Is 'Nocturnal Animals' A True Story? The Tale Within The Movie Is All Fiction
Tom Ford's directorial follow-up comes seven years after A Single Man, the elegant and melancholic drama that earned an Oscar nomination for leading actor Colin Firth. The former Gucci designer's most recent project is Nocturnal Animals, a story-within-a-story starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Nocturnal Animals is in theaters Nov. 18 after doing the film festival circuit. In the movie, a woman named Susan is sent a manuscript by her ex-husband. As she reads the novel he dedicated to her, she reflects on their failed relationship. Fiction and reality collide and inform each other while both narratives play out on screen. But is Nocturnal Animals based on a true story on any level?
Though I'm sure many an artistic and disgruntled ex has sent his break-up opus over for comments, Nocturnal Animals is not based on one specific true story. The film is actually adapted from a novel. Tony & Susan was written by Austin Wright and published in 1993, failing to garner much attention. According to The Seattle Times, the book was gifted a second life after the author's death. In 2010, Tony & Susan got a new printing and a new audience. Presumably, that's when Ford discovered the text.
In an interview with The Guardian, the director reflected on the challenges of adapting a book that's not immediately cinematic. Ford said:
"It was tough to adapt this as a novel. I loved the book. When I read it, it was an absolute page-turner, I couldn't put it down. However, it's an inner monologue and I knew that would be tricky. But still, I responded to it. And I think whenver you really respond to something and you can't get it out of your mind: option it."
In the same Guardian interview, Adams and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who plays one of Edward's characters) said that they avoided reading the book before the shoot. Adams decided on her own to do so; her co-star said he was asked by Ford. "He wanted to craft my character, not me starting to craft it from a book," Taylor Johnson said. Adams implied that the places where the film diverged from the book were really the most important. "Tom soft of took it and placed it in a world that he understood really well," Adams said. "And I think personalizing the story is what makes it so impactful."
Nocturnal Animals is an interesting example of adaptation because the medium forces the director to make explicit what's implicit in the book. Here it's casting that does that job. Gyllenhaal plays both Edward the novelist and Tony, the main character of the book. Tony endures great loss and pursues healing through revenge, and in reading about him, Susan begins to understand how much she hurt her former husband. It's evident to the viewer that Tony is an avatar for Edward. That revelation may unfold more subtley and slowly in the novel.
When a novel like this one is adapted to film, it may lose some of its depth. Then again, A Single Man is also a very internal story, and Ford pulled it off just fine. Still, Nocturnal Animals will test the filmmaker's ability to film the un-filmable.
Images: Focus Features