by Jason Adams
Nocturnal Animals is a strange little beast. I find myself tempted to call it the "Gay Straw Dogs" (gay in spirit if not in character) but that's not quite right - it is very much its own fascinating thing; it is very much the work of one man, one artist, grappling with his own art and the idea of himself as an Artist. And our idea in turn of him as an Artist. So much so that there's a discussion of Art and the Artist both framed by the film's structure - that of a "reality" where Amy Adams is reading a book and then a "fiction" inside the book itself - and by the film itself; that is to say that two characters actually sit down and have a conversation about what it means to be an Artist, to be critiqued, and to put one's self out into the world for that sort of judgement, bare-assed and vulnerable.
I think the most telling bits in the film comes early...
at a très chic dinner party the fabulous hosts (played by a preening be-lavendered Michael Sheen and by Andrea Riseborough in "Julianne Moore in A Single Man" drag) get to talking about the real world - you know, out there, not here - and Sheen argues how fortunate they have it in their bubble. Meanwhile Riseborough argues that "it's all relative" - no matter how high up and sealed off you are you're still dealing with the same bullshit, the same emotions and human frailties.
I do wonder if the film played differently before the election than it does now, after - it is a hard, cynical and often grotesque film (Amy Adams keeps arguing that she's too cynical for real love) and I saw a lot of push-back against those aspects of it earlier this year, including by our host Nathaniel in his review from TIFF -- I get those opening credits are button-pushing, but I go to a lot of galleries and pay a lot of attention to the high-dollar art-world and Ford ain't saying anything about the art-world that the art-world isn't eager to say about itself. The crisp clean primal screams; the pristine fetishization of violence and rage... it is something else. But watching it this week, with its rasslin' between high and low culture, between folks in their rural and urban bubbles, between "reality" and reality... well, it struck a nerve.
Of course low culture, the "reality" that Michael Sheen's gay socialite is happy to have escaped, is being painted by Tom Ford here, so for all its ugliness it's sexy and art-directed as fuck; its good ol' boy hillbillies (led by Aaron Johnson and all twelve thousand of his abdominal muscles) are straight off a redneck gay-porn set, spit-licking their lips while their wild cobalt-blue eyeballs bug with dangerous erotic abandon under a sea of night stars and violin strings.
I point all this out not because I just want to talk about the long, long scene with Aaron Johnson buck naked in broad daylight sitting on his porch toilet throne for all the world to see (but seriously, this scene goes on and on and on so much longer than you anticipate only to end with a nasty little jab at anybody attempting to eroticize the moment) but because for all of my continued skepticism of Tom Ford, Film-maker (yes even after the terrific A Single Man) there is a voice inside this material, rooting out ideas and danger. It never entirely coheres like ASM did - some saw that film as an airless exercise in beauty but I found it more moving than that; more of an elegy for beauty - but it probably should'nt, given the ugliness that Ford's taking stabs at within himself and his high society with this film.