There is no point in living if you can't quit the feeling you shamed yourself by being weak when you could have been strong to terror -- this is the point of "Nocturnal Animals." In fact, if you die immediately after showing you're not such a hapless fluff after all, just showing you could be strong before your worst tormentor is such a victory that that ostensibly sad fate of your body being slowly besmirched into dust, cast amongst the other wilderness rocks and stones, really doesn't matter so much. Presumably you die with your memories of you as a strong drawn sword, smacking down the threatening dragon, basically determining the nature of your spirit in the hereafter: this is what you surely mostly were deep down the whole time, even if it took this particular moment to buck it out into the open. Okay, I suppose I can sorta accept that... there's nothing like seeing yourself finally as a perpetrator when you've seen yourself so often as just a passive victim -- even if it's still not not actually hating anyone, the next step up, surely, in character evolution. Except, because never, not for one real moment, is there ever actually an instance in which Jake Gyllenhaal's Tony Hastings shows himself as weak, this victory seemed like it should have been applied to some other sapien' soul. And it gets you wondering, has the movie doubling back on itself, implicating its creator, someone whom we might otherwise have assumed, had he actually showed his protagonist as actually someone who turns a bit humiliatingly cooperative when tormentors are upon him -- known some true shame -- that he was once probably weak himself but had come to know some triumph over a past and more deplorable version of himself.
No, this guy, Tom Ford, isn't even up to the point of admitting he ever was weak, we begin to think, and perhaps it haunts him... is sufficiently aware of it through his otherwise conscious experience of life as a steady sea of accomplishment, that he feels he has to balk it back somehow... and so creates a film whereby he might entrench in his own mind a sort of facade, a covering, where he can believe he has revived, frankly, bravely, a version of his own humiliating time of weakness but really only in hope of displacing it, bumping it to the side, with the facsimile of it that bears no real trace of such discomposure.
If you explored every crack and crevice in Tony Hastings and his family's interaction with the roadside bullies, you can't really come upon a single instance where he could have known better... where he could have done something which clearly, to him in the moment, would have spared his family what they ended up suffering: the worst possible fate of repeated rape and murder. There may have in fact have been something he could have said or not said, agreed to or not agreed to, that would have alleviated their fate somewhat, made it so that, perhaps, they would have still surely been poked and prodded a whole lot but not ultimately on the alter of total sacrifice. But who could possibly have anticipated it? Here is an alert, sophisticated family, smart to the nature of the people they are confronting and trying all sorts of spontaneous and perfectly smart strategies to defuse what could not help but excite and annoy their tormentors: their evident belief in themselves as morally superior beings. They do think they are better than these hillbillies, and they know that this registers pretty plainly, that they'd most actually just like to talk smack and remind them of their low station, so they don't just simply defer but sometimes, even a bit, antagonize them -- yeah, we don't like you and we know you know it, but you are still being total jerks here toying with people beyond all tolerance -- doing something that's only half sincere, with the other half just time-passing drama -- and we know you're aware that there is some point where you're supposed to call it off ... and do you really want to trespass past that?; does it really flatter you to exit being the grandly empowered playing with absolute victims and instead perhaps forever become those permanently and eventually destructively entwined with them, just so you can show you don't always just play? Be satisfied that you made us feel very, very threatened; that we let you know that we know that no matter how we twisted and turned our fate was entirely in your hands; and let it go at that: we amounted to another amusing pastime to titilate you true lords of the road in this actually quite enhancing realm of the quintessential American wild (we've been reminded of that: we may in our own way be cocksure but surely we ain't cowboys... and you in your way most certainly are) -- a response which flatters the tormentors as beings perhaps mostly actually like themselves, creatures of strong cognitive awareness of this as drama, but also as truly embodying the kind of proud, self-possessed, menacing presence that Americans... that even bourgeois, Mercedes-driving -- they, still kind of bows down to. You know we think you're hillbillies, but if you care about us not dissing you so much how about more largely considering that we're ultimately registering in this situation that none of us has completely gotten past the moral legitimacy of the great American outlaw. You're quintessentially raw, raw American, even if still villains, while we're adrift from that and evidently hapless for it... but if such, not then also, those possessed of the lordly ability to draw it all back in and resolve at the finish on fair play?... We ain't ever forgettin' you.
Ostensibly Tony might register as irritatingly passive when he follows the lead of the sheriff as he explores the case. He does just do as requested. But this seems well-considered: the sheriff shows he knows what he is doing, and Tony doesn't want to detour from the most straightforward path to justice. He gets tapped on the shoulder sometimes to "remind" the caught tormentors of what they actually did to them rather than their pretence that they were nowhere near the area and did absolutely nothing wrong, officer, but this plays more like conductor's direction receding to the star trumpeter's blasting away. And when Tony finds himself alone with the chief tormentor, ostensibly we're supposed to take as truth that Tony is unable to pull the trigger of a gun because he has been sadly inhibited; but the reality is that it doesn't play as effective bait to work at potentially cancelling his efficacy at this moment because all we've really seen of Tony with a gun thus far is, not his absolute inability to shoot, but rather his ability to be caught out in surprise... he's not a natural gunfighter; such things will happen. And so when he ends up shooting and killing him later it doesn't play as him finally accomplishing what he'd feared he was too naturally cowardly to be capable of, but just as him doing as intended when set and able to focus. With just this guy and him in a room, there was no way he was going to find himself laid low while the villain got away... and so that wasn't what happened.
Tony's terrible misadventure, then, in a sense, victory, constitutes what is only a fictional story, the plot of a novel written by a man who too suspected he might actually be a weak, hapless person, doomed, in his case, to be the person who'd only work in a bookstore and never finish his novel that his wife decided he was just before leaving him. But this person triumphs too by proving to be someone who got a job teaching at a university and who actually wrote his captivating and accomplished dream novel. His wife's assessment of his character was erroneous, a mis-applied hit, and she has to acquiesce to the fact that she suffered a subsequent fate of finding a subsequent husband who looks great but who cheats on her regularly, and a job where everyone lacks her former husband's kindness, substance and soul. Ostensibly, if she'd have more genuine faith in him, she'd have been much more satisfied. Her plaguing demons were at work in her decision, not her having alertly spotted clear evidence of the way his own would ride his whole adult life.
But in fact despite her cheating husband and her financially-at-risk gallery and her nasty, self-obsessed associates, she comes across as living a quite self-actualized life she no doubt really enjoys for its poise, beauty, glamour, and circumspection. We're not supposed to see this, but in this instance, again, we of course see it. No way really would it have been sufficient to have tried to go half-way on this by sticking with a tweed-professor someone who'd, sure, eventually write a great novel her smart-set would enjoy, but who'd still always beset upon her with his ho-hum demeanour an affliction of memory of her undistinguished college self onto her chosen and preferred strictly cosmopolitan adult existence. Maybe the fact that Tom Ford doesn't allow us to really process her as someone triumphantly finished off by a former lover she spurned, even as he wants, with him not returning to her in the end even as she's debased herself of a clear signature of pride in her life away from him for him, to overtly make it seem that this is what happens, is Ford's means of enabling himself with an alternative if he can't rewrite some past shameful encounter as something spared justification for shame?
Maybe, if he's got to live with the ostensible fact that much of his adult life has actually been undermined by some past event he'd never fully quitted, he can dig into his subconscious tested, irrefutable evidence that his adult life's simply too legitimate to ever be something born out of having being sidelined. Not cover, this time, but antagonist, to a burr that's still dug in there.