In Nocturnal Animals, the sting of a paper cut can penetrate way below the dermal level.
Directed and written by Tom Ford, the film, based on the book Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright, demonstrates that a seemingly slight abrasion can turn into a deep, male-inflicted wound, underscoring the movie’s key questions: how do we define masculinity, and what’s the difference between weakness and sensitivity.
Years ago, when Susan (Amy Adams) tells her upper-crust mother (Laura Linney) about her aspiring-writer boyfriend Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mom says, “He’s romantic but very fragile. What you love about him now, you’ll hate later. He’s too weak.” Of course, she means his lack of financial promise, but Susan ties the knot anyway. Sure enough, after a stretch of togetherness, she dumps him for exactly the reasons her mother said she would. There’s a final twist of the knife to Edward’s generative potency, too.
Now remarried to a man (Armie Hammer) whose business is floundering – but whose eye for other women is not – Susan is an art-gallery manager with little interest in the work. One day she receives a package – it’s the one she gets the paper cut on – which contains a manuscript of the novel that Edward has finally finished.
And, as she reads it, Susan will have to figure out whether her ex-husband suitably carried, all along, the archetypal Maleness that she and Mom wrote off as absent.
The bulk of the movie is a cinematic rendition of Edward’s novel, about a Texas road trip gone bad, highlighting the Mars archetype of aggression and violence. A family – Tony the Dad (Gyllenhaal), Mom (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) – have the very bad luck to be run off the highway by a couple of rednecks (including Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in two cars.
The women are abducted, evoking Plutonian control and rape. Bobby Andes, a local, seen-it-all detective (Michael Shannon), personifies the male aggression that will be required to seeing the case to a just, but not necessarily legal, conclusion, given Tony’s powerless and emasculated state.
In the end, the film, suffused with the red of art and the red of blood, equates the potency of Venusian artistic expression with the drive of Martial activity.
For Susan the impact of the narrative – no shortage of Plutonian revenge from the author – is both in the past and in the present.
As Edward says, earlier in the film, “Writing is a way to keep things alive.” Check.
Archetype: Masculinity. Sensitivity. Writer. Artist. Violence.
Astrology Archetype: ♀ ♂ ♇ (Venus, Mars, Pluto)