If you’d like to see a movie that epitomizes salacious, exploitative misogyny, don’t miss “Nocturnal Animals,” adapted and directed by Tom Ford. Trust a former fashion designer who spent his professional life with rail-thin women to open with a slo-mo montage of aging, obese white strippers in full frontal nudity with their rolls of flesh gently rippling over each other as the women move. I mention their race because no Hollywood director would dare to use a black woman in this humiliating sequence lest he be branded racist - despite the fact the American obesity is statistically most prevalent in the black population. But this scene is a mild harbinger of much more severe nastiness against women - scenes of sadistic kidnap, rape, torture and death against a mother and daughter whose ineffectual husband/ father is unable to stop the carnage.
Don’t be fooled by the pretense of commentary on the shallow contemporary art scene or the mores of the rich and famous. Those serve as convenient vehicles for offering the escalating violence that turns many people on and that Hollywood is eager to supply. Based on a novel by Austin Wright, the film concerns Susan, a successful art dealer (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript dedicated to her and written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhall) whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years. The novel is about a man driving his wife and daughter to their country house and the vicious mayhem that ensues after they are run off the road by a bunch of nocturnal animals - aka- men. At the same time that she is reading this novel, Susan realizes that she is being betrayed by her current husband (Armie Hammer) , the major contributor to her insomnia and our difficulty in determining which of the action is real, in the novel or in Susan’s overwrought memory or imagination.
If Ford hadn’t squandered the opportunity to be taken more seriously with his meretricious opening scene, he might have developed that conundrum in an interesting way. Instead, the film becomes a series of revenge fantasies and alternate realities which the viewer has to puzzle through. Does Susan have a real daughter by her ex-husband or is that what might have been had she not aborted the baby without telling her husband? Judging from the audience reaction, I doubt that many viewers will try to sort it out. Sadly, this pretentious film won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival; it’s too bad that Fellini isn’t around to burst that bogus balloon of hot air pomposity. Ignore Manhola Dargis’ review and boycott this one.
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