As expected, given Tom Ford's career as a fashion designer and his promising debut A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals is gorgeous to look at. There's as much meticulous care in the setting and the visual eye as there is in Susan's manicured life with its sharp symmetrical lines and affected isolating space. More than anything, the visuals are in service of Susan's narrative. Nocturnal Animals takes place across three storylines -- Susan's present, her imagery of the manuscript she is reading, and also in brief softly emoted flashbacks to when Susan was married to Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal). Consequently, Susan is cinematographer and director of the movie. Her imagination and her memories are what filter and guide the film. There are moments and scenes again and again that remind us that as a result, we are witnessing stories through an unreliable narrator.
Seamus McGarvey, the actual cinematographer, makes yet another claim for the power of 35 mm film. Each storyline is given a distinctive hue and grain, making the parallels drawn between fictional story and Susan's life even more jarring. Here too, editor Joan Sobel shows her mastery, not surprising considering her incredible work in A Single Man and the Kill Bill series. The color contrasts between the two are striking in opposing palettes, but even more revealing when they bleed into each other - such as a glaring red light or the significant role of a particular red couch. And although Tony makes the point that authors never write about anything but themselves, the lens in which Susan reads the story is perhaps more revealing than the actual words given.
The conceit of a story within a story may serve to give this film more depth than it would affect alone. Seen separately, the stories would not be nearly as effective, but that's probably a moot point. Adams does a terrific job imbuing an inherently unsympathetic character with pathos, accomplishing the almost impossible task of making us feel for her. Ford speaks to the universal human questions of connection and isolation, to the control of appearance, and the faith we place in others.
What makes us lose the optimism that Susan embraces in her youth? There's an excess and abandon involved in that young love, symbolized in the joyful dance of the opening scenes of Nocturnal Animals. Although we can't concretely know Tony's motivations because the film is through Susan's eyes, it's easy to surmise that it's not merely Susan's action but rather her disregard of Tony's intrinsic value that ruins him. Concurrently, it is not enough to understand the worth of what you hold, but actually what you're willing to do to hold on to it.
The sheen of cinematography and curated visuals may distract you from Ford's intrication of the importance of not letting go of people who have meaning to you. But regardless of what keeps you in the seat, you'll be left both deeply moved and unable to move long after Nocturnal Animals' conclusion.