What character is more attractive to authors than, well, the author? Write what you know after all. Many books and movies have authors, novelists, screenwriters as their main characters – just look at half of Stephen King’s bibliography. Authors don’t make authors their main characters just so they can write from personal experience; writing is a rewarding job, but also a frustrating one, and creativity cannot fully flourish without just a little bit of insanity. Thus it makes sense for someone like, say, Jack Torrance, to be an author. Nocturnal Animals features an author as a major, though not the main, character, and it works well.
One day Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives something from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) – a novel manuscript he wrote. Nocturnal Animals, seemingly named for a nickname Edward had for Susan. Susan reads the story and it plays out in her mind – a man named Tony (also Gyllenhaal) has his wife and daughter murdered and he seeks justice. As she reads the manuscript, Susan remembers her relationship with Edward, and notices how it might have inspired the novel’s story.
Sometimes the most interesting part of a fictional story is the real story that led to the fictional story’s creation, and that in turn has inspired several fictional stories itself. What better way to get into the head of an author than through what he has written? Nocturnal Animals is about the relationship between Edward and Susan, and that relationship is told through the reading of the manuscript; it’s slightly akin to the “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife” episode of The Simpsons. The story the manuscript tells is well-acted and entertaining, and it’s only enhanced by its relationship to Susan’s story.
The film also does a good job with its tone. Throughout the movie, we get a true sense of the uneasiness Susan feels. Her art gallery carries ennui even with its pieces, and the visualisation of the manuscript and the cold blues of “the real world” gives a true sense of how troubled she is.
Nocturnal Animals is a well-told film and is authors and non-authors alike should give it a watch.