Nocturnal Animals isn't exactly a relatable film. Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, the type of gallery owner who only exists in Céline ads. She's got it all: the impeccably minimalist house with a wardrobe to match, perfect taste in art, jet-setting friends, and a chiseled-jaw husband, played by the impossibly handsome Armie Hammer. And yet, Susan is lonely. Her entire existence is stunning, but cold. Miserable, she retreats into a manuscript sent to her by her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who wants to meet for dinner while he's visiting Los Angeles. The violent story he's penned dredges up memories of her past with Edward, leading to many beautiful scenes of Adams lounging listlessly on her 5 zillion-thread-count sheets. As I said, not so relatable. (I don't know about you, but if I tried to pull off Adams' rouge-noir lipstick, I'd look more cirque than chic.) But there is one aspect of Tom Ford's second — and truly great — film that most women will recognise. You know this iteration of Jake Gyllenhaal. You've met him before. He's that guy. That guy you loved, despite everyone telling you you shouldn't. That guy who had big dreams and smooth words, who seemed so desperately tragic and romantic. He's the one who made you believe you could live in a downtown loft with a ratty mattress and no furniture and be happy. (It's all part of the experience, right?) As Edward, Gyllenhaal is the typical loser bae. Edward and Susan's meet-cute takes place in the snow, on a New York City street. He was her brother's best friend back in Texas. She was his first crush. He wants to be a writer; she dreams of being an artist. It's fate. They have dinner, fall in love, spend hours and hours appreciating and critiquing each other's mediocre work. Eventually, they decide to get married. This prompts Susan to get lunch with her stiffly Southern, upper-class mother (Laura Linney, rocking the bouffant-and-pearls look like no one else), who cautions her not to make any hasty decisions. "Don't do this," she warns. "He's too weak for you. The things you love about him now are the things you will hate." Muuuuuum.
The danger of loser bae is that he blinds you to the truth.
This scene borders on the tedious, but only because it's so familiar. We know that this guy is bad for Susan. We've heard that speech before, from our own moms, our own friends. But like anyone in the throes of love with their loser bae, Susan doesn't listen. She forges ahead and marries Edward, and the two pack up and move back to Texas so he can teach while working on his Great American Novel. It's okay — for a while. Until, predictably, Susan rudely awakens to find that she's very, very unhappy. Her husband isn't the great genius she thought he was: He's a pretty mediocre writer who needs constant ego boosting. He sees only the version of her he wants to see, rather than who she actually is. And she's had enough. "I really wanted to be this person that you thought I was," Susan tells Edward as she leaves him — in a particularly brutal way. As a couple, they've been stagnant. While focusing on his own career trajectory, he failed to notice that his wife's dreams had evolved beyond fanciful notions of being a starving, fresh-faced artist. And the price of pretending to be what he needs her to be is too high. Ironically, it's Susan's misery that eventually pushes her straight into the arms of another male archetype: rich, cheating asshole. This new relationship allows her to explore another side of herself — the side with a successful career, social connections, and a spouse her mother approves of. Unfortunately, that doesn't ultimately make Susan happy, either. In the end, the only man with any depth to him turns out to be Tony Hastings — the fictional character in Edward's book, a dark and twisted metaphor for his relationship with Susan. There's a kernel of Edward in there. But mostly, Tony represents everything Susan wanted her former husband to be: attentive, strong, dedicated, and impassioned. When Susan agrees to meet Edward for dinner, she's making the same mistake he did all those years ago: She's seeing what she wants to see, not who he really is. The danger of loser bae is that he blinds you to the truth. It's only with some greater perspective that you realise how toxic that person was. That's Edward's revenge. He never shows up to dispel the notion of who he has become, leaving only the dream. It's only fitting. That's what this movie is, really: a beautiful, shattered, fucked-up dream.