(Hey everyone who is here in 2022. Hope the year is going well for you. If you have any thoughts or questions after the article, please leave a comment! We’ll talk! I am planning on writing a larger, longer analysis of the film. One of our definitive explanations. So keep a look out for that! All the best. -Chris)
In the end, Nocturnal Animals barely feels like a film made by a human being. You could just dub it a “stylish exercise” and call it a day. But I just can’t shake the fact that Ford somehow wants it to be more. The movie feels glazed and remote, a surface with all the identifying fingerprints polished off. What would it look like if Ford had left them on?-Stephanie Zacharek, TIME
The somewhat enigmatic ending of the film annoyed some of the people around me at the press screening — and I confess I’ll probably need to sit with it for a while to fully understand what Ford was going for with it — but “Nocturnal Animals” packs a real punch and confirms that “A Single Man” was no fluke.-Alonso Duralde, THE WRAP
I included the first quote because it’s frustrating. And the second quote because I want this piece to help clarify the end of Nocturnal Animals.
A lot of viewers and critics have rightly pointed out the metaphor that is Edward Sheffield’s novel. The story of Tony Hastings represents how Edward felt about what happened between him and Susan (Amy Adams)—another man came and took Susan from him. Content aside, our main clue is that Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Edward and Tony.
In the film’s middle, Susan has flashbacks to her time with Edward, when they were in their 20s. During one flashback, she reads a draft of a story and tells Edward that he needs to not write about himself. Which could seem harsh but… Think about where he was and who he was at the time: a struggling writer in NYC. Given her criticism, he probably had been writing about a struggling writer in NYC. That can work, but it’s also too easy. And has been done to death.
At this point, two or more decades later, Edward has managed to write about himself in a way that would, to anyone who didn’t know him, seem completely fictional. That is, to me, absolutely a sign of mastery—when you can make the real into the surreal and the surreal resonate with someone else’s reality.
Ostensibly, Edward’s using the story of Tony to not only express and exorcise the pain he felt at losing Susan but also fantasize about the revenge he would take on her husband/his replacement, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). The novel is an act of catharsis, as most art is.
With that said, let’s dive into that enigmatic final scene.
Susan has asked Edward to get dinner with her. Edward says some nice guy thing in the vein of, “Name the time and place and I’m there”. We see Susan get dressed up. She does her make-up. Then arrives at the restaurant. This fancy, fancy place. She enters. The sever sits her at an empty table.
Has a drink.
We hear a hostess say, “This way, sir,” and Susan smiles, thinking it’s Edward, but the person goes to another table. Time passes. The tables clear. She drinks more. And Edward never shows up. THE END.
There are two meanings to take away from this ending. Let’s start with what might be the simpler of the two.
Edward’s novel was a classic revenge plot that the 90s and Mel Gibson would be proud of. You’ve probably seen a revenge movie before. The Crow, I Spit On Your Grave, Kill Bill, Payback, Braveheart, Apocalypto, Mad Max, Edge of Darkness, The Lion King, Taken, John Wick. Essentially, in the first 20 minutes someone is killed or kidnapped or the main character gets attacked and left for dead or barely escapes a murder attempt. The main character ends up being really sad then decides to get revenge. Most of the narrative deals with the machinations of revenge, usually ending with the main character winning and moving on, or winning then dying, or winning and reuniting with whoever was kidnapped.
In reality, most of us won’t, can’t, and don’t seek physical payback. If my girlfriend cheats on me with some jerk, I’m going to write a mean text message, delete her from Facebook, be sad, drink a lot of milkshakes, and that’s that. I may hate them, but I’m not going to slash either of their tires or steal his dog or even fight him. That’s why revenge stories can make for such great cinema or literature. We get to safely and vicariously experience someone else taking extreme retribution against people so evil they deserve it. Those stories tap into not only the anger we’ve felt at some point in our life but also the powerlessness.
Nocturnal Animals actually juxtaposes the difference between revenge in fiction and revenge in reality. By having the novel-within-a-movie it makes Susan’s and Edward’s “reality” seem closer to our own, and Tony’s all the more distant. Tony’s story deals with this very emotional and heightened tale of terror, survival, and revenge. Where all we see with Susan is her at work, at a boring party, sitting at home, her at work again, a lot of baths, and then alone at a restaurant.
Edward’s character Tony can end up murdering the killer of his wife and daughter, since Tony is a work of fiction. But all Edward (who, in the movie, is “real” when compared to Tony) gets to do is write a book, send it to his ex, and then stand her up. Compare how one makes you feel to how the other makes you feel. For most of us, Tony’s form of vengeance is visceral and feels like justice. Where Edward’s is kind of petty, especially when we know how awful Susan already feels about her life. It’s just another loss for Susan. Edward’s act is far less dramatic. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying.
If Nocturnal Animals‘s theme of revenge wasn’t evident enough in Edward’s novel, we have the scene where Susan’s at work and stops before a giant picture that says:
Cinema has always been a medium of symbolic meaning, and here that symbolism is pretty strong. It not only reinforces that this is a film about revenge but offers a suggestion for how we should look at the act. Not as a singular thing, but as something fractured and protracted.
It may not seem all that climactic that Edward stood Susan up. But Susan is miserable. Her marriage sucks. We see she gets no joy from her job. She doesn’t sleep. Her daughter is off somewhere. It feels like she isn’t living in a house so much as a mausoleum. The one moment of joy we see her have is when she thought her and Hutton might go to the beach. Then Hutton shuts her down and leaves for NYC to spend time with some other woman. Because Susan’s life is so miserable, she ends up seeking refuge in Edward’s novel, because Edward’s novel is a connection to Edward, which is a connection to something outside of her current life. That’s why we get those flashbacks. She’s caught up in the nostalgia of her relationship with Edward, what had been, what could have been, and what wasn’t.
So when Edward agrees to meet Susan, that’s like…the first meaningful thing that’s happened for her in the movie. We can tell she’s hopeful. Through her flashbacks, we know she saw Edward as the nice guy, the sensitive soul. After she’s spent around two decades with Mr. Business Man, building this empty, debilitating life—Edward is such a promise of warmth, of humanity. And here she’s read this book that is so obviously about how much the loss of her crushed him. That means he must still love her, right?
So as she puts on her green dress, puts on the make up, prepares to go meet Edward, she must have such a sense of hope. But beyond that, satisfaction. Early in the movie, she tells Hutton that Edward never re-married and that’s sad. We can tell she pities Edward. He loved her. She left him, broke him. In her mind she’s always had power over Edward. She even inspired this great work of fiction, a book dedicated to her and her alone, even titled after the nickname she had because she could never fall asleep. She must think she’s going to do Edward a favor by having dinner with him.
Imagine the ego boost that must have been for her?
If, at that dinner, Edward had told her to run away with him…she might have.
Except Edward never shows up. And that crushes Susan, because it destroys the fantasy she had. The one where she still meant something to Edward. Where she still meant something to anyone. Without Edward she has no one. At least before he reached out to her, she could think to herself that, no matter how bad things were with Hutton, at least one person out there still desired her.
With that context, Edward not showing up is actually brutal. It’s not the physical act of vengeance most of us crave. It’s the much more diabolical mental and spiritual fatality, that “I’m going to take away every last bit of hope you have and leave you with absolutely nothing so that life has no meaning to you whatsoever. F*ck you.”
And that’s where we get into what’s probably the more complicated dynamic of the final scene.
Join our movie club
And see more movies like Nocturnal Animals.
Through Edward’s arc, Nocturnal Animals gets at the role emotion plays in creating art and the role creating art plays in emotion.
When Edward was happy with his life, his writing was, according to Susan’s judgment, mediocre. And it seems from the success she eventually had in the world of art that she had a strong eye. After Susan destroyed Edward’s heart, he used that pain, transmuting the very common and mundane acts of infidelity and divorce that happened in NYC into a thrilling revenge narrative set in West Texas. That’s the inspiring role emotion plays in creating art.
After writing the novel, Edward sends it to Susan, the first communication they’ve had in years. He felt empowered to do that. He felt so empowered that he then stood Susan up. Where Susan saw the book as a statement of how much Edward still cared about her, the novel was actually a sign that Edward had finally come to terms with what had happened between them. All those emotions inside of him became words on a page. That’s the cathartic role creating art plays in emotion.
Creating art draws from the abstract and ethereal and complicated sea of emotion inside of us and pours that emotion into a form outside of us. That’s one of the powers of art, to help us not only process our emotions but to get rid of them. It’s like when you finally take the time to do the dishes that have been piling up, to take out the garbage, wash those clothes, and throw out some of the things you know you haven’t needed or wanted for years. After doing those things, the sense of relief is massive. You feel a weight is off your shoulders and your home looks better and feels better to exist in.
Except Susan doesn’t have that. Multiple times, Susan says that she isn’t creative, that she can’t create. That’s why she switched from being an art major to art history. That’s why she manages a gallery and helps other artists. She can’t express her feelings. All of her fear, her pain, her stress, etc., it all stays inside of her. When it became too much with Edward, she bolted for Hutton. And even though she has all this money, all this success, she’s miserable. She has no means of catharsis. For anything she feels. That’s the equivalent of never cleaning the dishes, of never taking the trash out, and never washing clothes. What would that home look like?
This is why she can’t sleep, why she is a nocturnal animal. There’s too much on her mind.
So where Edward could work through his emotions and find, eventually, closure…that probably won’t happen for Susan. In all likelihood, things will not improve for her. Which makes Nocturnal Animals an existential revenge film. Edward doesn’t physically hurt Susan. He just destroys any hope she had for her still finding happiness.
Alonso was right to say Nocturnal Animals “packs a punch”. It’s as much a story of triumph as it is annihilation of heart and soul and psyche. That does take time to process, to unpack and appreciate. And that’s why the first quote frustrated me so much. There’s nothing glazed or remote or barely human about Nocturnal Animals. It’s dealing with the core of what humanizes and dehumanizes us, of the forces that erode and those which heal.
Update: The Concept of Forgiveness
I talked with my friend and fellow film fanatic, Jo Ro, and she made a great point about Susan, one that Vela Roland and Shakira Wade also discussed in the comments (see the bottom of the page). I had completely missed the concept of forgiveness and closure in Nocturnal Animals.
It’s funny because there’s an interview Tom Ford did where he said that he thought the film’s ending signified change and hope for Susan. At the time, I had laughed because it seemed ridiculous. I had already written this article about how tragic the end was. I had legitimately thought, “If that’s what Ford was going for, I don’t think he hit his mark.” But then talks with Jo and comments like Vela’s and Shakira’s really echoed what Ford had said.
I had initially viewed Susan reminiscing about the rise and fall of her relationship with Edward as a means of romanticizing what they had in order to transition from her dead life with Hutton to a rekindled love with Edward. I saw it as an act of an unhappy person who operated like a hermit crab, moving from one shell to another. That’s why the end of the movie would be so tragic—Susan now had no where to go. Hutton didn’t want her. And the first love she thought she could recapture: also a no go.
But the reminiscing isn’t just romanticizing the past, it’s understanding the pain you caused someone and feeling guilty about that pain. In that context, Susan isn’t reaching out to Edward for validation or hope for a rekindled romance—all she wants is to alleviate the guilt. She doesn’t want to feel responsible for having broken him or ruined him. So her e-mails aren’t necessarily romantic gestures. They would be an olive branch. Same with the dinner. It’s not about her wooing Edward, it’s about apologizing, seeing he’s okay, and finding closure. The same kind of closure we see Tony trying to gain in Edward’s novel.
Edward not showing up becomes a bittersweet victory for Susan. On the one hand, it’s brutal because she’s been stood up. On the other hand, it’s Edward’s first relatively cruel act to Susan. He had the confidence and the backbone to stand her up. He wasn’t weak. As petty of an action as that is, it’s a strong action for Edward to take and something that Edward 20 years ago would have never done. Add this in with him having written a novel Susan found impressive…and it seems like Edward has moved on to a new chapter. One where he doesn’t need her. The assumption here is that Susan can forgive herself, because even though she hurt Edward, she didn’t destroy him. He’s alive. He’s writing. He’s confident enough to stand her up. That’s enough for Susan to find closure in what happened between them. No longer worried about her past, Susan has the potential to focus on improving her present.
I think most of us can relate to that on some level. Forgiveness and closure, together, can be great. But getting forgiveness doesn’t always mean you get closure, and getting closure doesn’t always mean getting forgiveness.
Update 2: Romantic Interest?
After my first update, Barkley Obar commented about Susan removing her wedding ring and still dressing up for her dinner with Edward. Barkley saw these as signs of romantic interest, not just in forgiveness. I agree with that.
In the first Update, I had meant to show there’s an argument to be made for reading the end as Susan dealing with forgiveness and guilt. Instead, it seems more like I changed my stance entirely. Not the case. I think the truth is somewhere between my initial woo-and-doom scenario and the guilt-forgiveness situation.
I think if Edward had shown up and been his charming self, told Susan he still loves her, asked her to leave with him—she would have. I think she did have expectations that something could happen between them. But reality dashed that hope. Edward is done with her. His “you can’t get it back again” line proved prophetic. Yes, Susan would be saddened by this and hurt by this, however I no longer see her as totally doomed. I think she does have a better sense of closure, and while Edward hasn’t forgiven her, the novel puts to rest what had transpired between them. I think she probably does feel a weight off her shoulders. With her wedding ring removed, we could extrapolate she’ll leave Hutton and draw on some inner strength she’s denied herself because of her guilt? Or she could still be doomed. I’m okay with the vagueness because I think that’s part of interacting with art—we supply some of the meaning. Depending on your own life, you could read the end as hopeful. You could read the end as tragic. You could think Edward killed himself and Susan will do the same. The important thing at this point isn’t the right answer. It’s your answer. And the fact that the end could mean something new and important to you every year of your life. That’s pretty cool.
I think you mean REV ENG E: revenge. Not REV GEN E: revgene. *Unless you remembered it spelled incorrectly in the film*
Haha, oh man. That’s been there for so long. Thank you! Just a dumb typo.
I love this article. I just watched the movie for myself. One the sheriff talked about how his daughter was away not knowing about his situation( showing lack of communication between the two). Then I connected that with Susan and her daughter she’s away and they have a miscommunication. She says “I love you” to her daughter and she gives her a small “me too” not “ I love you too”. And what if Tony dying in the end of the book was him killing the part of himself that was still attached to his emotions for Susan.
I think the film is about learning to live with your mistakes. Realizing that sometimes closure is out of reach and things are what they are. Edward sent the book to Susan and stood her up as a petty but understandable act of revenge. But if he went to that dinner and they somehow found a way to connect again even platonically, it would be too easy and unrealistic.
In real life, if you fuck up, you dont always get to say im sorry. sometimes Karma bites you in the ass and thats okay. You swallow the guilt, you feel the shame, you continue living. if you married the wrong person, you get a messy divorce or you live a depressing life. if you hurt the right person by being stubborn or selfish you will lose them. period. you dont get a happy ending. you learn to live with how things are. and be okay anyway.
This ending is a life lesson.
Jean van Loon
I thought Noctrnal Animals was so gripping, sad, disappointing ending though. Great acting. JV
Same! Did you have a favorite moment?
I loved the
movie . I actually had to google a bunch of this movies guided imagery and the multiple points . You can interpret this movie in many ways . It just takes time and watching multiple times to really grasp all it is trying to say . That’s what so awesome about this movie . It means different things to different people . Sometimes law is inadequate . In order to shame its innacuracies somerime its necessary to act outside of the law to pursue natural justice. This is not vengeance . Revenge is not a valid motive . It’s an emotional response . In
this movie vengeance is not what is being conveyed . Punishment is . The idea of a horrific murder is used to emotionally grip the audience and gain sympathy towards the character who was first wronged . His ex wife realized to late and finally her character felt powerless against someone who she had always pitied . Her choices throughout life have taken the superficial route everytime . at the table she is finally realizing she fucked up leaving 1st husband . Only now it’s to late and she has no one . she even asked the question to her art gallery friends about mistakes that mold someone into what they become or became after merging from the rubble . In this case for his ex it’s heartbreak, second guessing her choices in life and ultimately left with nothing . She calls him
weak in early scene . Only to end up the weak link herself . At the table at end she finally realizes what she’s done . Only it’s too late now . Karmas is a bitch .
FYI. I have rewatched this movie 4 times and everytime i realize something director and character are trying to convey thru film . this was not an easy interpretation of the film…i think everyone will take what they need and interpret based on there own life . It is a very well written movie and makes you think.
Hi- I saw the movie about two years ago and remembered how it left me gutted and unable to shake days later. When it came on HBO recently, I decided to re-watch it and found myself equally anxious, siding with Edward/Tony and blood thirsty for revenge. It was heartbreaking. I decided to read the book ( over 2 days) to see how it differed and to gain more insight into the characters. I’m glad I did. It was a great read but I prefer the movie. I think Tom Ford did an excellent job of adapting it to screen. He did a good job of cutting away unnecessary fat, characters and adding much needed plot twists. The addition of the abortion scene was the coup de grace. I agree with your analysis of the movie that Tony’s novel, “Nocturnal Animals” was a metaphor for how Susan had left Edward broken and feeling emasculated by the affair and divorce and depicted him as weak and unable to protect his wife and child from another man. His book dedication to Susan and the final f$$&*k you scene where he stands up Susan was much needed existential revenge for Edward. The movie Susan was the less likeable of the two Susans even though it was pretty galling that Edward would unilaterally make the decision to return his scholarship, become a struggling writer and expect her to be the sole breadwinner. I do believe she would have willingly had an affair with Edward had he shown up for their dinner at the hotel and she was hoping to feel desired again and able to wield power over him. The Tony and Susan book was great for providing insight into what Tony was thinking after the horrific kidnapping and his internal struggle as he vacillated between final acceptance that these thugs had not taken his family to the police station where they waited safely for his return but more than likely had been raped and murdered. The book Susan was more sympathetic for me because it showed the sacrifices she had made for her husband, kids and career and beliefs, yet at the end of the day she was living a lonely and depressed life, with a philandering husband. But what do they say? Karma is a bitch!
TX twin Mom
Me too. Everytime i rewatch I figure something else out they were trying to say either my guided imagery or metaphorically .
I just saw this movie and I loved it. It was beautifully done but I don’t see it as a revenge story at all or a even the book as a cathartic move by Edward.
For one there is a lot of contradiction between Susan’s reimaginings of their life together and the fact that noone even knew she had an ex husband. Had she truly loved him more than she was embarrassed by him this would not be the case.
In fact I wonder if he even mailed her the book or if she just didn’t pick it up. Perhaps she continued to follow his career out of remorse or guilt or maybe just curiosity. The paper cut is a warning. If she goes forward she will go backwards in examining her past and it’s going to sting and yes she probably will feel something again.
But it’s all in her head. Tony dies in the book and this may seem like a tragedy but I feel it actually marks Edwards rebirth in real life. His end to that life.
But a very interesting note is in the fact that the police officer did not go back to the trailer to check on Tony after Lou or Ray, I can’t remember which, didn’t appear on the highway. To me there’s something there. What if the police man is another version of Edward? One that left that scene, let Tony die and went on. Edward was ruined, this is obvious. But he also wasn’t going to revive the past. Their end was his moment of death.
Edward is likely living a life very similar to Susan’s now but ironically in the end if there is hope for one to pursue happiness it is Susan. She removed her ring whether it’s to seem available or not does not matter, it’s a movement forward. But is it based in reality?
Was she actually communicating with Edward or imagining doing so? I don’t believe he ever reached out to her. I don’t believe he ever stood her up. I don’t believe he sent her the book. I think she wanted all these things but just like the finale, none of it happened. If anything the officer is a lot like Susan, she did not go back to the scene of the crime, she left Tony there to die and to handle the bad guys and only after he died in the book felt the urge to reach out to Edward
Obviously I need to watch it a few times more. But first impression it was incredibly sad. I felt it also painted a picture about people having only one shot at true happiness, then it passes you on and never circles back. Very very tragic. There is no need for revenge in this situation.
D Thom M
I second that. Great read. I watched Nocturnal Animajs for the first time last night but was too lazy and impatient to let the movie sit with me for a few days or a week or so and really let the implications gel for me. The ending was unexpected as it was counter to what we’d seen of Edward’s nature in Susan’s flashbacks, and I felt a strong sense of uncertainty and dissatisfaction with it, like traveling halfway across the country in a green family truckster just to have Marty Moose tell you Wally World is closed. Really good movie, I feel like it will remain with me awhile—in no small part thanks to your analysis. Cheers ?
loved your breakdown of this movie . You were the 4ths article I read . Although all good article . Your mostly resonated with what my interpretation of character and movie is trying to convey .
Chris Lambert! You are an outstanding writer! Thanks for the depth and analysis along w the humor combined
Thank you!!! That means a lot!
Chris, I also appreciate your humility in circling back to add addendums following conversations with colleagues and friends; not a lot of that out there anymore.
I noticed the plurality of “Animals” as being significant. The horrible acts of that evening in the novel were committed by savages and in the dark. Susan is more of a metaphorical animal in her cold blooded “strength” as she sees it, and she has an inability to express herself through art; the latter being something that she eventually envies in Edward. A subtle acknowledgement of her regret of being too cold might be in her reconsideration to keep an employee on board versus cutting her loose.
When Tony puts Ray to death at the end of the novel, he has crossed over. He had now become a cold nocturnal animal. When he regains consciousness the following morning, he cannot see in the bright light. He has now joined the ranks of Ray, Turk, Lou, and most importantly, Susan. His softness and sensitivity have figuratively died along with Tony.
I felt that since Tony’s life arc was mimicking Edward’s arc, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that edward killed himself? There was some significance in the slowing heartbeat when tony was dying and Susan could hear it slowing in the bathtub?
And there must be some significance in the papercut Susan gets when opening Edwards package?
Hey Julie! I think you can definitely build an argument around that interpretation. My counter-point would be that it seemed Tony’s life arc was mimicking Edward’s past, not his present. Which is why I didn’t make the connection between Tony dying and Edward killing himself. Moreso, it was that Edward had to kill that part of himself who had loved Susan.
I’d say the significance of the slowing heartbeat could be a sign of how invested in the story Susan was. That for her it was beyond words on a page. It was something she could truly experience, which is why it was so impactful. That’s such a huge part of the movie—Edward’s book is more than a book to her.
With the paper cut, my best theory, at the moment, and this could change, is it’s symbolic foreshadowing for how the story will “cut” her because it’s based on her. I’m very open minded about other interpretations. At the moment, nothing else jumps out to me. It seems more of a tone-setting choice to me rather than being a more important detail.
Any other thoughts or questions?
Just watched this. So it’s been awhile for you, I’m sure. And just like everyone else I have unanswered questions. Do you think that perhaps she never got back with Edward in the message as to the time or place and she wants to pretend nothing ever changed when she’s at the restaurant. Realizing she doesn’t really need the lipstick so she takes it off because she’s not really meeting him, which i didn’t see her wear any when she was with Edward and taking off the ring. Perhaps pretending he’s sitting across from her and that she was really the weak one to not be able to face him?
And someone mentions the lipstick. It was an important detail as anyone with a perfectionist streak could relate – it signifies a reduction in superficiality and a desire to be authentic and real.
Right? Which is such a small but huge moment.
Tony’s fading heartbeat and Susan’s involvement in the story seemed parallel to one another until finally, he died, and at that very moment, Susan comes out of the water calling Edward by his name.
I like to think of this point of the movie as the moment where Edward finally convinced Susan to want him again (through the influence he had on her using the fictional character he created, Tony!), and Edward kills off the part of him that still loved the woman who betrayed him so many years ago.
The paper cut could represent that she is about to FEEL something, after having created a life which has become void of feeling. Even in that scene, she has someone else open the box, to avoid the pain of the cut.
I like this. A lot! Really insightful.
yes ^^^ this comment hits the nail on the head .
If the the whole book is a metaphor, then that would include Tony’s death at the end. For Susan, Edward, or the possibility of Edward, is no more. Susan’s Edward is dead.
To me, her expression at the very end was one of realization. She understood. She got it. His not showing up was a demonstration of the strength she did not believe he had.
I just found out about this film this evening while listening to Alex Korzeniowski’s music online, and I am glad that I did. My first impression of the ending was “sadness,” especially when the camera panned to a close-up of her eyes. Remember, Edward distinctly told Susan he felt she had “sad” eyes. They didn’t just gloss over that, but took their time to express what he felt her eyes represented. “Beautiful, but sad,” just like her mother…and in the end didn’t she end up just like her mother. Another thought crossed my mind, being a woman who has been in a similar situation. When a man is still in love with a woman it is difficult for him go back to that place for fear of being hurt or rejected again. Unless, he senses the woman “needs or wants” him he is less likely to put himself out there, and much more likely to shine her on and act like he could care less by standing her up the way Edward did Susan. Edward had the ability to “gloat” from a distance, sticking the knife in her back this time, giving him REVENGE…Why did he want revenge? Edward wanted revenge because he still wasn’t over it yet. That final act of cruelty was all the satisfaction Edward needed to FINALLY move on and let the past pain and sorrows disappear. The ending for me was a bit abrupt and unfinished, leaving you wondering…
That close up of the eyes was a great moment. I remember being in the theater, seeing that shot, and pleading (silently of course) that he never showed up just to not ruin the power of that shot and her emotion in that moment.
Really appreciate you sharing your own experiences, June! I agree with how you’re framing everything. There’s some satisfaction in writing the novel, but it’s not the same as the kind of petty act Edward (may have) pulled by standing Susan up.
I see sadness in a way here . But I also see her character hitting rock bottom emotionally and it al making sense to her . she is realizing the choice she made long ago was out of greed and finally someone knocked her off her pedestal. Finally the power she thought she had over her ex and how she always pitied him , as if she was better , becaise she is weak now . Not him.
How do you feel the abortion played into it all? I felt as though the fictional family, obviously the daughter, being taken from him was somewhat symbolic. Great movie.
Especially since we see the daughter begging for her father in the back window. But we don’t see the wife.
Yo! Yeah, I think you’re write on about the daughter being taken being symbolic. The structure of the movie is such that they hide the abortion until near the end, giving it the weight of a climactic moment. With that being the intention, I think it’s safe to say they wanted to show how the abortion was a huuuuuuuuuge deal. It’s poetically painful, because when the fictional daughter dies, we think have the safety of knowing, “Well at least it isn’t real.” But then when we find out about the abortion….it’s a gut punch to the viewer, which mirrors the shock Edward also felt.
I think you missed something. She never goes through with the abortion. She has a beautiful daughter (also with red hair, like the fictional family of Tony) Edward lost his daughter and Susan in real life and The book is a metaphor for that. Not showing up at dinner was to say … I’m not weak anymore
Simple. I love films and it is fun to GUESS on what is GONNA happen after the last reel plays. After the film ends. That guessing game is fun. But this film is not a film that NEEDS that game played. Its all there in its beautiful simplicity.
So, let’s just go by what the director shows us. And not what we WISH would happen. Would that be ok with you and everyone? Also did you make films or do yoy make films? Just curious.
l think you had it right the first time. What you wrote originally, is extremely close to what the director was trying to say with this film. This other stuff is nonsensical. Not trying to he cruel. It is just a fact
This is film is CLEAR CUT. It is not one of those open eneded films. It is very deep, simple and brilliant.
She Threw away true love and any potential for happiness, she aborted the child of the husband for whom she still loved, for comfort. She sold out her husband and there child and her soul really, for MONEY AND COMFORT. That is not disputed.
She had the sad like her mother. Well, She was JUST like her mother. As I said, I agree with your original comments on Revenge and the obviousness of the parallels of the novel, losing a wife and child, and how his heart got broken. He turned his pain into art. He wrote the book and dedicated it to her as if he was saying, you want me to write about myself, Ok, now read this. He wanted to show her that she destroyed BOTH there lives. And they will never be the same.
There is hope for all people. And, you can go on and on with maybe this, and maybe that and, blah, blah, blah. Or, you can WATCH the movie. Its doesn’t show any of the wishful thinking that people want it to have. I don’t know what happens after he leaves her stranded, NO ON DOES. The film is saying, life has consequences. She ruined both their lives. Like he says, “you can’t get it back”.
She took off the ring, fixed her makeup and hair the way he would like it. Her acting suggests she is Hoping inside that they will get their love back and he will hold her, like she imagines he does, the night before they are supposed to meet.
He doesn’t show. He is, maybe, back on his feet after 18 years. Able to stand her up. Able to write a well written novel and Stand on his feet. So we know that much.
We also know, she is in a loveless marriage with a man that cheats. She lives in a superficial world plastic world. And she cannot get back, real love. She can get back unconditional love. She is lost at the end. And his revenge is showing her that. There is no hope for her except maybe the realization that she is lost.
What the characters do after the what we see ends. We will never no. What we do know is that Fords statement on true meaningful love is tragic and beautiful and heartbreaking and important.
I’m late to the party having just watched this on Netflix. I thought it was great and found this article after reading several to unpack the symbolism and catch things I missed, and I really enjoy your take and updates. But I agree with the other commenter somewhere in here that I don’t think she did have the ab***ion – or at least I don’t understand the timing. She tells her coworker she hasn’t spoken with Edward since leaving him 19 years ago. But when we see her daughter she seems to be around 19 or maybe even a little older, so I’m wondering if she just never told Edward he had a daughter? Also the daughter is kind of pointless otherwise – knowing she exists changes and adds nothing to the story unless she’s relevant to the story of Edward and Susan.
Glad you enjoyed the piece! And the comments have been great and led to a lot of interesting discussions.
In terms of your question. I just skimmed back through the movie and didn’t see anywhere where Susan specifically says she left Edward 19 years ago. But I googled it and a bunch of places say the 19 years thing. So it must be true? I watched the scene with her assistant, but there she only says she was married for a few years in grad school.
Regardless, there’s potential she never had the ab***ion (censoring for ad filters). But it’s also likely Susan and Hutton got pregnant right away. I feel like if the daughter was Edward’s child, then they would have hinted at it a little more strongly? Like Susan almost tells her daughter or almost tells Edward or just reflects on how Hutton responded to the pregnancy. With none of those things happening, it leads me to believe that she did go through with the ab***ion.
In terms of what the daughter adds, I think she reinforces how alone Susan is. She’s in this loveless marriage with Hutton. Then their daughter is also distant. She’s relevant in the sense of what could her life have been with Edward? Would there be more love from both him and the child she gave up? There’s probably also something about Susan’s relationship with her mom? I guess what I’m saying is that I think there’s still thematic relevancy to the daughter, even if she doesn’t add much to the story itself. And movies like this will include things for their thematic impact even if there’s no story impact.
When Susan is talking to Sutton in the kitchen about receiving the manuscript from Edward, Sutton asks “Have you guys even talked in 20 years?” and Susan says “19”.
All so very sad. I found myself empathizing with Susan. She isn’t an awful person, she’s a flawed product of her environment like the rest of us. Her mother’s daughter.
Very much so. What a great but sad movie.
Yes, but she had a daughter in real life, same age as in novel. Edward’s child or Hutton’s?
I feel the abortion had a lot of subliminal or “other” precursors to the storyline itself.. somehow I see the abortion significantly tying in with the entire plot/story.. Also the part where Edward is referred to as “too weak” by her mother and I believe, by Susan herself, is signified several times within the book…?
Hmmm. It is extremely difficult to analyze a single scenario regarding the meaning, or interpretation of the movie and the ending.. I guess that is what makes it pretty decent, as there is no “politically“ correct answer, as it’s up to your imagination to assume what is what and that’s where the whole art theme itself is tied in. Interesting indeed…
She seemed somewhat forgetful too. I’m unsure if it was due to lack of sleep or???
But the scene where she sees the “REVENGE” display and the girl who shows her the baby on her phone with her new app, etc., reminds her (Susan) that she gave it or sent it to them as a gift, of sorts.. Then Susan drops phone and stands there seemingly not recalling doing such.. So I thought maybe Edward sent it to them saying it making it appear as it was from Susan, which all tied into the storyline in his book???
I don’t know??
I’m surprised you didn’t mention the connection between not only his wife being taken from him but also his child (Susan getting the abortion in “real life”).
Yeah, good question. I wrote the piece way back when the movie came out, over 2 years ago. I think, at the time, my thinking was that everyone gets how huge a deal the abortion would have been for Edward… We know what happens to the daughter in the novel is symbolic of the abortion. With it being so clear, it wasn’t that necessary for me to get into as I was aiming to explain what wasn’t clear.
I think? I could have just been so caught up in the explanation of the plot/themes that I just forgot to mention it, though!
I read the whole thing lol “taking a lot of baths” killed me
Haha, thank you! It was so many baths!
just dvr’d this movie this week and watched this morning, then did a quick search for the end and found this. article from 2016 yet all comments are from this week, that seems quite strange.
Hey! We just re-launched the website, moving from Wix to WordPress. So none of the old comments carried over. I think the previous one had like…150? Which is a shame because there was some great discussion.
Did you like the movie?
Hi ! Thus is what U have found too) . I watched the movie today, looked for tge ending explanation afterwards and then noticed that the all the comments are new. It may be related to the fact that the movie has been added to Netflix just recently.
I have a problem with the idea that Edward was getting some great revenge by writing the book, sending it to his ex, and then standing her up for a dinner. This seems mostly based on our information about Susan’s life. We know her life is shallow, loveless, and devoid of happiness. Most people then conclude that the stand up at the restaurant is so brutal to her because it was a hope for rekindling love and happiness.
That may be the case, but Edward does not know anything about her current life. They have not spoke in years. This tells me that Edward never did get over her. He spent the last 20 years writing a book about his relationship with Susan. He wants her to read the book and know the pain she caused him. This does not sound like somebody that is moving on with life.
His story arc probably more closely aligns with Tony’s. He finally stands her up in the end like Tony standing up for himself, but he is probably alone, miserable, dying inside, and may very well commit suicide. Tragic ending is how I see it.
Hey Joe! I think that’s a fair reading! At the end of the day, we don’t have enough information about modern day Edward to come to a solid conclusion. He’s kind of like a glass of water. Is he half-full? Half-empty? That lack of information makes the character a bit more self-reflective for the viewer because we have to decide how we think his life is at this point. Is he satisfied and moving on? Is his trajectory much more tragic?
Hi, I would like to make a quick comment. I actually think there’s a good balance between both of the messages of hope and strength for Susan and the original proposed theme of tragedy/sadness in the article. In her scene while she’s getting prepared to go to meet Edward she’s initially wearing lipstick without her ring, removes the lipstick, moves to put on her ring and then decided against it. In my mind this suggests that her thought train is initially ‘try to rekindle things with Edward’ then once the lipstick is removed she decided against it and goes to put on her ring, but then deciding not to wear the ring and the lipstick is symbolic of her moving on from her current situation with Hutton, be it with Edward or not. You could also imply that Edwards revenge is on Hutton as well as in Tony’s confrontation scene with Ray he says something along the lines of ‘you don’t get to get away with what you do to people’ (not accurate I know and I apologise – but this ties in with the idea that Ray symbolises Hutton which was suggested in the article above). I apologise again if this comment isn’t in the right place
Linda V. Schwarzenberg
what I got from the film is that Edward HAD moved on but wanted her to come to the awareness of what she gave up, ‘you have to take care of love bc you might not get it back’ was telling. I don’t see it so much as revenge as proving he was right, that what they had was something rare and he warned her to not throw it away. Now he is a successful writer and she is living an empty, shallow, life void of meaning or true connection. Edward knew her better than she knew herself, he knew if she followed her shallow impulses, not being her true self, she’d end up unhappy.
I don’t think he committed suicide, I saw it as he was free and healed, moved on and now was able to prove to her at that point in her life how wrong she had been with her choices.
Hi Joe. This is exactly how i see it too.
I am still not sold that the abortion took place. The age of the daughter seems to indicate Susan had her quite young. I don’t think she would have turned around and instantly gotten pregnant with Hutton’s baby after getting an abortion. I think Susan thought that Hutton would be more financially stable. It seems like it correlates better with the “fictional” story, as well. When I saw the movie, I thought the ending indicated that Edward killed himself, and Susan realized that she destroyed their love and regretted it. I wonder what that says about me?
I like your two ending meaning projection, however I want to talk about the comparison you’ve made between what happened to Tony and his family. The fact that you are assuming that “most of us won’t seek revenge” after an act like that is misleading I believe. In a way that what happened to Tony cannot be compared to being cheated by his girlfriend…because Tony was not only the only witness, also a victim of the aggression. First, Tony and his family were harassed by 3 random guy in the night; that’s frightening for most people. Then, then he saw his wife and daughter being kidnapped in front of him and he felt powerless to prevent that from happening ( lots of culpability), and then he was left out of nowhere in the dark by the other guy, knowing that something terrible has happen to his missing family. All kind of emotions he going through like fear and anger that cannot be compared to someone being cheated, at least not on the same level. From that on, being victim of that kind despicable act, I believe it’s the thing that most people would like to have is: revenge. Especially physical right after the incident occurred. It may be different after time have passed, but when the emotions and bad memories of the incident come back freshly in mind, physical revenge it most likely something he felt doing. Let’s be honest here, your wife and kids are raped and murdered, and you were felt powerless…it’s most likely payback on those scums.
Yo! Thank you!. Yeah, I definitely think nearly everyone would consider physical retaliation and desire it. I just don’t think many would pursue it to the extent Tony does. Tony’s pursuit of it does probably show Edward desired the same thing. The question becomes how someone thinks of Tony’s fate. Do they think of it as symbolic for, “Once you get revenge, that part of you dies, allowing you to move on,” or “Seeking revenge can lead you to your own demise.”
I was surprised you didn’t mention the abortion Susan went through with. The hatred Edward must have felt towards Susan for taking away his chance at a family. Now Edward is alone with no family. Also the actor who plays the wife in the novel is a striking resemblance to Susan? Coincidence? I think not. Hutton even takes her to abort Edwards child. Hutton was literally there for the murder of Susan and Edwards child. Hence the relation between Hutton and Ray. Edward shows up with tears in his eyes because he knows what just happened. Same look Tony has when he found his wife and daughter. Deep down he knows what has happened. Something that puzzles me is why we’re the bodies placed the way they were? We can tell from Ray’s actions when they were all on the side of the road that he hated these woman and how “rich and snobby” they were. So why place the bodies on a couch, wrapped around each other like they were hugging? It seems like they were placed with care. Just seems odd and I can’t quite put my finger on why exactly they were found like that.
Hey Sydney! Definitely not coincidence! Though…I think someone could argue that how we see the book could be “how Susan imagines the book”. So she’d see Tony as Edward, see the wife as being close to herself, etc. But that doesn’t change how I’d interpret the scene, just the source of why the character looks that way.
I think Ray is actually supposed to symbolize Susan and how she was leading this double life by cheating on Edward—there’s the Susan with Edward, then the Susan who’s actively ruining their relationship by cheating/having an abortion. Tony’s wife is symbolic of the relationship he thought he had, where Ray is the Susan who wrecked Tony’s life/Edward’s life.
We know Susan came from money and had a resentment for the life she came from, but she also ended up running away from the simpler life that Edward offered. So that fits, as Edward was essentially calling out her insecurity and hypocrisy.
I think the bodies hugging would be more of a symbolic choice to visually capture the innocence of the slain mother/daughter? You could maybe try forming an argument around the idea that Ray is Susan so how would Susan leave that past version of herself and the daughter? But I think that scene is vague enough that it’s difficult to make a definitive conclusion about why. Though we have enough evidence to put forth theories like the one above.
Does that help?
Chris, I have been struggling with the ending as well, and none of the speculations so far left me comfortable.
But *this* interpretation, seeing different aspects of Susan in the roles of the wife and in Ray really resonates!
Now everything makes sense, and *I* can finally go to sleep!
Really happy to hear that!! Whenever you have questions, we’re here to help!
I’ve been playing with the idea that Rey is Susan in Edward’s mind as well. In my mind Rey put the bodies that way because to him they are objects, beautiful empty objects. One and the same. Just as for Susan( and her class probably) some people are seen more as objects than as human beings. Like the obese, naked women dancing in the opening scene. Susan sells that as art. The bodies of the women put on display, not moving, empty , like Tony’s wife and daughter in that scene. Maybe he thinks of her as a monster too. An animal in the real sense.
I just watched the movie and wondered about how the dead mom and daughters were placed. There is alot of nudity specifically naked women. Particularly the nude behind her desk. I believe the pose in the picture resembled the wife’s pose on the couch??
Also has anyone discussed the opening of the film with all of the naked overweight women dancing. I am trying to figure that one out.
I am a Psychologist so maybe I am biased but the movie screamed mommy issues. She does in fact do as her mother predicted and then aborts her child with Edward. Hutton taking her and being observed by Edward literally sealed her deal to get out of her marriage. The retelling of the death of the wife/daughter with the ending in which Tony overcomes his weakness but dies as well is interesting. He “Edward/Tony” accomplished what she had wanted for him but dies in the process. Her relationship with her own daughter is ambiguous. And we have no idea how she feels about it. The wiping off of the lipstick was a good moment; she was channeling her mother as she got ready to meet Edward. I saw taking the ring off as a sign of shame but agreed she would have gone away with him if she had the chance. I later saw it as an admission to herself that this part of her life was over. I think forgiveness is something we tell ourselves we need in order to move on but I thought the lack of redemption was much more honest. I saw her sitting there drinking as again a reference to her own mother and the vacuous life she led. The non arrival of Edward was the most empowering ending for Susan. She now has the choice to change her life without needing a man. Wedding ring off, daughter grown and rethinking how she defines art gives her an opportunity to transcend the life she had and essentially reinvent herself as Edward did.
Very well said! It was nice to read through the flow of thought you had.
I felt that instead of Edward feeling like he lost Susan to another man like Tony lost his wife and child to evil men, the parallel is that Edward feels as if he lost his wife and unborn child to things completely beyond his control because he was too weak to stop them from happening much like Tony was too weak to fight off the evil men.
I also don’t feel that the movie draws parallels between Hutton and Ray, it is more that Hutton represents something taking away his love, his life, something he was too WEAK to stop. Its Edwards comments on the view that Susan had of him.
I agree with all of that! I wrote the piece a couple of years ago, haven’t re-read it since November 2016. If I said “Ray is Hutton” and left it at that then I definitely didn’t get it righht.
Tony’s weakness was definitely a major point, and was moreso the issue than Hutton. From what we see in the novel, Edward seems self-aware enough to know Hutton wasn’t the main problem. At this point, I think the parallel is between Ray and Susan. I mean, I’m sure Edward wasn’t dismissing Hutton entirely—Susan still left Edward for Hutton. But I think Ray is that side of Susan that you described, the side Edward was scared of, weak around, unable to figure out. The side of Susan that eventually ruined the life Edward thought he’d have. All because he was too weak to handle her.
In the novel, he loses both his wife and his daughter at the hands of another man, just like in his reality (obviously exaggerated). He was too “weak” to save them. “I didn’t see it coming” – as he explained to the sheriff. This mirrors Edwards life with Susan and him being portrayed as being too “weak” or sensitive to be with Susan or have the baby Susan aborted – “ to save his wife and daughter”. I thought it was a great movie!
Not sure if it’s already been mentioned, but in your piece you mention that Susan has “nothing”… But, she has a daughter! Remember? She calls her once to check in with her when the book scares her. I’m not entirely sure who the father is or what she symbolises really, but this might give the “reconciliation/new chapter” theory for susan a little more backbone perhaps.
Indeed, I did also think the placement of the bodies wasn’t consistent with who these monsters were. But then again, it’s fiction right? The book sequences almost feel a little dreamy at times. Shannon’s character with his “nothing to lose” situation and all those sunny West Texas landscape shots of him. He’s like a lost dog, guiding us through this dark, dark tale. Anyhoo, thanks for your summary. A stylish and bold second feature from Ford indeed, with some killer performances particularly from the kid from Kick Ass who really comes of age here, and Shannon who is always brilliant. Cheers
My interpretation on Edward writting the Nocturnal Animals novel is that he may have written this super tragic story ironically and dedicated to Susan as a way of dismissing her idea that art has to be tragic (hence all the art in the gallery is so tragic and “violent”), in opposition as the novel he made her read when they were together in the past. And what I mean by saying he wrote the novel ironically, is that he may never publish this novel because he wrote it exclusivelly to crush her as she did to him, (using the metaphores of his daughter dying/abortion, and Ray as the cause of it all reminding us of the role Susan played in his life). And I came to this conclussion because it is not his way of writing, it is not how he is (or at least it isn’t the Edward Susan remembers from the past (the only Edward we are shown in the movie is from her memories)). I know it may seem extreme to write such a novel to never publish it, and maybe in real life it wouldn’t happen, but after all this is a movie and I interpret this as how his life has been: all about her leaving him, and holding the grudge for 19 years. And maybe this “revenge writting” is after all this what motivates him to write.
And the stood up at the ending, I interpret it like you, such a sad a lonely feeling for Susan, who had not only taken her wedding ring, but also using color on her clothes, using her hair more freely, not painting her nails black and taking off her lipstick, making you (and her) remind the Susan from the past, which is the Susan that didn’t hurt Edward (yet). His last way of showing the betrayal he has gone through is by leaving her alone (same as she did to him), after having her remembering all their past together and making a novel she would consider powerfull to make drawn her to him on purpose.
I hope this makes sense!
Great interpretations, thank you!
You’re welcome Em! Appreciate it.
I think there is more to the state of Edward at the end than we are shown. The violent book he wrote and his act of revenge, to me, reveal that she destroyed that kind, sensitive, fragile soul (because he was in fact weak) and 20 years later he was left a hardened, joyless, cynic. That is where the rape in the fiction he wrote was drawn from. He felt raped by her, which is why the women looked so beautiful when dead and the men so brutalized. The fact that Tony was such a bumbling character revealed his lack of confidence and he died by shooting himself in the chest, which symbolizes the death of his heart. The heart is where art comes from and his left eye was destroyed (symbolic of the right brain). I think this means that he felt this book was selling out so that others might find his work valuable.
Also we are expecting the old Edward to come through the door with a big, kind smile on his face. In the book Tony has a beard at first and is a cowardly figure. He shaves his beard after the tragedies and becomes somewhat more heroic. He then looks like old Edward. Clean shaven Tony is the one who dies by his own mistake. This indicates that old Edward, who was a romantic living without fear is dead. 20 year later Edward has a beard and feels like a coward as he is too afraid to ever feel love again, for a person, or for his writing.
Oh and lastly THE DETECTIVE Bobby! The detective represented the honorable, strong, protector aspect of himself. Bobby started dying as the revenge plot was put in motion. He shot the guy who had nothing to do with the murders and in fact spared Tony’s life. After that he disappears so that Tony is left alone to face Ray. Anyone got an insight into who Lou represents? Susan killed both his babies, his daughter and his writing which was based in love. He said she lived in fear. This is why she liked sensational art, inspired by fear. In the end, the novel he produced was void of love.
I found two things that were interesting. The first is that when the email is sent to Edward, Susan signs it with “Love”, but when Edward sends her an email there is NO “Love” before his name.
The second is that I think that Susan realizes her life is a void, and decides to change that path. Edward not showing up would be, for himself, putting Susan in a “truth test”. Because if she REALLY becomes insightful and changes, then she would seek out Edward and try to explain to him her profound realizations, whether he wanted her or not, because she owed that to him. It also would put her in the position of revealing her need for him, and possibly being not taken back. That would show Edward she would have courage and “no strings attached”. IF she did that, perhaps there might be a new connection and beginning for them(?) … Remember, Edward says early on that (paraphrasing) “If you really love someone then you work it out!” So, perhaps this was his way of trying to work it out so both could be together. We don’t see her actions after the last scene of course but I think that’s a possibility.
Has anyone considered her daughter might actually be their daughter, and she didn’t go through with the abortion…?
Such a great article!
I like your interpretation of the movie and i agree with a lot you shared, especially the Revenge part as I thought The same exact thing when I saw That. What I saw Which you never mentioned, is that Edward was devastated not only by her being with her new husband, but also that Hutton took her to get the abortion where Edward saw them. So Tony’s daughter definitely represented the baby she decided to abort.
I just watched the movie, and rushed to sites to find more. I really liked the interpretation, but what if, every character in the novel, be it the goons or the detective, are reflections of the real world characters of Edward’s life?
What if, the goons are personification of insecure nature of Susan while they were together, especially how they derail Tony’s life. All trying to help fix his car(Susan trying to help Edward about what she feels is wrong with him), but instead when irritated, they had their way with Edward’s wife(an image of Susan that Edward had in mind when he fell in love), and his daughter. The daughter in the novel, could mean two things. I guess.
One interpretation is that killing of the daughter is the reflection of the abortion. Another interpretation could be, that the daughter was the ‘relationship’. The daughter which argued with the goons- the relationship which made Susan go against her mother, and against her own insecurities for a while. The depiction of the dead bodies of the mother daughter duo, would seem justified if the mother is supposed to be the image of Susan that Edward loved(or still does), and lying alongside is the body of the daughter(the relationship). Those insecurities of Susan raped and ultimately killed Edward’s love and the relation as a whole.
While the goons were done fixing the tires, for a moment it felt like things were going to be okay. That they would get to be on their own now. What if this moment of hope was Edward and Susan conceiving their first child?
Also, what if the detective is the reflection of Edward’s part that helped him get revenge. And what if through this depiction of the detective, Edward tried to convey that he has lung cancer? That he has a year to live?
Either this or it could mean that the part of him that made him plan the revenge(the novel, in case of Edward), was dying, that is: the book was his way of getting revenge but this way of writing(which wasn’t Edward’s style), would be killed off and he would return to his original fashion.
Its long, and I was kind of just babbling. kindly respond if it would be by any chance possible.
Wonderfully written synopsis of the film. I agree with everything you said in both the original article and the updates. I’m not so good at collecting my thoughts and it’s like you did it for me!
I felt bad for Susan, which left me a little disappointed, but it was also refreshing that it wasn’t a predictable happy ending. Overall I think it was compelling, and they nailed the complexity and symbolism. I love films that are open to interpretation like Nocturnal Animals is.
Great read, especially with the updates to clear up stances. I love the tragic end aspect that you have pointed out
What about the girl Susan calls? Her daughter…. If Susan had the abortion, is she Hutton’s daughter? Or could there be something more to it?
I enjoyed this description of the movie. It helped me place my own confused feelings.
I will not call this a revenge movie. I do feel it is clear that it is, but I’d like to be believe that Edward has grown from that relationship. That he has benefited from that heartbreak and that he has shown Susan the person she is by standing her up. It was a teachable moment.
And I do not pity Susan. Though I understand why she attacked Edward and moved on to what she believed was the better option at the time, she’s clearly in the wrong. And if Edward had not sent that novel to her, would he have even crossed her mind romantically. Has he even crossed her mind in that way at all?
I don’t find anything about Susan to be genuine. Not even her sadness. I think Susan lacks the ability grow. And even if Edward appeared during that last scene and accepted her. Would the relationship have lasted? No, Susan
prefers the easy way out. She would not have genuinely loved him and would have left him heart broken once again.
I just finished watching the movie. The first thing I did after was look in the internet for the meaning of the ending. And damn! Good thing this article was the first I read. Just explained everything and what a masterpiece this movie is. So symbolic. Such an art. It’s just really sad and devastating but i think thats how ur supposed to feel in the movie. Anyway kudos to everyone who enjoyed it and the one who wrote the article. I’d sure like to have my own novel someday
I really want the author to reply to the question of whether the daughter is Edward’s or Hutton’s. Coz the age is close to the daughter of Tony in the book.
To me it was pretty clear that the daughter was Hutton’s. Outside the abortion clinic, while with Hutton she expresses regret not once but twice. Something like, “I’ll live to regret this” and “I already regret this” or to that effect. There is a finality to that- people don’t regret things that didn’t happen. And there is no reason to distrust her memories based on the narrative. It would follow that she became pregnant with Hutton’s child soon after she aborted Edward’s.
She did abort the child. That’s why she said she could never look him in the eye. And I believe it was Hutton’s advice for her to do so. Because she said something like you always know what to do.
Any comments about the scene in which Susan is looking at her friends baby on a phone screen and suddenly there is a creature/monster on the screen- she drops and cracks the phone???
Good movie with a great cast. Just saw it and the ending isn’t to complicated for me. Basically once Tony kills Ray at the end it signifies the end of Edwards so called weakness. Edward is no longer the sensitive guy that Susan knew, at least towards her anymore. He stands her up for revenge. It shows her feeling alone and empty. That’s what she has chosen over Edward and he won’t forgive her. Edward was the good guy and he got his revenge in his own way. Happy ending in my opinion.
Nirmal Surya V
no, she is not Edward’s daughter as she aborts her first child with Hutton
Hey! Just watched the movie and I couldn’t deal with the end as well, so I went searching for explanation. After I read what you wrote I went back to the movie and watched the scene when she receives the book. When she was trying to open it she got a paper cut, I think it could mean that what is inside is going to hurt her. Because of that she asks the security guy to open it and read the note to her. She enphasizes that it is “just a paper cut”, but I think that could mean she would be “cut by paper”, in other words, by the book. In the note Edward says he is in LA and he would be happy to meet her, so it seemed he had overcome what happened because riht after that she says she tried to reach him before but he hung up on her. Another thing that caught my attention was when she starts to relate with Tony. I guess the film shows us that she is living a similiar situation that Edward lived, and that’s why when Tony is having a bath, she’s having a bath. Her husband is having an affair, her daughter has her on life and doesn’t need her anymore… you never see that call her daughter promised her in the film. Just when you find out that she is totally alone the flashbacks start. Maybe she was thinking what went wrong and why… you see her mom saying that eventually we become our mothers and that’s what happened. Right after that, she sends Edward an email saying the story of the book is devastating, that she is deeply moved and that it is beautifully written. It looks like she’s started to act like herself in her 20s and was not the cinic she became. That reminded me of the talk dhe had with a friwnd that said that is easier to deal with art then with reality. After they caught the first guy in the book, you can see a change in her. She used to wear dark colored clothes before, black and blue, but after that, she wore white and that’s the first time she talks about her ex husband to a work colleague and seems to show some guilt. After that she sees the painting “revenge”. It seems that she’s really “entering the game of revenge”, letting the book get to her. The scene that she sees the baby on the phone is really strong. Because she sees it in front of the painting and because we know she had an abortion, so the revenge is about that too. It is also “funny” to see the scene of the meeting at her work. All those in black were for the firing of an employee but her and another woman in white were against, the other woman found odd that she agreed with her and even gave a smile. She decides that while thinking about Edward, so it seems not only the book is getting to her, but it is changing her attitude or her view of reallity, making her more human. It seems she started to “feel” again, woke up from the miserable life she was having when she was dead inside. The other image she sees is whats seems to be a picture of a man pointing a gun to another, it looks like that”s the effect of the book on her, like, you are at gun point, what are you going to do? For me, the first guy they arrested in the book is her, becaise he lefts Tony all alone in the dark in the middle of nowhere and the second guy is her actual husband and this time Tony is the one to kill him, revenging the deaths of his wife and daughter. I guess his death in the book means the got over it all and that story has finally ended. Now he’s ready to start over as Edward. It seems by then that she understood it all. When she gets ready to meet him, she seems more alive, she seems to enjoy looking at herself for the first time in years. She takes off her lipstick because she thought it was too much and I think she doesn’t wear her wedding ring because she realizes her marriage is over or that what she lives is not a marriage… I say that because there are a lot of scenes that show her happy with Edward and show his wedding ring, a gold one. When he doesn’t appear she puts her hand on her finger where her wedding ring should be. I guess that’s when she realizes she’s all alone and the cicle of getting into Edwards shoes is complete. Now she can move foward like he did.
I think the killers in Edward’s story represent Susan. She killed their daughter and their marriage. I believe it’s his way of showing how much she hurt him and the revenge he’d like to take out on her. The despicable nature of the killers characters show how he feels about her now.
What a nice reading! Congrats to the author.
My interpretation about the ending is that Edward killed himself intentionally after arranging the date with Susan.
We know he was still suffering because of what Susan did, because in his last novel his wife is dead (at least is dead to him in real life) and his daughter is killed (through abortion in real life), and apparently he is lonely and his career is a failure. In my interpretation the book is written for her, as an accusation, and together with the unfulfilled promise of forgiveness that suicide will magnify, it becomes a final revenge message.
In my opinion, other endings could be plausible only if we assume that he had a perfect knowledge of Susan life and emotional situation, which sounds very unlikely considering they had no contact at all for many years.
Just another view… who knows.
Tks! But, hey! Suicide!!!! I didn’t consider that! That would explain a lot! I think he knew about her life, she was well known, it seems. I can’t even say anything about him… I just feel bad now, considering he ended his life… He made her change hers, why wouldn’t the book change his as well? In a cathartic way? Maybe he was dead to her? oh… I just feel bad imagining that he ended his life because she destroyed him… 🙁
Awesome analysis. Each update resonates with different phases of my own experience of resentment, guilt, forgiveness and closure. When we let ourselves be immersed in this emotions by daring to enter mundane but unknown circumstances and relationships, we can have a chance to find life’s meaning… at least our’s.
Regards from Mexico.
I guess the meaning of life keeps changing then! 😉
Hey, I was wondering if the other two guys, Lou and the Turk are in any way symbolic too, or allusions to to people or things from Edward’s real life arc? Also, I feel, Andes is an allusion to Edward’s real life childhood best friend, i.e. Susan’s brother, Carlos (I don’t remember the name exactly, apologies). What are your thoughts?
I guess I would have to watch it again to be sure…
I think your interpretation of revenge is correct, but in a different way than you present. Edward has been wronged in a terrible way, as Susan admits to her secretary. He isn’t angry at Hutton, however, it’s Susan who has betrayed him and destroyed what he loved: his wife and daughter (in my theory he found out about or suspects the abortion). He can’t even cherish the memory of her after she leaves hi because she kept secrets from him and he discovered her in the arms of another. Susan is the thief, the murderer, the rapist. Susan is the “nocturnal animal”.
Edward is angry at himself for his weakness and inability to stop Susan from leaving. His one act of courage is to finally confront her and end the hold she had on him. I’m curious as to what his blindness represents
Ironically, I thought watching a movie tonight would put me to sleep. Nocturnal Animals was so disturbing to me, I, like Susan, may never sleep again.
I prefer your original interpretation of the movie, cause I root for Edward. What happened with him wasn’t fair, and the idea of Susan being doomed in spirits and devoid of all hope makes a much better sense of justice.
I got a crazy idea… what if she is the whole movie dead, in hell, re-living her last days days for ethernity? And she commited suicide while reading the book. In the scene where the heartbeat stops. She is in bathroom under the water. Therefore she never had a call with her daughter, she never met with Edward. Everything was an illusion in her head. The dancing big ladies in the beginning were maybe some deamons… and the look to the mobile when she saw baby of her friend was maybe some vision of her own unborn killed baby, which would also explain the daemonic vision she saw in the display, but not mentioned it after. All her present scenes were anyway in some dreamy abiente. And therefore after finishing reading the book (and killing herself) Edward did not come. She was not alive.
I have just watched the Nocturnal Animal and been focused from he start since this is my 2nd time to watch coz the first time I wasn’t able to watch it from the start. So here it is on the second time I am confused why Edward doesn’t showed up with Susan at the ending of the movie. I felt confused so I tried to look for an answer why. Then finally I got this (your review) and understand it now. Thank you for this. I really love how you explained it carefully. Will surely follow your other reviews. Thank you.
Good writing about the ending.
You mentioned “I’m going to take away every last bit of hope you have and leave you with absolutely nothing so that life has no meaning to you whatsoever.” is a good reason Edward stood up Susan.
In another way, the book’s ending also depicts Tony’s ‘clumsy’ death had shown us Edward’s heart ‘died’, he knew deeply that he could never restore his relationship with Susan. He had so much love for her,yet so much hate for her as well.
As for Tony’s ‘clumsy’ death, in reality Edward could had blamed himself for being a weakling,therefore causing this failed relationship with Susan.
I’m kinda linking the book’s ending to the reality with Susan and Edward.
To omit “As for Tony’s clumsy death”..
I should say “Tony’s clumsiness which causes his death portrayed Edward blaming himself for being a weaking….”
I’m sorry for the writing error.
I apologize if this has been mentioned already, but there were just sooo many comments and so little time. I endeavored with a genuine effort to read them all, but felt like I was barely making a dent. Anyway…. The first point I wanted to make was that I feel like the killers in Tony’s story arc were representative of Susan. Edward always referred to Susan as a “nocturnal animal” and these guys were the LITERAL “nocturnal animals”. They heartlessly hunted and preyed on Tony’s family and destroyed everything he loved and they were Edward’s metaphorical representation of Susan destroying everything that HE loved. ie: The dissolution of their marriage, the abortion, the infidelity etc. And in titling his book “Nocturnal Animals”, it was like he was saying to Susan…. “this is what nocturnal animals do…this is what you have done to me.” The second point I wanted to address was the ending, and more specifically the dynamic of Edward not showing up, Susan’s face, and her sad eyes. What I saw in her eyes and her face was the realization that Edward had never intended to meet her. That he wanted to make her feel how he did….completely alone. And we see the sadness in her face and eyes not only due to her recognizing just how much she destroyed Edward, but also because she now understands that he is not the same pure, loving, and genuine gentleman that he once was. And it was due to her callous, materialistic behavior that destroyed the most beautiful part about him. Yes he wrote a fantastic novel…but at what cost? Her actions facilitated his success, but at too hefty a price…. both of their happinesses.
Of course this is just my opinion and how I perceived things.
Very good article and very good read. Thank you.
Romantic people doesn’t mean they are weak or live in unreal life, they are carrying, sensitive, they have a dream to live peacefully with their family. But whom consider themselves are real, and they need to be strong with no romance to have a good life and make judgment about romantics, they will live in tension, loneliness. They will lose lots of thing in thier way to optimism they will lose themselves.
The life need to be medium not martial in 100% and not romantic with anyone.
Conclusion: In your way to make a good life don’t forget your heart and in your way to live peacefully protect your family as well.
Your take on the film was a great read.
Admittedly, I’m very late to the party in terms of commenting on your analysis and on this film but hey, the Internet’s forever, right? Plus, my new social distancing regime due to my profound respect for the Coronavirus means I’m able to watch films, read even more than usual, and write profound(???) things that no one will ever read.
I agree wholeheartedly with you in that I think this is a very deep film with a lot of layers. There are two things that stand out for me:
1. The characters and their lives in the LA storyline are over the top to the point of being stereotypical and, frankly, pretty easy to dislike. I believe this was purposeful and I was reminded of the denizens of the Capitol of Panem in the Hunger Games books/films.
Meanwhile, the characters in Edward’s book are just as stereotypical and extremely easy to hate, viz, scary, violent redneck rapists/murderers, a “cowardly” husband/father, and a overly judgmental police detective. This was also purposeful and I was reminded of the film Deliverance.
The takeaway for me is the thought that no one in either storyline is actually contributing to society in a meaningful way. Note that the actual artists aren’t portrayed in the film; only their written and visually abstract works.
2. The novel Edward wrote for Susan isnt very good. Personally I love well-written popular fiction so this isn’t me being snobby but none of my literature professors in college would have let me, or anyone else, go with such a by-the-numbers plot. True, we can’t analyze the actual writing but the plot of the book itself is incredibly derivative. It’s a premise that’s thousands of years old and we’ve seen it in too many films as well. Susan loved the novel, however. Thus, as stated by someone in a previous comment, Edward never had any plans to publish it. As a “real” writer, he would have regarded it as mediocre fiction ripe to be optioned by an Industry creep to make a mediocre movie. That would be a situation of which Susan would have approved.
Recall that he had written Susan that she was his inspiration; he knew that she wouldn’t get the fact that he was, in actual fact, making fun of her and the people like her.
He wrote a fake, mediocre book for a fake, mediocre person. He wasn’t going for revenge. Instead, I submit that he was playing an intelligent trick on a stand-in for predictably bad people. It wouldn’t have taken him more that 30 hours to write the story.
P.S. I think the case could be made that the abstract performance installation in Susan’s show at the beginning was that particular artist’s jab at her and the other despicable gatekeepers of the LA art scene too arrogant/fake/dumb to grasp the insult. Artists (writers, directors, visual artists, musicians, etc.) hate the parasites that cling like leeches to their works. Maynard James Keenan of Tool sang it best: “see you in Arizona Bay”.
Well, that certainly cleared everything up for me.
I too thought the characters in the Tony arc represented the death of wife, unborn child and marriage. The only way the old, overly sensitive Tony could live with his wife sleeping with another man is if it were by force. And the unborn child, I think he knew she was pregnant, and the only way to lose family, or the prospect of his family was if it were taken from him by force, or trickery. His not showing up at the restaurant was just as he said to the last bad guy before killing him, …’nobody gets to walk away’. or something to that effect. That is also why he did not need to know how the ill detective fared,because He had taken ownership of his part in the “deaths”. The men in the arc seamed to be parts of the young married couple’s personalities and had to be confronted and vanquished in order to move on. Susan, on the other had, has lived up to; mirror mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all. She has faced nothing, learned nothing, and shoes nothing, even as the restaurant begins to shut down around her.
When she looks at the phone of co-worker’s child and it flashes the face of Ray and she drops the phone. Wondering what that means.
Never have I read a movie review that I utterly agreed with, until this moment. My sole purpose for reading “controversial endings” reviews is to see how much I disagree with them, or to laugh internally at how mad people like to be when something is nuanced and not spelled out for them clearly.
I saw this movie with my ex, upon it’s release. Initially I enjoyed the ride and even told others to see it. Being that the end of the relationship with my ex has given me a new perspective on life and especially art, in all mediums, I loved the movie even more.
Chris’s exposition of Nocturnal Animals is spot on, including both updates. At the very least it is ideal FOR ME. I want to support his argument on art being exactly that. We are often given a story by a story teller and it seems the world around us desires to tell you why you are right or wrong about how you feel about it. As I type this, I realize that maybe the friction between my ideas and anyone else’s opinion on art is what adds another layer of beauty into the fold. I will stand firm on the hill that wrong or right almost never matters. “Two ideas can exist simultaneously.”
I am going to spell this one out. Thank you Chris for a wonderful, in my opinion, deep dive into the meaning of this film. Excellent work.
I’ve read so many blogs about the review or explaining of an ending and I must say this one is the best I’ve read so far. I didnt understand the movie, got some references but this made me understand it in depth, Edward’s emotions and Susan’s too. You’re a really great writer.
The wife from the book (in the car) was portrayed by Isla Fisher, while the actress that portrayed Susan was Amy Adams. The two actresses do look similar. I also wonder if Susan immediately saw Edward as Tony, but had a harder time envisioning herself as his wife with their child.
Yeah that’s a great point! How much is what we’re seeing about the book story her own imagining of the characters.
What you did not mention….
Was there not some interesting content of the movie where Susan, as she is reading the novel, is picturing weak Edward as Tony, but also herself, as the more assertive and aggressive wife with the attackers outside of their car? It is the same actress, after all, is it not? I had to rewind to see if that was her in the car, and I concluded, it had to be. Thanks for your thoughts and correct me if I am wrong, please.
I also just watched the film tonight. But I think a lot of us are missing ,is the little girl in the novel. He wrote it as if they were happy family all three of them were together. However, I believe it was a revenge novel towards Susan. I think that Susan dealt him a blow hat would knock most men to their knees. The pain Edward felt, standing in the rain glaring at Susan and Hutton at the abortion clinic, hit me in the knees.
With this novel or fiction that Edward wrote, he was torn down by losing her and the unborn baby. If you remember Susan said that what she did to Edward was unforgivable. Thus, in my judgment the violent First draft that he sent to her, Edward was trying to show her what she had taken from him. Basically his whole life. Finally he want to show her that he was strong and he could move on with his life , without her.
Spero J Koniditsiotis
I just watched this movie with my wife and it was suspenseful to say the least. I have read all of the above questions and comments and quite frankly have not much more to add. There were a couple of incomplete scenes (my opinion) such as not seeing the 3rd criminal dead (visually), the Sheriff getting cleared and maybe a phone call to his daughter and the artist/significance of the revenge painting. Also, even though Susan knew inside that Hutton as a scum wouldn’t it have been cool if the bellhop was really Toby incognito dropping the “floor 31” to the same knowing who Hutton was talking to? Just a crazy thought or is it?
Sorry for the grammar at the end of my comment and also….We very much enjoyed the movie. It was a masterpiece!
Very nice article. I just finished the movie and I gotta say I was amazed. I want to add though something. What if Ray represented Susan, keeping him back, killing him. Ray also called him weak few times in the end of the novel when Tny had the gun, just like what Susan thought about him. Also, Tony proved to Ray that he isn’t weak by shooting him, maybe that was a representation of Edward stooding Susan up, because he wanted to prove her wrong, that he isn’t weak and that he can stand up on his own feet.
Something else I wanted to add, in the novel Tony said that he should have stopped it, what if it’s a representation of how he feels with Susan leaving him or Susan killing/hurting him in real life.
Moreover, with that novel maybe Edward wanted to show her that he is doing great and he can live without her and despite the fact that she thinks he is weak he proves the opposite that he is a great writer and she is nothing for him now.
I would like to know what do you think about my kind of versions.
I can sleep now, thank you for this!!!
Happy to help!
I enjoyed this: the film and your analysis. I know this is an older article, but I decided to comment.
The film, imo, is about regret, guilt, and, ultimately, being forced to finally own up to bad decisions. Susan’s memories of her life with Edward show that she’s unwilling to really face what she’d done to him and, because of this, unable to understand what his manuscript is actually about–which is why the REVENGE piece disturbs her. Part of the reason she can’t face this, as you stated, is because Edward represents that last bastion of hope in the wasteland that has become her personal life.
As your addendum nicely puts: only after reading such a gut-wrenching allegory of her past relationship, then being casually rejected by the writer of said allegory, can she actually come to terms with her poor choices and, perhaps–hopefully–move on.
It’s almost like she’s been staying with her philandering husband to punish herself for guilt she can’t face: she’s miserable, but maybe, deep down, she feels like she deserves to be miserable (or maybe I’m projecting). The removal of Susan’s wedding ring seems like a step in the right direction: owning that guilt, ceasing to flagellate herself another minute, moving on. I definitely think Edward’s decision not to meet her was a step in the right direction for him, though it also signifies his loss of innocence: dying to a part of yourself (his failed marriage, in this case) is exactly that. It’s like cutting out a very serious cancer that takes good pieces with the bad, pieces you never get back. I do agree with Edward’s assessment on love: you stick with the people you love, or you lose them forever. Maybe you lose love forever. Hopefully that’s not the case for Susan–forever is a long damn time when your miserable. Maybe there’s redemption for her on the other side of the credits.
Having been both the villain and the victim in past relationships (as, I’m sure, is the truth with most people, if they’re honest with themselves), it’s easy to relate to both Edward and Susan. I don’t believe I’m as overtly vacuous as Susan sometimes appears to be, but I understand having to sleep in the messy bed of my own making… and, also, to an extent, what it’s like having trouble finding an outlet for pain (Susan’s ‘I can’t make art’ complaints)–art as exorcism of demons is its own rich cavern worthy of exploration. I’m not really sure which is harder to live with–getting fucked over by your significant-other, or fucking over a significant-other. In the former, it can leave some deep scars on your psyche and ego, make you have trust issues, etc. In the latter, you have to live with the fact that you were the cause of someone else’s deep scars. Both induce many anxious nights on the quest for redemption… or revalidation, whatever the case may be.
Overall, this is a very complex and well thought-out story that works on many levels. Your analysis proved to be, as well. I, personally, liked the open, abrupt ending. Relationships that have painful endings often, in my experience, do NOT end nice and neat, all tied up with a big, red bow. They leave you with lingering pain, scars, and questions. There’s rarely the kind of closure we’d like there to be.
Thanks for your thoughts. It’s been a while since I saw the film, but I related so much with the characters that it stuck with me. Recently came across a review of it on YT and clicked on it, then did some searching and came up with this. Good stuff!
At the end of the movie, there seems to be a REALIZATION in Susan’s eyes. I believe it was the following. It was Susan who asked Edward to have dinner with her both times. The first time, Edward accepted. At that dinner Susan asked Edward to go to her place. They then became a couple and got married. The dinner is what started it. The second time, 20 years later, it was Susan, again, who asked Edward for dinner. The first parallel dinner invite story suggests that had he come for dinner, she would have wanted more and more. But this time, Edward didn’t show up and stopped the loop that would have ensued. He did not want all that could have followed. The realization of THAT was like a shot that essentially killed Susan at the end, metaphorically speaking. She realized that Edward wished he never accepted the dinner invitation that FIRST time. Nope, no hope for Susan despite what Ford said in that interview…
Great point. That’s an awesome parallel.
I haven’t read all the comments, but I appreciated this intelligent analysis, its attendant complexities, and the comments I did read. Thank you. I really thought Tony was going to show up for Susan, limping and with a badly damaged — and long “healed” — left eye. Glad he didn’t.
Thank you! That makes me happy to hear!
I thought a key point is when he said to Susan “When you love someone you work it out you take care of it you don’t just throw it out cause you might not ever get it again.” I thought she obviously threw it out when she had an abortion and he caught them together where she decided to choose a specific life she wanted over love. I agree that he wrote the book based off how everything she did made him feel. The movie showed more and more how she was miserable and even though she had everything she thought she wanted she had nothing. I think in the end he sent her the book to explain how he felt and u could see it start working when she admitted to the woman she did something unforgivable to him to. You could see as she reads the book how upset she was getting because chapter after chapter her eyes were opened to new things she had done. She realizes how much it hurt him and what she had really done which is what he wanted. In the end after seeing everything she had done realizing she was miserable he contacted her to meet to give her hope she could still have love. I think there was one point she hadnt gotten yet his final and main point a point he wanted to make sure was very clear. In the very end she looks up with that look which i thought was maybe terror/sadness because she remembers the last part of what he said “she might never find it again” speaking of love and she finally can see everything and sees shes alone. His whole point was made.
At the very end, the camera zoomed into Susans eyes and it reminded me of what Edward said about her “Sad eye’s”. I think that only confirms how his revenge worked and she probably realizes how he is not going to show up. Now she really has no one.
The only thing I wanted to add is about the scene where a baby is shown to Susan. She sees Ray with the baby. I think Ray represents Susan. Ray is the killer like Susan who aborted Edward’s baby. She saw the monster who was Ray in the cell, but deep inside her she knew she was the monster for killing her baby.
Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s a whole argument to be made that Ray is Hutton but also Susan. There was the Susan that Edward loved and then the Susan that Susan’s mom knew. And momma’s Susan won.
Nocturnal Animals is the kind of piece that (for a certain segment of the population) will hang in your head for a duration – not necessarily in a pleasant way- but an important way. I never do “comments” – but felt compelled to let Chris know how much I appreciated this article/discussion- especially the subsequent “updates”. In the isolated time of Covid – it was refreshing to read a piece that felt like an evolving conversation- the kind of thing that can happen in a room full of thoughtful minds.
Hi Chris ,
Very nice article on the film. This is my view. I see an overall theme: weakness and being emotional. That Edward (and Tony) is weak is said multiple times in the film. Susan thinks edward is weak and her mother thinks so as well. As well as ray. The novel shows de pure meaning (so it seems) of weakness, killing himself not on purpose, hiding behind a rock, not being able to stop the murderers, not seeking revenge right away but taking a shower and sleep. In real life not being able to stop Susan from taking away the child and leaving him. I can see this in the art as well. The bull being hit with arrows, the men shooting an helpless weak men. Susan seems to be cold and not weak or emotional. She needs extreme examples of basic emotions to feel. As if she has no ‘heart’ (I see a parallel with the heart beating). With the novel Edward teaches her vulnerabillity and emotions by the different characters. Showing her how to feel and have a heart. She herself can not make art because she does not know how to show real emotion. You see naked women different times in the movie. First very extreme in the art with de dancing ladys and later on the killed women. There is also an art peace where you can see a naked woman laying with the back at us. I see this type of placement of the women as not showing us emotions and keeping that to themself or ultimate vulnerability. Overall it seems in the novel that Tony kills himself. Him killing himself in a clumsy way shows that he is not afraid of showing emotions and therefore is not weak. He is strong in his own way. Edward is an emotional strong person who teaches Susan multiple lessons on emotions and you can see her not wearing make-up being becoming more vulnerable and real finally coming in contact with her emotions. Being in contact with your emotions (such as writing a novel biography, accept yourself) does not mean you are weak. It means that actually you are strong and do not need extreme art or judgement of others.
Great insight. I knew this was a movie I would probably need to watch again after noticing some things throughout the movie. I had first realized there’s symbolism in this movie when she looked at the bird outside, dying. It made me realize this movie has deeper meaning. I do really think taking the ring off the finger was a huge deal, and the fact at dinner she was rubbing that finger. I think it was about moving on – for the both of them. If that was me at the dinner table, that would be enough closure for me.
Thanks for the read!
Did you address the abortion? I will go back and read the other comments, but, found that strange. I suppose Edward did not know about the pregnancy or did he?
I didn’t get into too much detail about it. Edward did not know, I’m pretty sure. If my timeline is right, Susan had already met Hutton and realized she wanted to break up with Edward. He was just following her trying to figure out what was going on since she was pulling away from him. I’m pretty sure when she’s in the car afterwards she says something to Hutton that makes it clear Edward had no idea. But then there he is.
I walked away from this film tonight having taken away a message about pain, revenge and, most importantly, decisions we regret and how we process them.
Edward’s regret is spelt out for us in his novel. While I don’t see evidence that Edward self-identifies as weak (his character as portrayed through Susan’s flashbacks has conviction and appears grounded in his life choices), it’s Susan’s perception of his character as weak that matters – to both him and the storyline. His regret is being perceived as weak and not being able to change that perception – consequently, losing the love of his life (and unborn child).
When asked about Lou’s death seconds after he is shot, Edward’s self-symbolic character Tony clarifies that while the revenge is satisfying and even desired, what he really wishes is that he could go back in time and do things differently. Revenge doesn’t change the result and it’s the result that truly torments him.
In the subsequent scene, Tony kills Ray as Ray states his perception of Tony as a weak man. Ray symbolizes the perception of weakness Edward has battled with, and likely blamed for a life gone askew. It’s important to note that while Tony does kill this symbol of perception, it is not unscathed. Tony is left wounded, unable to see his way (literally), and after a last cry for help – a bullet to the sky –accidentally takes his own life. Edward wrote a storyline where by killing his perceived weakness, he kills himself.
There is a possibility here that Edward, in his years of introspection after his divorce, came to realize that loathing and blaming that part of him that Susan perceived as weak, only hurts himself. Blaming, or omitting, those traits not only doesn’t change what happened, it doesn’t create a better future either. Unlike Tony, he’s better off to embrace these qualities – his vulnerability, romanticism, and faith in his sacrifices to live an authentic life – and be himself. By doing so, he chooses life and, consequently, finally has the content to write his novel.
When Edward sends his novel to Susan it comes with a subtle invitation that sounds more like a social grace, “It would be good to see you after so long,” he also states that, in the end, she gave him the inspiration he needed to write from the heart. Of course, Susan never encouraged Edward to write from the heart, she did so by doing the opposite – rejecting the fundamental part of him that would lead to such writing and consequently, pushing Edward to find it on his own. In turn, it becomes the subject of his next novel.
I see why Tom Ford says the end provides a new beginning for Susan. She can better understand the past and, in turn, face her present. Having an opportunity to feel alive again – like the lovers she views in the corner of the lobby of the restaurant – creates the contrast needed to see her current life for what it is, lifeless. That said, through a painful illustration of unrequited enthusiasm, we understand very quickly that Susan will not be repenting the decades of introspection and work Edward has done with a week of novel reading and a brief email.
In real life, we often meet with exes with trepidation, sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we can handle a casual encounter only to decide, last minute, that it’s best not to resurface old emotions. Perhaps Edward felt the same. We are given no clues that his character would act out of spite or resentment. Just as with his novel, he may have realized that while having sent Susan the book to read, and provoking a level of understanding in her, brings a level of satisfaction, it still doesn’t change the past.
I get the impression that both characters have grown, come to an understanding of their own and each others’ experiences, and are ready to start anew.
Man, it’s comments like yours and a few others that really make writing these pieces so fulfilling. The insight, the thoughtfulness. Very well said. And yeah, the weakness part is a huge theme/motif and pretty much the cornerstone to Edward’s character here. It’s not something I found enough space to discuss, but it’s really important to the overall themes of the film.
To me, the ending isn’t Edward sticking it to Susan. Just like in his novel, the “revenge” he got left no satisfaction so he carelessly killed himself. His life was damaged beyond repair.
Standing Susan up was also a self-inflicted gun shot because either way… meeting her or not would bring no satisfaction or lasting happiness. The relationship was damaged beyond repair.
Definitely damaged beyond repair. And yeah, I’m definitely open to that interpretation for Edward. He’s always going to carry what happened with him. I like to think the novel leads to some catharsis. But I can see it being impossible as well.
I haven’t read through all of the comments (because there are quite a few) but I wanted to say that I felt that Edward’s not showing up was the exact same change of power that Tony experienced with the last killer in his novel. He had Susan’s mother, Hutton and Susan herself as the people who took away his wife and his child (when Susan had an abortion without telling him) and his final blow as Edward came when he was able to take back this power that Susan had held over him for so long and the best way of showing her (and the audience) this was to have him not need to be there when she called. I believe he went. I believe he saw her sit there alone and I believe he walked away feeling empowered like never before in his life. We watched her unravel throughout, the money problems, the loss of composure to the outside world (when she breaks the phone by dropping it bc Edward had clearly gotten into her head with his novel) and the sudden onset of compassion and needing to support an artist she hired (bc she didn’t stand by and support Edward when she had made a commitment to before) all of these things to me show almost a role reversal between Susan and Edward. My grandmother used to always tell me, “the person who cares the least in any relationship holds the power.” There is no uncertainty about where the power lies in Susan and Edwards relationship now. But then I’m just a single mom who watches too many movies so what do I know lol
Haha, watching too many is all the experience you need to talk about movies! And I think you hit the nail on the head.
Hey Chris…I’m late to the party, but have to bring up something I didn’t see discussed. I read your first analysis and your updates, and most of the comments. The movie opened with Susan’s gallery opening…the film opened…on the video of a very overweight woman wamping…and she morphed through even more overweight shapes…and I admit I was fascinated, as a woman now aging (61) and coming to terms with the fact that, though I was a beauty in my youth and still sought after in a cougar sort of way until about five years ago, that eventually gravity wins, even when the more slender female body. Also that for many of us, the weight creeps on, even if we were slender most of our lives. I couldn’t help but see Susan consciously juxtaposing herself with the female forms in her exhibit…the way she would look at herself in the mirror, run her hands along her face, her neck, look into her own eyes. She knew she, too, was getting older. Gravity was knocking on her doo, too. Back at the exhibit, the video of the woman, the woman who was many women…maybe all women?… still vital enough to vamp, albeit with a lot of flesh flying around, seemed to meet her end on the still life bodies posed on low pedestals. I couldn’t help but hear Susan’s biological clock ticking throughout the movie, adding to your own first conclusion that the ending mean Susan was, uh, screwed, and not in the right way. I like that people saw hope in it, like the idea that Edward had proved himself, if not entirely free of her, depending on your take, at least able to stand on his own, relieving her of guilt if she would take the gift. Or, as you saw it, a vengeful standing up. One watcher commented you couldn’t know Edward’s mind, because he hadn’t had contact with Susan in so long, but I think it’s clear in the movie that Edward knows exactly what life Susan is living. It really seemed to me a clear “see, you left me when I was still budding talent, but look what I went and did without you…and by the way, this is how you hurt me.” Also I’m glad people brought up the parallel between Tony’s daughter being taken from him and the abortion. I, too, drew the same parallel, which you said you forgot to mention because it was so obvious. Symbolism, such a funny thing! Not obvious to all. But I wonder what you think about the opening exhibit, and how it ties in. I just know how I feel as a woman watching her bloom go off. Take vitamins, eat power drinks…it still catches up with you. And Susan knows it.
Hey Laurie! Not late at all! I appreciate the perspective. I did write an article about the opening. Go ahead and Click Here
It’s been so long since I wrote that article that I don’t quite remember what I said in it. But I think I came to a similar conclusion to you, that it’s appropriate to Susan. Whether a reflection of how she views herself vs a reflection of how she thinks she’ll be. It’s definitely supposed to prime us for art vs reality, how art applies to life, etc.
Laurie, I was very moved by your honest words about aging. I have been grappling with this subject and would love to ask you some questions if you’d be open to it. Just for my own learning. Let me know if I can give you my email. Thank you.
Chris, I can’t possibly read all the comments here so I imagine it’s already been covered, but I wanted to chime in with my own interpretation of Ford’s claim that “the film’s ending signified change and hope for Susan.” As you’ve said, this film is about what humanizes and dehumanizes us, and the humanizing factors are the struggles of Tony, or Edward and Susan in New York. For me, Edward standing Susan up restored her humanity by taking her out of the mausoleum she’s built for herself (her home and the gallery) into a world in which she is emotional and thus human. She accepted the treatment she received from her husband and her daughter without complaint, so Susan’s dinner is her first act of rebellion; she is leaving the prison constructed by her wealth and her lifestyle to join Edward’s world of art, emotion and beauty.
I like that! It definitely feels like some walls are coming down for Susan.
I just got done watching the film and I’m reading a bunch of articles to get peoples take and I loved reading this because of the updates. Like you said at the end, the vagueness of the ending of the movie allows for interpretation as an individual. You can see that in the article itself. At first you saw revenge, and then closure, and then a mixture of possibilities and I truly think that symbolizes how life can be. We grow and change and create ourselves as we go through life. Our view of the world and how we see it changes and I think that’s beautiful.
Any thoughts about all the use of bright red?
I think Susan’s imagination plays a part in this movie. I think midway through the movie she imagines a chance meeting in NYC that results in dinner together and a nice conversation. I also believe that the text from Edward at the end of the movie was imaginary and that Susan was wishing for a real dinner date as she had imagined earlier in the movie. she was not happy or excited while putting on the green dress /looking into the mirror. I think she started to confuse imagination/wishful thinking with reality. I also think the call to her daughter was imaginary. I don’t think she had a daughter (although she may have lost one with her abortion). a real daughter is not mentioned anywhere else in the movie.
I don’t agree with the idea that Edward standing up Susan was some sort of revenge. the only way it could be that way is if Edward knew everything Susan was going through with her life, marital situation, etc. …which he could not have known because they were not staying in touch. for all edward knew, she could have been having a great life, so how would standing her up be some kind of brutal revenge? I think the answer is he never stood her up. the text setting up the date was imaginary. also imaginary: the real life daughter. the film transfers from the naked back side of the fictional dead daughter to the the (dead by abortion) backside of the “real” daughter. I think the phone call to the daughter was imaginary and the scenes symbolic of a daughter “taken away” from edward (and susan), with Susan’s 2nd husband having a hand in taking away both susan and a potential real life daughter from Edward.
I do not recall seeing any family photos of the family with the daughter or any mention of the daughter anywhere else in the film.
great Article. Love the analysis but have you ever wondered about adding even an extra layer to the story? Please watch again but this time imagining that Edward never existed and Susan wrote the book and has a hard time remembering due to her insomnia. There are many clues for it. All the inspirations for the book was around her and not Edward. After all her problem with sleeping was not recent. Hutton has a hard time remembering Edward. He answers “Edward who?” Then we are face with the doubt that maybe he doesn’t care about the wife. The co-worker is also surprised and says: “I didn’t know you were married” then again we doubt cause she may be a new hire. I don’t think writer would do this on coincidence. She does not remember purchasing the “REVENGE” painting and her taste in art is violent. But never really created or so she does not remember due to her insomnia and her slow separation from reality. The daughter, the mother issues symbolized as weakness and fear of exposing your true art her shaky grasp on her memories, the paintings, the fictional tony that she remembers as her ex husband etc, and finally the pain of not being brave enough to creat for herself after 20 years leads her to create an alter ego that would do it for her and finally break free. There was never any Edward but only she created him and all the Traumas in her exhausted brain ‘which is a common sign amongst insomniac patients’ only to realize at the end that in fact there was never really an Edward and she wrote the book. So yeah a whole fight club situation
Something I picked up on while watching this movie that no one wants to talk about but I will say it. Edward writes his book to pour out the pain he felt when Susan crushed his heart by giving up on their love, but also when she kills their unborn child. This is parallel to Tony’s beloved daughter being murdered. Edward would have delighted in caring for the child he created with Susan; she apparently knew this and tried to hide the abortion from him, but that fact he saw her leaving the clinic and he was probably there because he being the loving man he is; he had probably tried to save his child from the fate of death brought on by Susan, but she went through with it anyways. This felt like murder of his child to Edward and it agonized him apparently for many years that he writes the same way Tony felt at the seeing his child murdered along with his wife. I make no apologies for is clearly being shown in this film and I am pointing it out. Murder is murder.
With no offense intended, I’m not sure the two updates do much. It really seems like you had an intelligent analysis, then in your zeal to “listen to all women” or whatever, completely backtracked and took the opposite stance. Then wanted to justify that wasn’t the case in a further update. I would stay stick to your guns and your initial instinct. The second where it’s “redeeming” for her just because someone in the comment suggested it, rings false.
Appreciate the thought, Brian! I know what you mean, but it wasn’t just because my friend said that and I was trying to “listen to all women.” It’s also because the director himself, Tom Ford, said he thought Amy Adams had hope at the end rather than being totally devastated. So it was worth considering. And I do get where they’re coming from. Susan may not get to run back to Edward in the aftermath of her marriage conclusively falling apart, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And because she knows Edward’s worked through his feelings, maybe she can too. It can feel like a chapter of her life has concluded. Meaning there’s new opportunity ahead.
With that said, I do see why. you’d say it rings false. Even though I see how that can be the case for Susan and think it’s worth exploring. The movie is just so bleak that I don’t think Ford necessarily conveys the hope and change for Susan in a pointed enough way to say that’s what he was going for. Especially when he focuses so much on her negative emotions. There’s an argument he’s just being subtle about it, but there’s also an argument that such a thing as too much subtly exists.
Great read! I first saw this movie in 2018. I too had to look up the meaning of this movie. I did see how someone compared the daughter dying violently and being ripped away from Tony, to Susan getting an abortion and taking their child away from Edward. It shows in the movie where she feels the pain when she reads about the wife and Daughter being found dead. Which is why she calls her daughter to check on her.
I came upon your article and enjoyed all the interpretations. I love movies that leave me thinking days or years later. This is one of them. My view : When we find out the daughter died and we see her positioned like a painting on the couch in the middle of a junk yard that is the same position we see her in when mom calls her in real life. I don’t believe there is a daughter. I think she is calling on the daughter she aborted years ago. She would be the same age. It is no coincidence that we never see the “real” daughters face. Her back is to us. Positioned like she was when she was found dead in the book.
Plus, Do you real see the current susan and her husband as parents?
Hey Gina! Susan and Hutton would make awful awful parents haha. I think regardless of whether the daughter is real or not, the important thing is the sense of distance we feel. If the daughter is real, look at the state of their relationship. And if the daughter isn’t real, look at what she gave up to be with someone who doesn’t actually love her. Either way fits into Susan’s arc.
Just saw the film and went to look for some interpretation as to what happened at the end.
With all due respect to Tom Ford’s opinion that the end signifies new hope for Susan, my view is that the end signifies the negation of all hope.
I love American movies because they almost always end on a happy note where the good guy wins and true love triumphs over all adversity.
This is not a typical feel good American movie; it is a cautionary tale to not forsake love since without love there’s no life worth living.
If Edward’s novel is a metaphor for Edward’s life then I only see utter despair for Susan; and not only for her, but also for Edward.
For Susan, the reason for the despair is obvious. There’s no hope for her because while she regrets what she did to Edward and to their unborn child, she never repents of her infidelity, divorce, or abortion; she admits that what she did was wrong but she never asks for forgiveness for those things; in fact, she characterizes her actions as unforgivable which is to say she condemns herself to the hell that her life becomes; a marriage devoid of charity (love), faith (trust), and ultimately, when Edward fails to show up for their dinner date, hope.
In the novel we see that Tony’s (Edward’s) simple, happy, and hopeful life is devastatingly destroyed by Ray (Susan) when the latter abducts, rapes, and kills his wife and daughter; leaving the former not only grieving but also enraged, ashamed, and guilt ridden at his own emasculation. Even after Tony exacts his revenge against Ray, Tony is left not victorious but wounded, blind, and lost and ends his own life. Tony will never again have the marriage and family he once had; neither with his dead wife and daughter or with anyone else. He was too damaged by what happened to him; he will never love again. After he takes his revenge his life is over. I do suspect that Edward committed suicide.
Susan’s betrayal of Edward’s love is devastating but what ultimately leads to their mutual hopelessness and utter despair is her inability to ask for forgiveness and his inability to extend it.
I think all of that is a very viable interpretation and very well said!
Hey, I loved your analysis of this film and I thank you for giving perspective. The art vs reality theme is what I will playing off of and there’s so many comments that I don’t know if another person may have mentioned.
When it comes to art vs reality concept, I want to focus on reality. When Susan and Edward are talking in their flash backs, she always mentions she lives in reality as opposed to Edward who believes his method of expressing creativity is fantasy of the real adversities they may struggle financially. Seeing Susan depressed in her life is her reality and reading Edwards novel is like her diving into the whimsical nature that plays to her claimed sinisism( or however you spell it) and even she remarks it as “grueling”. Edwards writing is artistic and cunning in the fact she is reading something so enticing to her taste in art he bites into her mind to live in art to escape reality. Following the email exchanges, as you said initially she is living in a fantasy the moment she gets dressed to see him. When he doesn’t show up, Edward not showing up erases her fantasy just as her telling him “this isn’t practical and you working at a book store and writing is mediorcre. I live in reality” (paraphrased). Home girl moved her whole life live in his romanticized version of their life and it ended very sadly. Him not showing proves to her that he is in control of his life and path, his reality. Since she stopped believing in them being together, him planning on not showing up ends her own fantasy and almost has the touch of “isn’t this what you wanted”. As soon as she realizes my mans was not going to come, she stays to live in fantasy, the hope, superman will come through the doors to save her from reality as he did before. Her mundane reality is so sad, she clings to the hope it will happen, even though she knows it won’t. I can make this assertion because of the motions of the camera to the bourbon and her face is knowing he won’t but her staying is wishful thinking. Normally people just go. And this wishful thinking is how you say “bittersweet” because at least waiting is hopefully and the only place she has a chance at happiness. There’s hope for her in the moment, it’s better than going home because after all, what’s there.
Anyways this is how I perceived the notion of reality in this film. Thank you for this piece, sorry for the typos if any. 🙂
What a great comment! Yeah, I think you nailed that. Once she goes home, it’s over. Which leads to the question, does she go home? Will this be the breaking point for her and Armie Cannibal? Or will she just drift on in her sea of sadness?
I have been reading posts regarding this topic and this post is one of the most interesting and informative one I have read. Thank you for this!
Thank you-this was really helpful!
I’ve watched this movie again just recently and I haven’t read all the comments here so my apologies for any redundancy. I have several thoughts about this movie but one that hits me this time around is how much Edward and Susan are still in a relationship. To me, standing her up shows how much Edward still carries so much strong emotion about Susan. She remains a huge part of his life. If he had truly “gotten over” her and if the book was truly a cathartic release, why not meet her at dinner, show her how successful he is, and how much he has moved on? The fact that he doesn’t makes it clear to me that he has NOT moved on. Remember that Susan commented that she called him once maybe not all that long ago and he hung up on her. To me, Edward’s book is testimony of not only how much he loved her and how devastated he was by their divorce and abortion, but how much he still loves her. The book is all about Susan. It screams I loved you and I still do. To me, the ending is interesting in that both act in ways to betray the fact that each continues to have strong feelings for the other. Susan shows up and Edward does not. Both acts reveal their connection to each other. Also they both act in character. Susan has the courage to show up but does Edward betray continued weakness by not doing so? To me, the movie stops, but their relationship is far from over. Does this mean I think there can be a reconciliation? No, especially when considering the abortion Susan has. I’m not sure any relationship can recover from that kind of betrayal the way Susan did it. To me, that’s why this element is so important in this story. It’s one thing to betray someone for someone else. There can be room for reconciliation, maybe even among the worst kinds of betrayal. But it’s far, far, far more devastating when the loss of a child is involved. There’s no recovery from that. Still, this relationship is far from over.
Could it be argued that the book is Edward’s way of reaching out to Susan? His book certainly stokes the fires of their relationship, doesn’t it? It draws Susan in, doesn’t it? Edward shows us that he knows Susan so well and he knows how to draw her in, doesn’t he? But, how can he know this after almost 20 years? Maybe he doesn’t and maybe he’s simply hopeful that he does. Or maybe their connection was so strong that he just knows even after all of these years. Maybe he writes the book in an attempt to ultimately betray her, but doesn’t his attempt betray his own continued strong feelings for her?
I could write more. I still don’t understand why Tony(Edward) remains in hiding when those guys go looking for him. And how can he go take a bath when he doesn’t know what’s happened to his wife and daughter? And even though time has passed, he’s clean shaven? Is Edward admitting weakness in this characterization of Tony? Or does Edward write it this way because he knows Susan would expect the Tony character to act this way? I’m not sure. I just thought the characterization of Tony leaves as many questions as answers. One thing I think that may bear remembering is that the dramatization of Edward’s book is simply from Susan’s perspective. It’s how she interprets the book as she reads. She imagines Edward as Tony. She imagines Tony’s wife looking much like her. But is this how Edward wrote it? But maybe this perspective is incorrect. I have to think more about this.
I just want to add that, when reconsidering the abortion, it really was Susan’s choice to do with her body what she wanted to do, right? Maybe the betrayal is in Susan not informing Edward, but it is still her choice. She decided she did not want to have a baby with Edward at that time.
In the end, I’ve always had a hard time with Susan being the villain in this relationship any more than Edward. She definitely hurt him and maybe made some (huge?) mistakes, but is she any less human and more faulty than Edward? Her mistakes were made almost 20 years ago in a much more youthful age. Who hasn’t made their share of mistakes back then? Again, I’m not sure Susan is any more a villain than Edward.
Susan was a bad person.
She wanted to meet with Edward in order to assuage her own guilt, some tepid effort to show herself that she was not the bad person. I have seen this with so many women it’s not even funny, anything that the generic majority female can do to delude themselves that they are not the self-absorbed, selfish, semi-amoral person that they actually are.
Most human beings are pathetic herd animals, and this is doubly so for females. Shame is when other people judge you and women hate to be shamed by anyone because it is the first step in being excommunicated from the group.
Well written analysis, thanks for sharing!
Personally my theory was that Tony was in an accident that’s why he didn’t show up, I’m a sucker for happy ending so that’s what I choose to go with :p
I don’t know if this has been mentioned but there is a scene when Susan first comes home after her gallery showing. Her gate closes then a car drives up, the same car Edward drives in the novel alluding to Edward delivering the manuscript to her house himself.
The effort Edward puts into the novel, dedicating it to Susan, personally delivering it makes it seem like his feelings are still very strong but the now the flip side of the coin. It reminds me of the saying it’s a thin line between love and hate. “These emotions don’t displace each other, but rather coexist together.” Imo Edward hasn’t let go, he’s attempting to kill these emotions but is left only with revenge by holding up a mirror to Susan’s life and showing her how miserable she is and how it could have been different. In the end he’s able to hurt her as she hurt him.
But this also begs another question; how do they know about each other’s lives? They both seem to be keeping track of each other ie not able to fully let go.
It’s an interesting movie. There are few ways of interpreting it. It’s stayed on my mind unlike a lot of movies these days. I find myself rooting for them both to find happiness.
This was so well written and articulated. Thank you for the perspective shared here.
I just saw the movie and have a theory about the daughter who she calls. My theory is that the daughter phone call was a dream (but quick since it’s someone who doesn’t sleep).
Susan is the reader so she gets to imagine what the mother and daughter look like. Naturally they’re all redheads. When Susan calls her daughter, it is after the scene when Tony’s wife and daughter are found dead. She calls her daughter, who just happens to be laying naked on her side in the exact same position as the dead daughter in the book. Throughout the movie Susan denies that anything is wrong in her perfect life (e.g. catching her husband cheating on her but believing he’s just tired and denying everything she’s told her friend at the party “I shouldn’t have told you. I’m embarrassed.”) So she convinces herself that the abortion never happened and imagines her and Edward’s daughter not dead but away somewhere. The daughter says something that reinforces this to me: “I was asleep and you woke me up.” She “woke up” the memory of a dead child that she hadn’t thought about in years.
Also, nothing about her and Hutton’s life together gives any indication that they would have had kids (that house, for one).
I have a bit of a different take on this. I agree Edward was writing him as Tony, BUT I think he was working through his loss of Susan and his child she aborted (can’t believe how many people missed that!). His wife in the novel was a clear representation of her and they had a child. Crazy “nocturnal animals”, which is what he called her, took them from him.
She is realizing while reading the book just how badly she hurt him (which I believe was his intention) and that she in fact turned out just like her mother and as her mother said she would. She leaves him for an alpha male and pretty things and even she looks shocked, as if she’s realizing for the first time that the painting of the white guy aiming a rifle at a Hispanic man is racist af.
She may think Edward has forgiven her, is still interested in her or at the very least values her opinion. In truth I think he sent her the manuscript for his own closure. Like,, look how bad you hurt me, I worked through it AND wrote a great novel! And on top of that stands her up as if to say, You REALLY thought I would wanna see YOU hahaha.
Wonderful article Chris. Well put.
I love your review! Thank you so much for taking the time and writing down all your thoughts. It really did shed some new light onto the movie for me. I have three things I’d like to add:
I believe that Edward gave Susan closure and forgave her in a way. What he did, shook her. It woke her up. It showed her that there is nothing left for her and it’s her obligation to change her life. Nobody will be coming. Nobody will change her life for her. Nobody but her. It’s time for her to wake up and start reaching for those dreams if she is so unhappy. Time to step out of her comfort zone. In a way, he did her a favour in making her realise that nobody will be coming to aid her.
I think Tony dying in the end could be symbolising Edward finally setting himself free from Susan and killing that last part of him that longed for her. This part of his life is over, his alter ego Tony is dead and Edward is set free.
In addition, what is most cruel is that Tony’s wife and baby girl are being taken from him. They are killed. In the case of Hutton, he takes Edward’s wife Susan and his unborn child from Edward. He supported Susan’s decision to abort and probably persuaded her even if the marriage already had been in pieces and Susan probably made the finally decision herself, Edward believes that it is partially Hutton’s fault who took this future from him. Tony’s daughter was the child Edward and Susan never had the chance to have but Hutton and her did.
I’m glad it helped! And, yeah, I agree with all of those thoughts. There’s so much symbolism. It’s awesome.
Great article. Phenomenal movie. Every time I watch it I notice something new. Two thoughts:
1. In the opening sequence when Susan drives home, after the gates to her driveway close we see another car at the gate. It’s hard to see in the darkness, but it’s the same Mercedes that Toby drives in the novel. The next day, Susan’s assistant says he found a package for her at the door. The fact that Edward personally delivered his manuscript to Susan’s mansion in Tony’s car strengthens the revenge interpretation.
2. People in the comments here have gone back and forth about whether Susan’s daughter is Edward’s or Hutton’s. I contend that that entire phone call scene is imagined. Susan is imagining the daughter she and Edward never had. She WOULD be 19 today, but she’s not. The reason I think she’s imagined is because Susan’s daughter is presented lying on a red couch in almost the same pose as Tony’s wife and daughter. So immediately after reading that Tony’s daughter had been taken from him, Susan imagines the daughter Edward had taken from him.
The personal delivery is pretty cool. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie and I wrote the article after the theater trip so that’s definitely a detail I didn’t catch! Regarding the daughter, I get that interpretation, but would argue that the movie never shows Susan imagine like that. We see her have flashbacks. But never anything in the present day that’s not real. So it would be the one scene in the entire movie that’s like that. Which you can make an argument for. It’s her version of writing fiction. I just don’t think the movie makes any indication of that being the case. There are movies that would make that choice, but I don’t believe this is one.
I’m interested in the role violence plays in this movie. When the situation on the road becomes threatening, we already know that we are not watching a documentary account of the events, but a work of fiction. Still, the dread is as powerful and scary as anything Tarrantino has ever done. Hence, the movie seems to make a statement early on that the question of fiction or reality is meaningless. Much in a way a film like The VVitch breaks down our rationality, puts us into the minds of its religious characters and therefore makes us experience their beliefs and fears as our own, this film destroys our rational distance. You no longer can put yourself into safety by telling yourself you’re just watching a work of fiction. “I know that”, the movie seems to say, “but I will scare you anyway”. At that point, all we know is that we’re watching something written in a book. We know Susan survived the events, because here she is reading. But what about the daughter? Only at the moment when Susan, upset by what she’s read, calls her, do we fully realize that the function of the violence-and-revenge story is something beyond an account of actual events. But the daughter lies on the bed with her boyfriend in exactly the same pose as her murdered alter ego does in the nightmare story. So how strong is the separation between reality and fiction, really? From that point on, we experience the brutality of a breakup as almost equivalent to a violent crime. When Edward stands Susan up at the restaurant, the relative banality of his betrayal feels like a much heavier, more consequential emotional blow. Her face seems to display complete defeat.
I think the violence in the novel represents all of the fighting between Edward and Susan and the ugly divorce. The death is just that. The death of what they had.
That first quote IS frustrating. It feels like it was written by someone who either wasn’t paying attention, or is trying much, much too hard.
Just watched it so it’s still really fresh. They way I see it is Edward is obviously Tony. The three goons, I believe is Susan. and Laura was a young Susan. Susan took something beautiful and destroyed it because she could. She not only m***ered their relationship but also their unborn child. Tony like Edward was too weak to fight, and it cost him everything. She was punishing him for being weak. I also believe, they would not have hooked up. It would have shown Susan that he was still weak. She would have gotten great satisfaction knowing that he still wanted her. They would not have had sex and she would have finally been able to sleep. Because in her mind he had forgiven her. If I were to add a different ending it would go as follows. They would have sat down and talked about the days gone by and only the good times. They laugh and have a few too many drinks. Both of them reached for the check but she yields. He invites her back to his room, and she says this exactly. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I have an early morning and need my 8 hours. Besides I married. You remember Hutton.” He’s crushed again and she finally sleeps in for the first time in Years! Then she blocks his e-mail.
Another idea just came to me. Susan never got an a***tion, and her daughter is actually Edwards. The age is right. Her Daughter was about 19 and maybe that’s the guilt. Her daughter isn’t Hutton’s but Edwards. They made a point to show Susans daughter was about 20 years old and not at home.
Hey, Ian! I agree with the character interpretation. And the alternative ending, there is definitely a world in which Susan does find comfort in denying Edward once again. I do think she was at a point where he had the power and she would have gone with him had he asked. But what you said is a real possibility.
And, yeah, there is a theory that the daughter is actually Edward’s. But I don’t think Nocturnal Animals is THAT subtle of a movie? Like…it’s nuanced. But most of what it’s doing and exploring it announces. I think if it were going that route where the daughter is actually Edward’s that it would have found a way to signal that a bit more. Like it would have led with the a***tion up front and then near the end brought in the hint that the daughter is Edward’s. Instead, it hid the a***tion until the end and used that as the big revelation of the dagger she stabbed in Edward’s back. So I’m inclined to take the movie at face value. It’s a nuanced film but not necessarily deceptive?