’s in-novel protagonist, “I fucked your wife and you were too weak to do anything about it”, it’s much more than a confrontation in a thriller; it’s a man’s message to his short sighted ex-wife.
This being a Tom Ford movie, the watchwords are ugly beauty. Ford finds the picturesque in the grotesque and the glamour in melancholy, creating a movie that’s rich in composition and augmented by intense performances, particularly from Adams, whose face you’ll find in the dictionary next to heartbreak, and the aforementioned Gyllenhaal, who’s tender and broken as the once idealistic novelist, and desolate as his future proxy.
The final scene, in which the author agrees to meet with Adams to discuss the book (by e-mail; he’s never seen in the present), at the point the once superior artist realises she’s made the biggest mistake of her life, is subtly devastating; he doesn’t show and she’s left nursing a double whisky. Both she and we realise that there’s no need for the present day novelist to appear and talk about old times; he’s said it all on the page, and there’s to be no second chance for Adams. It’s the kind of ending that lives long in the memory and the soul, making Nocturnal Animals the perfect movie to send to your now miserable ex. Don’t give up on your own novel though, the best greetings are always personalised.