Tony and Susan: the powerfully strange novel behind Nocturnal Animals | Books | The Guardian
This post contains a lot of spoilers about Tony and Susan. in a bit of an unusual way and talk about the ending first, because it sets the pace, simply have written a story about a failed relationship, to say it in plainer terms?. Reading the book forces Susan to reexamine her own memories, about how her relationship with Edward had reached its end. Austin Wright. Tony and Susan is a novel by Austin Wright first published in The book was initially Susan and Edward's relationship had dissolved 25 years earlier in part thanks to him abandoning The cars end up bumping each other and the leader of the men, Ray, gets in the car with Laura and Helen and drives off with them.
Susan divorces Edward and marries her once partner in infidelity. Looking back, Susan realizes much of what inspired her to marry Arnold was the guilt she felt at cheating on Edward, because she understands now what it feels like to be in his shoes. You see, Arnold carries on an affair with his secretary, and expects Susan to be a-okay with it which she of course is not. Susan knows, deep down, that her relationship with Edward never would have worked out, but she regrets the way things ended, and hopes to become his friend again after they meet to discuss his book.
However, Edward never returns her phone calls during his visit. She knows he still came to town, because the concierge at the hotel confirms his presence there, but for whatever reason he decides to snub her.
Maybe it was too hard for him to see her again, maybe it was an intentional "fuck you," forcing her to read this dark and heavy novel that just might contain some crude jabs at her, or just might not—Susan notes these possible jabs, but she can't be sure she isn't just reading too much into them.
In either case, Susan's feelings are hurt at Edward's snubbing, but she gets a little "fuck you" back at him by sending him a terse note that simply says and I'm paraphrasing here "I read your book. Let me know if you want to know what I thought of it.
Tony and Susan - Wikipedia
With this ending, Wright gives us is protagonist that is forced to reexamine the decisions in her life. She doesn't entirely like what she sees upon reflection, but it is clear she looks to a way forward, rather than a way back. Her own little "fuck you" to Edward is a relief, because we've heretofore saw Susan behaving as the dutiful, subservient wife, supporting Edward's seemingly impossible dream to be a writer, bringing in all the money to their household while he hammers and struggles and plays the tortured artist role, all the while refusing to grow as a writer by taking Susan's constructive criticism.
She breaks loose from this relationship but falls right into another, one she commits to making work because, in her mind, she has to make it work. She gives up everything—her marriage, her life, the approval of her parents who just love Edward to be with Arnold.
It can't all be meaningless, she tells herself. But of course, two decades down the line, she realizes that in spite of all her efforts, this other marriage is also failing, but now the stakes are so much higher—she has children with Arnold, she has a house and a job nearby and an entire life built up around this relationship, which also entails an expectation that she simply say nothing about Arnold's affairs, which she isn't comfortable doing.
It's worth noting that she originally asked Arnold to be faithful to her before they ever got married, he being the highly non-monogamous type; but despite his nature, he promised he would be faithful, but is now flagrantly breaking that promise. Overall, the novel ends on a bit of a question mark—where will Susan go now? Ford As Punisher Not so with Ford's film. In Nocturnal Animals, Susan manages an ultra-modern art gallery known for its fiercely and altogether emptily subversive and offensive installations.
The film, in fact, opens with one such work, videos of nude, morbidly obese and elderly women wearing star-spangled majorette hats and twirling batons—a bold, body-shaming grotesquerie Susan outright calls "bullshit. As this Susan reads Edward's novel—the one titled after her old nickname, the one dedicated to her—she reflects back on her failed marriage just as her literary counterpart does, but in a way that is decidedly anti-Susan and pro-Edward.
There is only one scene depicting her ex-husband's inability to take her criticism, but it's played with Susan taking the wrong path toward criticism: The parallels between this mother and the "present-day," make-up-caked and elegantly-dressed Susan are more than apparent, especially when one considers the contrast between the overly-painted mother and young Susan's simple, naturalistic look we see throughout the flashbacks.
Then we meet Ford's Arnold—again, renamed Hutton, for whatever reason. Now, it should be noted that in the novel, Arnold and his mentally-ill wife Selena live in the same building as Susan and Edward, and while Edward is away, Selena has an "episode" involving a kitchen knife, and has to be temporarily institutionalized.
Susan invites Arnold over to dinner as a friend, to console him and give him some company and to give herself someone to talk to, because in Edward's absence, she is lonely. They continue having dinner together every night, and one thing leads to another, instigating their affair.
NEW: Analysis of Tony and Susan
It's clear this infidelity comes from a place of loneliness and desperation, and it is perfectly understandable given Edward's obsession with writing, which has isolated him from his wife. In the film, however, Susan notices Hutton in one of her classes—this handsome, burly man-man who gets her undies in a twist the moment she lays eyes on him.
Edward does not leave for his writing retreat in the woods, but Susan carries out the affair anyway. Now, here comes perhaps the most major change Ford makes to Susan and Edward's backstory: Susan discovers she is pregnant with Edward's child, and because she doesn't want to complicate their separation, she decides to have an abortion and not tell Edward. He storms away, a broken man.
Ford pointedly draws connections between this abortion and failure of marriage to Tony's harrowing narrative in the novel-within-the-film. Just as Tony loses his wife and child to a cruel and sadistic person, Edward loses his wife and child to the cruel, icy whims of a woman who just doesn't understand him. The first connection is, obviously, the choice to cast Gyllenhaal as both Edward and Tony, despite the fact in the novel Susan actively works not to think of her ex-husband in the role of his protagonist, as Tony bears no physical resemblance to Edward.
There are shades of Edward's personality there, for sure, but these aspects neither confirm nor deny an act of vengeance on Edward's part against Susan.
In the film world, these physical distinctions may or may not be present, as we get neither Edward's descriptions nor Susan's chiding herself for casting her ex-husband in the role. It is Gyllenhaal without question. There's also a fairly telling set of color choices around the beginning of the film and near its end. The highway attack and kidnapping scene plays out under an eerie green glow, slightly suggestive of night-vision footage and the wild things that crawl in the dark—like these off-kilter, violent men, for instance.
Now remember, in the film, Edward dedicates his novel to Susan and titles it after his nickname for her, ostensibly because she's an insomniac, but after seeing his labeling of kidnappers, rapists and murderers as "nocturnal animals," combined with the connections of Tony and Edward losing their families, one wonders if the nickname wasn't a jab at her budding "ice queen" personality to begin with, the transformation of Susan into her mother.
To punch up this correlation between ex-wife and the late-night predators who take everything from Tony, look at the color of Susan's dress just prior to meeting Edward at a restaurant for their long-gestated reunion: This is the only time Susan wears a green dress in the film.
If she wears any other green articles of clothing, they are not featured so prominently—lit in such a way that only Susan, her very green dress, and the outline of a mirror appear in the frame. In this same scene, Susan also wipes off her heavy lipstick, returning herself to the "natural look" she sported two decades ago, and thus, symbolically, turning herself back into the nice, sweet girl Edward fell in love with, the girl who had the capacity to love someone as lofty and creative as Edward.
Now, if we're buying into this notion that Susan was once a nice, sweet girl who was nothing like her icy, domineering, overly made-up mother, but then due to her uncontrollable libido and the influence of said mother, she became the very thing she hated, in this scene we're supposed to be happy for Susan, cheering her on as she reclaims something of the woman she used to be.
This changed woman, this new-old Susan, will go to the restaurant and have a fine time with Edward and drink and laugh and maybe, yes maybe, there'll be a spark of the romantic permeating the evening. But no, Ford has other, more cruel designs for his Susan. She sits at the restaurant, waiting for Edward all evening, only to discover that he has snubbed her, left her alone and vulnerable in a fancy restaurant all by herself.
And here she's read this book that is so obviously about how much the loss of her crushed him. That means he must still love her, right? So as she puts on her green dress, puts on the make up, prepares to go meet Edward, she must have such a sense of But beyond that, satisfaction.
Early in the movie, she tells Hutton that Edward never re-married and that's sad. We can tell she pities Edward. She left him, broke him. In her mind she's always had the power over Edward. She even inspired this great work of fiction, a book dedicated to her and her alone, even titled after the nickname she had because she could never fall asleep.
She must think she's going to do Edward a favor by having dinner with him. If, at that dinner, Edward had told her to run away with him And that crushes Susan, because it destroys the fantasy she had. The one where she still meant something to Edward. Without Edward she has no one. At least before he reached out to her, she could think to herself that, no matter how bad things were with Hutton, at least one person out there still desired her.
That's the inspiring role emotion plays in creating art. After writing the novel, Edward sends it to Susan, the first communication they've had in years.
He felt empowered to do that.
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Where Susan saw the book as a statement of how much Edward still cared about her, the novel was actually a sign that Edward had finally come to terms with what had happened between them.
All those emotions inside of him became words on a page. That's the cathartic role creating art plays in emotion. That's one of the powers of art, to help us not only process our emotions but to get rid of them. Except Susan doesn't have that. Multiple times, Susan says that she isn't creative, that she can't create.
That's why she switched from being an art major to art history. That's why she manages a gallery and helps other artists. She can't express her feelings. All of her fear, her pain, her stress, etc. When it became too much with Edward, she bolted for Hutton. And even though she has all this money, all this success, she's miserable.
For anything she feels. What would that home look like?
This is why she can't sleep, why she is a nocturnal animal. There's too much on her mind.
Book vs. Film: 'Tony & Susan' vs. 'Nocturnal Animals' | LitReactor
So where Edward could work through his emotions and find, eventually, closure In all likelihood, things will not improve for her. Edward doesn't physically hurt Susan.
That does take time to process, to unpack and appreciate. And that's why the first quote frustrated me so much. I talked with my friend and fellow film fanatic, Jo Roand she made a great point about Susan, one that Vela Roland and Shakira Wade also discussed in the comments see the bottom of the page.
It's funny because there's an interview Tom Ford did where he said that he thought the film's ending signified change and hope for Susan.
At the time, I had laughed because it seemed ridiculous. I had already written this article about how tragic the end was. I had legitimately thought, "If that's what Ford was going for, I don't think he hit his mark.
I saw it as an act of an unhappy person who operated like a hermit crab, moving from one shell to another. That's why the end of the movie would be so tragic—Susan now had no where to go. Hutton didn't want her. But the reminiscing isn't just romanticizing the past, it's understanding the pain you caused someone and feeling guilty about that pain.
In that context, Susan isn't reaching out to Edward for validation or hope for a rekindled romance—all she wants is to alleviate the guilt. She doesn't want to feel responsible for having broken him or ruined him.
So her e-mails aren't necessarily romantic gestures. They would be an olive branch. Same with the dinner. It's not about her wooing Edward, it's about apologizing, seeing he's okay, and finding closure. The same kind of closure we see Tony trying to gain in Edward's novel. Edward not showing up becomes a bittersweet victory for Susan. On the one hand, it's brutal because she's been stood up. On the other hand, it's Edward's first relatively cruel act to Susan.
He had the confidence and the backbone to stand her up. Add this in with him having written a novel Susan found impressive One where he doesn't need her. The assumption here is that Susan can forgive herself, because even though she hurt Edward He's confident enough to stand her up.