Nocturnal Animals: Spoiler Discussion

So you may notice the word “spoiler” above, which indicates that we are indeed going to divulge SPOILERS for Nocturnal Animals. You might want to read the spoiler-free review first. Or second? Who knows what you want to do, you loose cannon, you.

Here’s my evidence, and my theory, for what’s going on here, and what the ending means.

Susan and Edward were married. He used to call her a “Nocturnal Animal,” the name of the novel he sends her, and is dedicated to her. We find out that she loved his idealism, and wish to be a writer, and his belief in himself. Her mother tells her that she should not marry him, because he has no money. When Susan scoffs, her mother says “the things you love about him now, you’ll hate about him in a few years,” and that “everyone turns into her mother.”

We know by then that Susan has indeed dumped Edward, given up on her own dreams of being an artist in order to run a gallery of other people’s art, which by now she is bored with and feels nothing for. She is unhappy in her life, and her marriage, and her distant husband is cheating on her. So she gave up on Edward in order to pursue money, turning out just like her mother, and is now miserable.

She receives a novel from Edward [note she gets a paper cut upon opening it, tacky and obvious], and she imagines Edward as the main character as she reads [note we never see Edward alive in the present day]. His wife and daughter [both of whom have long ginger hair, like Susan] are killed. We find out that Susan aborted Edward’s child. We find out that Susan left Edward in an “awful, brutal” way. Susan was criticized for thinking Edward was weak, and the character in the novel is characterized as too weak to finish off the killer. When Susan is leaving him, Edward cautions that “she may never have this again.” In the novel, the main character dies alone in the desert.

Susan has walked by a prominent painting that says “Revenge,” and the ending of Edward’s novel is all about him getting revenge. Edward and Susan are to meet again for dinner, once she has finished his novel. It is never made explicit, but I came away with the feeling that he was dead by the end of the film [and there is a prominent dead bird, as well as a character with terminal cancer who is going to give up his short remaining life for “justice”]. We have indications that she is hoping to rekindle their relationship, because she wears a dress that is a bit more than friendly [above], and makes the decision to wipe off her lipstick as too forward. But she is stood up, and the movie ends with her waiting hours for him.

My theory is that his revenge is to make her realize how unhappy she is, and how badly she wants him back… only at a time where she can never possibly get him back.


7 thoughts on “Nocturnal Animals: Spoiler Discussion

  1. Good summary, and probably “true”. My only reservation is that Edward did not seem the revenge orientated type – does it matter that this elaborate plan was out of character? Or are we meant to think he’s been agonising for years over this comeback?


    • Well for what it’s worth, I guess the guy wasn’t the revenge type BEFORE his wife left him and aborted their child and cheated on him and told him he’s a rubish writer and a loser. But after, that’s a different story.
      What I’m not sure about is the 20/19 years Edward has been waiting before sending the book. That’s a really long time and the guy never let go or moved on. That amount of time itself proves, in my opinion, that’s it’s a nasty revenge and that dish was surely super cold by then.


  2. It never occurred to me that he might be dead. I just thought he was joyfully giving her a “Fuck you, Bitch!” in making her fall in love with him all over again, and realize that her life was terrible, and letting her think that she could get back with him and have a fulfilling life, and then not showing up. When I rented the film I watched all the extras and the director said that Edward was doing her a favor because by the end she has decided to turn her back on her unfulfilling life, and she will never go back to her awful husband and her awful job, but I assumed that that’s exactly what she did when Edward didn’t show up, and his revenge will be so much sweeter because she will be more miserable than she was before she thought she could start fresh with him. I don’t think she is strong enough to start fresh on her own.


    • It was just a feeling I had… he may not be dead, but we know he was dying. But it may have been an additional aspect of the “fuck you” that even if she wanted to, she couldn’t have him back.


      • Do we know he was dying? It’s 10 months since I watched it so I should probably take another look… Says something that we’re still discussing it!

        There is so much in this film that doesn’t add up – like the long period before Edward’s supposed revenge, how he can “read” Susan so well after all this time, torment her with the novel, arrange their non-meeting by email etc…

        I don’t actually think it’s the sort of film where deeply analysing the characters’ motivations will do much good, it struck me more as a dark cinematic “game” not to be taken too seriously despite the dark content.

        From the outrageous characters, the awful “art” world and the unfaithful husband to the filthy, redneck world of the novel-within-a-film it just seemed to want to play with our expectations and prejudices. Very successfully!

        I am now strongly tempted to see how it comes across on a second viewing…


  3. To be clear: we do NOT know he was dying. It was just a feeling I had, with no direct evidence.

    I agree with your assessment that the main point might just be to play with our expectations. Watching it again might lay bare all of its flaws! If you do take another look, let us know what you find.


    • In your comment above you said “he may not be dead, but we know he was dying” – but of course we know hardly anything about modern-day Edward, except he’s one hell of a writer and knows how to effortlessly push the buttons of the ex-wife he’s apparently had no contact with for 20-odd years!

      If there is a “fuck you” it’s possibly to the audience, but I have to say I was vastly amused by this film from the confrontational opening credits on. No matter how dark the material got I could not shake the feeling it was all a put-on, and it followed it through to the cold and bitter end.

      However others I talked to were shocked that I viewed the film primarily as a black comedy so I guess I owe them another viewing too. Maybe I am wrong? Is it just a “neo-noir psychological thriller film” after all? A morality tale?

      It probably reminded me of Gone Girl – which is also best enjoyed in the same spirit…


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