This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
selfcest enthusiast’s review published on Letterboxd :
This review may contain spoilers.
In one of my 2014 spring semester writing workshops, I had a male classmate who had written a story about a couple who got held hostage in the car. Their captor, a presumably late-30's-to-early-40's year old man, made the husband do tasks for them while he held the described-as-sexy wife hostage for the entire story, ogling her and provoking the husband while pointing a gun in both of their faces. At the end of the story, their captor killed the man and gave the wife a gun, saying that she'll be walking alone for miles until the police see a gun with her prints all over it and her shot-to-death husband down the road.
My primary critique of the story was the prose that read like it was written by a 10-year-old boy in a 22-year-old man's body. The misogyny came second.
For Nocturnal Animals, no amount of stylistic brilliance could ever salvage the violent misogyny that this movie reeks of.
Fundamentally, here's what happens in the movie:
A woman (Amy Adams) meets a man (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is an old friend, and after one chemistry-less date, they eventually get married. The man wants to be a writer and gives her a copy of one of his stories, but she is uninterested in it and gives him criticism; he interprets it as her calling him and his dreams weak. Eventually she breaks off their marriage and finds a new lover; during the divorce proceedings, she discovers that she is pregnant, and has an abortion. Afterward she tells her new lover (Armie Hammer) that she "doesn't even believe in abortion, [she's] Catholic" and wants to keep it a secret - but before she can, for some reason her former husband is right outside of the abortion clinic and sees her, putting two-and-two together. Years later, he sends her a manuscript of a story titled "Nocturnal Animals." The woman tells us that that was her ex-husband's nickname for her.
The story is about how a man is on a drive with his family, when his wife and daughter are abducted and brutally raped and then murdered. In the end, he exacts revenge but also fatally shoots himself in the chest.
At the end of the movie, the woman reaches out to her ex-husband to meet up. He agrees to, but as she waits and waits, he never shows up. Fade to black.
There are a lot of different types of vile narratives going on in this movie, so let's break it down:
- A woman reconnects with a man from her childhood. Though the man says that he liked her mother, her mother says that she thinks the man is too "weak" for the woman. Both her mother and the man say that the woman will end up like her mother, an idea which she rejects.
- A woman criticizes her husband's writing. He throws a tantrum.
- To follow with divorce proceedings in spite of her pregnancy, a woman has an abortion. Years later, she describes the way she divorced her ex-husband as "unforgivable."
- A woman has an abortion. Her ex-husband writes a story about he feels about it. (The husband character in his manuscript is also played by Jake Gyllenhaal.)
- A woman is contacted by her ex-husband for her to send a story that he wrote. In the end, she reaches out to him and he agrees to meet her, but never shows up, in the form of a power play.
- A woman receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, a story he wrote about how her having an abortion was as if both she (the woman) and the unborn child were violently raped and murdered off-screen.
- A woman has an abortion. Her ex-husband takes revenge on her for it.
During the movie, Jake Gyllenhaal's character (both, actually) is called "weak" at various times by various types of people. The only scene where he is not present to witness this is when Amy Adams's character is talking to her mother, to which Amy Adams replies that "he's not weak, he's just sensitive." In all the scenes where Jake Gyllenhaal is called weak, to his face, he retaliates aggressively.
Absolutely no element of this movie is beautiful or reputable. In addition to the bullshit anti-abortion toxic masculinity narrative that I more or less outlined above, it also expressively denies any women of any agency of their bodies. The first sequence of the movie is five minutes of scantily-clad fat old women, depicted to be sexy despite that they are not the typical ideal young and skinny female bodies. It is not empowering. It is exploitative.
During the scene where it is revealed that Jake Gyllenhaal-within-Jake Gyllenhaal (the character in the novel that is "based" on him, i.e. the husband/father of the wife/daughter who were raped and murdered), the bodies of his wife and daughter are depicted sexily, nude, pale and curvy on a crimson red couch in the middle of the desert. This is how JG-w/in-JG and Michael Shannon discover that the wife and daughter were raped (and murdered) - in this sensual and provoking image. A scene later, we switch back to the real world where Amy Adams calls her daughter. The camera shot then goes to her daughter, who is in the same exact position as the previously depicted raped/murdered daughter - except she hasn't been raped or murdered, she had just been nakedly sleeping with (and presumably, the previous night had sex with) her boyfriend/husband. This is a very obvious sexualization and glorification of both rape and post-rape victims, as if they were tragically beautiful. Rape is not tragically beautiful. Rape is not sex. Rape is rape, and it is disgusting for the movie to have been directed in such a way, much less having had it be written.
The fact that the wife and daughter in the abortion-hating ex-husband's novel were raped and murdered both show how he views women: that he fridges them in order to express how much pain he endured. That he is strong. Except it doesn't fucking matter how strong he is, because he literally compared a woman's choice for her own body to brutal rape and murder, not just of her but her own child, neither of which (rape and murder that is) are even close to being equivalent of what a woman chooses to do with her own fucking body. The wife and daughter are nakedly placed next to each other in a sensual position, nearly looking like sisters with how pale and young and thin they are, which essentially goes to show how the writer - both of the movie and of the fictitious novel within the movie - sexualizes both the wife and her daughter in the same way. Together.
No amount of directing can amend the disgusting misogyny and lack of agency women have of their own bodies in this film. No amount of style or production could make up for it. This is not deserving of any form of critical acclaim, writing, acting, or otherwise.
There was no pay-off, no deeper meaning - a woman had an abortion by her own choice, and a man took absolutely awful violent revenge on her for it.