When the dictates of the world end up making us not appreciate who we should
The story staged by Tom Ford, slowly makes us feel so much empathy that we feel all the pain of the protagonist, but also his anger for what he suffered.
The film ranges between various layers: the present, the past, and the metaphor of pain, highlighting how frequently, our living in society conditions us to the point that we have to prioritize the duties and aspirations that seem to come from ourselves, but they actually come from the influences of a society without empathy. Thus, we end up sacrificing the people we love, just for personal interests. And we remain completely indifferent to the suffering that our selfish choices bring to the people who really care about us.
Edward has been in love with Susan since they were little kids, but only after many years, when they accidentally run into each other again, do they have the chance to confess to each other everything they always wanted to say and do together. Susan loves Edward’s sensitivity and his not being so conventional. As much as she hates her family: too bourgeois and rigid, where failure is not allowed. They discover each other and this leads them to marriage, although Susan’s mother is convinced that she will end up hating what she currently loves about Edward.
Despite the disagreements with her mother, Susan ends up becoming very much like her: She finds the man too insecure about his future and feels she aspires to something else. He would like to be a writer, but he’s insecure and too emotional. In contrast, she would want someone with high aspirations and a solid position, just as she would want it for herself. And in fact, Susan becomes an important art gallery owner. And her art seems to represent the opposite of what she would like from her life, made of perfection, luxury, and aesthetics.
Although the woman has achieved her goals. Her life no longer seems to be what she dreamed of: the art gallery seems like a pointless chore, the confident husband she aspired so much to (to whom she married after her divorce with Edward), is too busy with business trips where he ends up repeatedly cheating on his wife. And the relationship with her daughter doesn’t seem so close. The perfect ideal of life she had set for herself collapses since from the outside everything looks good, but from the inside, Susan’s reality takes its toll, she can no longer pretend to be what she is not.
All of a sudden, Susan receives a package containing the manuscript of a book: it’s Edward’s. The title is “nocturnal animals”, a nickname he used to call Susan because she always suffered from insomnia.
As Susan begins the reading, and we with her, we are both slowly immersed in Edward’s pain, whose story narrated is a metaphor for, but it is also a story of revenge that the protagonist enacts for the evil he suffered. However, through it all, he also blames himself for his inability to be as decisive as Susan wanted him to be.
In the story, the protagonist is Tony, whose parallelism with Edward is obvious, intent on traveling with his wife and daughter. Suddenly, driving along the long dark roads, deserted and isolated, the family bumps into criminals who force them to pull over for futile reasons. From that point, the situation increasingly degenerates, until the three criminals kidnap his wife and daughter, while Tony remains helpless and unable to react to the abuse.
Then, with the help of Detective Bobby, he makes a tragic discovery: his wife and daughter were tortured, raped, and killed. From there on, Tony’s pain escalates to the extreme until it turns into revenge. Bobby finds the criminals but knows they won’t pay. So, he allows Tony to take revenge, knowing that his illness will not leave him much longer to live. Tony must take courage even in revenge, but with Bobby’s help, he will have it, although there will be no happy ending for anyone.
Tony’s initial inaction is the same that Susan blamed on Edward and he, in turn, does not forgive himself. At the same time, Tony’s wife represents the revenge on Susan, and Tony’s daughter is a metaphor for Edward and Susan’s child whom she aborted without wanting him to know, but he inevitably discovered, bringing their relationship into oblivion.
The criminals are therefore the representation of Susan’s cruelty: they are the nocturnal animals, as is Susan. The violence suffered by Tony and his family is gratuitous: there was no real motivation for the three men for what they did. Just as it was unnecessary cruelty that of Susan, made only to follow the social dictates that ended up swallowing her in a world that she no longer belongs to. Susan had repudiated what she ended up becoming, and reading the story, she realizes this all the time. The real Susan was the one who opened up to Edward but then ended up disowning.
When the two of them text each other for a date, a window of opportunity seems to open for Susan. After realizing how much Edward really means to her, she confirms the appointment in which the girl experiences, moment after moment, the pain she had inflicted on her ex-husband, realizing that Edward will never show up. The opportunity is now lost, just as Edward himself had told her years earlier saying, “You must be careful with your loved ones as your time together is finite at best”.
People can be really cruel, but it’s even worse when they do it for no real reason, denying themselves, perhaps to just follow the dictates of someone else or society in general. Whether it’s a partner, a relative, or a friend; how many times have we seen gratuitous nastiness towards us without deserving it? Just as Edward had to pay for being himself, Susan eventually had to pay for not being herself. External conditioning leads us away from the people we love most, both when we are the ones affected and when others are the ones subjected to it, and then they pour its consequences on us, through their distorted attitudes.