CGB Review of Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Between this and Arrival, I can’t help but wonder if an Amy Adams cinematic universe is in the works.  Hmm…

This is my review of Nocturnal Animals!

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All right, so this movie is a little difficult to summarize in a few words or less without spoilers, so bear with me and this ridiculously-long summation.
Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has it all: Wealth, a luxury home, a dashing husband (played by Armie Hammer), and a successful business.  Her life is basically the prosperity gospel on steroids.  So how does she start and end every day of her perfect life?
By hitting the scotch.
Her business is declining, her Prince Charming is cheating on her and she finds herself in the void of unhappiness and discontent.  Her sorrowful world is shaken when she receives a package one day.  Inside this package is a manuscript titled “Nocturnal Animals” written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The novel tells the story of Tony Hastings, his wife Laura and their daughter India.  On their road trip to West Texas, they are ambushed by three hooligans: Ray Marcus, Lou and Turk.  The three men kidnap Laura and India, then proceed to brutally rape and murder them.  From there, Tony seeks justice and vengeance with the help of a local cop Bobby (Michael Shannon).
As Susan reads this gut-wrenching thriller written by the man she once loved, she finds herself beginning to question her life choices that led to her currently melancholy existence.

The Hits
The writing is quite spectacular.  Director Tom Ford brilliantly blends the two narratives together into one, keeping them from ever overtaking one another or feeling crammed.  If you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, then you might really enjoy this movie because it carries the sleek, neo-noir look, tone and feel of a Hitchcockian film.  As a fan of character studies, I absolutely admire that this film is an unnerving character study of Susan as she rediscovers her feelings (I’m not going to say “her love” because, based on how she is written, it seems that this character is incapable of truly loving someone or at least doing so for a sustained period of time) for her ex-husband through reading his manuscript and now must live with her regrettable decision to leave him “in a very brutal way” as she puts it.
The standout performances by far are Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Gyllenhaal delivers a heartbreaking performance as Tony Hastings.  He’s technically playing two characters: Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings.  Though we only see Edward a few times in Susan’s flashbacks, Gyllenhaal is convincing as both a vulnerable man and a self-motivated one, he’s basically a Hufflepuff; think a dark-haired Newt Schmander from Fantastic Beasts.  Gyllenhaal conveys Tony’s pain and suffering without overdoing it, blending the right amount of strength and inner collapse.  Michael Shannon is having the time of his life as the cop Bobby/Tony’s conscience personified (Director Tom Ford himself has said so) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the bland actor from that god-awful 2014 Godzilla film, ACTUALLY GIVES A PERFORMANCE–and a good one at that!   Taylor-Johnson’s Ray Marcus is slimy and vicious; the devil incarnate with a sly smile and raggedy hair.
Also, I should point this out: Edward’s novel Nocturnal Animals (the one Susan reads in the movie) is a book that I would definitely read.   That story itself is like Gone-Girl-times-twelve minus the sociopathic wife.  I could definitely see it being a bestseller here in the real world.

The Misses
So Amy Adams…okay, I praised her performance to high Heaven in my Arrival review and I even liked her role as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle, but I was quite disappointed in her performance here.  She’s certainly not bad, she just doesn’t have much to do here.  Susan Morrow is what I call a “novel character,” in which her character would work much better in a first-person novel than on film.  Because we don’t get to hear her inner monologue, all we get is her looking sad–A LOT.  Sorry, guys, but lying awake in bed with a sad expression is not character development.  Now in all fairness, she didn’t do a bad job looking lonesome and depressed, it’s just that in contrast to Gyllenhaal’s explosive performance, hers is somewhat anemic.
Now this is a well-crafted, brilliantly written film, BUT….the re-watch value is lacking.  This is definitely one of those films where, if you’re a film teacher, it’s a great movie to show to your students and have them write a paper on, but in terms of watching it again for entertainment, this movie doesn’t have that quality.

You’re probably wondering, “So CGB, which is your favorite: Arrival or Nocturnal Animals?” If you were thinking that, then–omgosh I’m a mind reader!–just kidding, but in all seriousness, I prefer Arrival over Nocturnal Animals because Arrival rocked my world and actually made me think.  Meanwhile Nocturnal Animals just made me depressed.

That being said, Nocturnal Animals is an impressive second film from Director Tom Ford (his first being 2009’s “A Single Man” with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore”).  A multi-layered film complimented by strong performances and Hitchcockian influences makes this a movie worth analyzing and drawing inspiration from.  If you’re looking for a slick revenge story and character story, then Nocturnal Animals might be just what you’re looking for.

Saint Zelie Martin, pray for us.

CGB Bonus!
If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals already, then be sure to check out this analysis!

A Pro-Choice Argument That I Cannot Stand

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I have been pro-life ever since I was ten-years old and my stance on abortion has only gotten stronger with time.  Even as a child, I could never wrap my head around the fact that there is a medical procedure that violently ends the life of an unborn human being.  Children are by no means perfect, but there is nothing they could do to deserve being dismembered or injected with saline to induce cardiac arrest.
However, I live in the magical land of California, which is more blue than a Dodgers baseball uniform.  This means that I have a plethora of pro-choice friends.  I have gotten into civil discussions about abortion with these friends, but it never gets nasty.  If people end a friendship over opposing views, then they were never friends to begin with.
To their credit, my pro-choice friends usually give me intelligent arguments as to why they feel the way they do about abortion.  They give me valid points that I keep in mind when formulating my own arguments.
I do understand that some women are in dire financial straits and cannot afford to care for a child.  I do understand that a pregnant rape victim is already dealing with enough trauma as it is.  I do understand that health complications in pregnancy are possible.  I understand all of these realities without accepting abortion as the lord and savior of women.

All that being said, there is one pro-choice argument that I do not understand. Every time I hear someone spout this argument, it is like nails on a chalkboard to my brain.
That argument is this:

“When does life begin?  I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents.  A powerful feeling – but not science.”
–Melissa Harris-Perry

So in other words, if mom and dad say it’s a baby, then it becomes a baby.  If mom and dad don’t think that it’s a baby, it’s magically not a baby anymore?  Forget prenatal science and embryology; it’s the mighty power of wishful thinking that tells us when life begins.
In what universe does this make any sense?!  Okay, maybe it would make some lick of sense in freaking Asgard (Thor and Loki’s world), but not on planet earth.
If a pregnant woman went in for an ultrasound and then tried to wish away the baby by chanting the words, “I don’t think it’s a baby, I don’t think it’s a baby, I don’t think it’s a baby…” there would still be a baby on the screen/in her womb when she opens her eyes.
What baffles me about this argument is that it’s inapplicable in any other area of life.  In an intellectual debate about a pressing real-life issue, it makes no sense to use insane, out-of-this-world talking points that could not be put into practice in real life.
If I told my boss, “I know you want me to come in a 7 am, but I think my shift doesn’t start until I decide it starts,” my name would be wiped clean off the payroll.
If someone kills an animal and then says, “Well, it’s not an animal until I say it’s an animal,” would the judge say, “You know, he/she didn’t think it was a living, breathing creature, so it’s all cool”?  No!  That person’s keister would still end up in the slammer.  Oh, and PETA would be protesting outside the courthouse.
If someone is pulled over for drinking and driving, do you think the officer is going to let them go if the person says, “Gee, officer, I don’t think I’m inebriated…” even if their blood alcohol content is above the legal limit?  No, they would still be handcuffed and charged.
I’m sure Ms. Melissa Harris-Perry is a nice woman who is loved by the people in her life.  However, why would a grown adult with years of life experience resort to such a childlish argument?
Honestly, I think that this argument is pretty insulting to women.  This argument treats women with kid gloves, painting us as immature people who resort to make-believe as a defense mechanism.  Women deserve better than to be talked down to. Adult issues need to be handled with adult discussion, not talking points that one would expect from a teenager.

So when does life begin?  When the sperm and the egg come together in the Fallopian tube.  When the sperm enters the egg, the zygote is conceived.  The zygote already contains the entire genetic DNA of both mother and father; exactly 46 chromosomes (23 from mom and 23 from dad).
New research has shown that the heartbeat is present just 16 days after conception.
It only takes three weeks after conception/five weeks of pregnancy for the heart, brain and spinal cord to form.
On the seventh week of pregnancy/fifth week after conception, the face and nostrils are already present.
By the twelfth week of pregnancy/tenth week after conception, the unborn baby has fingernails and a fully-formed face.

It takes one man and one woman to create a new human being.  Feelings have no say.

 

“I do, as a humanist, believe that the concept “unborn child” is a real one and I think the concept is underlined by all the recent findings of embryology about the early viability of a well conceived human baby, one that isn’t going to be critically deformed (or even some that are) will be able to survive outside the womb earlier and earlier, and earlier and I see that date only being pushed back. I feel the responsibility to consider the occupant of the womb as a candidate member of society in the future, and thus to say that it cannot be only the responsibility of the woman to decide upon it, that it’s a social question and an ethical and a moral one.  And I say this as someone who has no supernatural belief.”
Christopher Hitchens

Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3833015/A-baby-s-heart-beats-just-16-days-conception-Heartbeat-breakthrough-lead-new-cures-congenital-disease.html?ito=social-twitter_mailonline#ixzz4Mo5NDpB3
http://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/fetal-development
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-care/art-20045302
http://www.newhealthguide.org/When-Does-A-Baby-Have-A-Heartbeat.html

Dear Animal Rights Supporter…

Dear Animal Rights Supporter,
I come from the pro-life movement.  You come from the animal rights movement.

I fight for unborn children.
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You fight for animals.
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We come from two different causes, yet we have more in common than you may realize.
It crushes you to see animals locked in cages so small that they can barely move.
It crushes me to see a dismembered infant tossed into the trash.
Your heart breaks for the abandoned dog on the side of the road.
My heart breaks for the unborn baby who will never live to know his/her mother.
You are outraged when emancipated tigers are forced to perform at the Missouri State Fair.
I am outraged when the latest Planned Parenthood video shows a worker carving open an unborn child’s face to harvest the brain.
You understand that owners often leave their pets behind because they are unable to take care of them.
I understand that women often turn to abortion because they have no one else to help them.
You believe that the disowned cat deserves adoption, not abandonment.
I believe that the unwanted child deserves adoption, not abortion.
Society defines both the animal and the unborn baby as property that can be discarded if they are an inconvenience.
You and I disagree.
Adoption is the loving option.
You and I agree.

Our movements have the power to create a culture of life.  A culture where no human or animal is reduced to a replaceable commodity.  A culture where all lives are valued equally.  A culture where every life is given dignity.

There are differences in our movements, but if the pro-life movement and the animal rights movement were to focus on what unites us, if we were to combine causes, we would be an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.

Every beating heart matters.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla and Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.