As Thanksgiving rolls past, the serious Oscar contenders start arriving in theaters as studios begin to release the films that they know will not necessarily generate a lot of box office revenue, but will add prestige to their brand. As this wave of well-put together films starts to hit the box office, Nocturnal Animals, a film that I have been looking forward to seeing for a few months is one of the first to arrive in theaters. After finally getting a chance to view the film, I was once again reminded just how much the artistic elements of film can impact the audience’s perception when viewing the film. While even the best of films suffer from their duller moments that take the audience out of the film, Nocturnal Animals maybe one of the few that truly is void of “slow” parts. This deprivation of attention loss comes largely in the cohesion of every filmmaking element coming together and benefitting the intertwining stories of the film. But before we get too deep into why the film’s elements work so well, lets start at the basic story and build out from there.
As previously mentioned, Nocturnal Animals has been a film that I have been anticipating for the last few months, with that being said I have largely tried to stay away from any promotional material that would delve too deep into the plot of the film (and if you are to, read the rest of the article with caution). As a result, other than the basic premise of a woman reading her ex-husbands newest manuscript, the plot was largely a mystery to me. Within the first few sequences of the film it becomes apparent to the audience that they are not only being told the story of the main character, Susan, reading her husbands novel, but also the story of the novel, and the long ago ended relationship of Susan and her ex-husband. As the scope of the film’s plot begun to reveal itself, the fear that the narrative may fall apart quickly started to well up, as most films struggle with telling a singular complete story, let alone three. Yet, throughout the entire film, the director, Tom Ford is able to keep the plot coherent and packaged tightly without any confusion. The reason for this is because of the acting performances, cinematography, score, and editing working together to combine the film’s three stories into one thematic exploration.
Usually when a film attempts to tell multiple stories involving the same character or actor playing a different character, the audience can have difficulty deciphering which one they are watching at a given time as it is not always clear which when the film bounces back and forth between stories. As the plot of Nocturnal Animals deepens, the amount of times the narrative in the film transitions to another of the three stories increases, but during this time it is never felt like the audience is being told three separate stories. The reason for this is because of the filmmaking elements that are used to blend the stories together. For example, in terms of cinematography, when the narrative switches from Susan’s present day life, to the manuscript of her ex-husband, instead of simply cutting to the next shot in the story with out thought, Ford frames two different characters the same way on screen so that when he dissolves to the first shot of the next story it matches the last shot of the previous story, invoking the idea that there is a relation between the two. This merging of stories can also be observed within the film’s score. Over the course of the film when two scenes are cross cut together, the cuts are made in tune to the beat of the music that can be heard. Much like the dissolving between similar shots allows the audience to subconsciously make connections between the two shots they are shown, the story bridges that are being made by the audio helps link together similar themes that each story is trying to address in terms of the larger narrative.
While in the article I only highlight the merging of stories through the film’s cinematography and score, every aspect of the film is devoted to making sure not only the audience understands which story of the three they are watching, but also how they connect thematically. Most importantly, while I do not normally comment on the performance of the actors within the film, the success of the film’s engagement falls on the laurels of the casts acting ability. Though much of the film is put together perfectly, ultimately the intensity of the film’s story is brought to life by the performances. While in most cases it can be challenging for a film to tell one thought provoking story, Nocturnal Animals is somehow able to put on an exhibition on telling three. As a result, Celluloid Cinema awards Nocturnal Animals 5 out of 5 Reels.
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