Nocturnal Animals has been by far one of the most heavily debated films of 2016. The internet has exploded with theories on the supposedly ambiguous ending – perfectly etched into our brains by stylish director, Tom Ford. Susan’s (Amy Adams) tear stained eyes as she sits alone, waiting for her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) to arrive has struck a chord with many.
The absence of Edward and the meaning of his novel have been ‘left to interpretation’ by Ford. It is fairly obvious that the story is about their marriage, however there is an aspect of this that many have overlooked. Susan is reading the novel. The story we are told is done so through her point of view. Not Edward.
Did Edward stand Susan up out of spite and revenge? Or is Edward actually dead? It’s not as cut and dry as that I’m afraid, well at least not in my opinion. I have done an extract analysis of the final scene and have come up with my own understanding of what this film is really all about.
To give it a bit of context I need to go back to the start, so bear with me. Some of the reason Susan left Edward is because she thought he was weak. Tony, the guy in the book is an absolute coward, and it results in the death of his wife and child.
And yes, the death of the wife and child is all about her getting an abortion and cheating on him. Killing his child and killing his connection with her. It’s a good old fashioned, ‘dead to me’ metaphor.
While Susan is reading this book, she attributes Tony to Edward. However, the wife in the book is not Susan. She looks an awful lot like her, granted, but she hasn’t been able to fully place herself in the assumed role of the wife.
Tony stops being weak when he meets Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) who encourages him to seek revenge on the men who raped and murdered his family. Bobby has lung cancer and is dying. Did anyone notice that he just disappeared once Tony had finally grown some murderous balls?
Bobby represents revenge. He is Edward’s hatred that has been growing inside like cancer which is potentially why Tony dies at the end of the book.
When Tony shoots himself, there is a shot reverse shot of Susan in the bath. The juxtaposition of the two shots is glaringly obvious and this is why everyone feels so uncomfortable. Tony is covered in blood and dirt while Susan is washing herself clean; however their mannerisms are exactly the same.
She is in a tranquil space, gasping and clutching onto her necklace. Tony is also gasping and clutching his necklace. Susan is initially submerged in the water and when Tony shoots himself, she comes to the surface. It put me in mind of a rebirth, that through his act of revenge that they are finally able to move on. The ever slowing sound of Tony’s heartbeat against her shallow panting is showing that, as ever, death and life are intertwined.
This scene is also when Susan’s sexual attraction to Edward returns. As Susan sits naked in the bath and rubs her hair away from her face, she groans his name. She does this while imagining Tony dying from an act of revenge. Edward sent it out of revenge, Tony is Edward. He isn’t weak anymore and she has a wide-on about it.
Moments before Susan sends him an email asking to meet up, she remembers them making love and smiles. But when she gets ready to meet him, she removes her lipstick , wedding ring and readjusts her exposed cleavage.
Almost like a girl playing dress up and trying new things. Susan has realised simultaneously, that she cannot cheat on her husband, and that she does not want a husband. I do not feel that she is removing the ring for Edwards’s sake. She is going to him as her new reborn self.
Edward and Tony are dead. Just as Susan has been reborn, so has he. It has taken Edward 20 years to get his ‘revenge’ and that is the book itself – the fact he did not show up is null and void. They have both accepted responsibility for their part in the destruction of their marriage.
This is not about revenge or death. It is about being reborn out of hatred into something that doesn’t have a black and white conclusion. It is so seldom that when a relationship ends that there is one simple reason for it, often there are complicated twists and turns. With equal measures of blame on both sides – Edward is not dead. Edward is not standing Susan up.Both are a metaphor of the connections we have with people and how they never really go away.