You know what’s better than one shocking ending? Two shocking endings. Tom Ford‘s stylish 2017 thriller Nocturnal Animals tells a spine-tingling story about art gallery owner, Susan (Amy Adams), and her estranged ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who sends her an unsettling manuscript that frames their relationship in disturbing ways.
While the film recently went viral on TikTok thanks to its surprising opening nude scene, there are plenty of twists and turns to enjoy in Nocturnal Animals if you’re willing to stick around for its two-hour runtime. And if you’re still confused once the credits roll, don’t worry! Decider has you covered.
THE SUMMARY OF NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Nocturnal Animals opens on Susan, who’s struggling with her neglectful, unfaithful second husband Hutton’s (Armie Hammer) frequent travels.
When she suddenly receives a novel manuscript from Edward called Nocturnal Animals, which just so happens to be his nickname for her, it offers a respite from her unsatisfying life, and Susan soon finds herself lost in the story.
The novel tells the tale of Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), who runs afoul of gang members — Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lou (Karl Glusman), and Turk (Robert Aramayo) — while traveling through Texas with his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher), and their daughter, India (Ellie Bamber). After Tony is forced off the road, the men kidnap Laura and India, who he later finds raped and murdered.
A year later, Ray manages to walk free, since local detective Roberto “Bobby” Andes (Michael Shannon) only has circumstantial evidence of his involvement in the crimes.
Tony and Andes decide to take matters into their own hands by abducting Lou and Ray, and Andes shoots Lou dead after he attempts to flee.
Tony pursues Ray on his own, but of course, the film doesn’t wrap up without a few final curveballs.
DISCOVER THE ENDING OF NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Tony tracks Ray to the shack where Laura and India were killed, forcing him to admit to his crimes. Although Tony fatally shoots the culprit, he’s blinded when Ray hits him in the head with a fire poker.
After bringing his family’s attacker to justice, poor Tony stumbles outside and falls on his own gun, accidentally killing himself in the process.
Back in the real world, Susan reflects on the differences between Edward’s disturbing story and their previous relationship. The couple fell in love in college and married against the wishes of Anna’s strict mother, but their relationship turned fraught when she struggled to support his early writing career.
She ultimately cheated on Edward with Hutton and divorced Edward in order to marry Hutton.
Their attempts at reconciliation are dashed when Edward discovers that she secretly had an abortion while pregnant with his child in order to avoid maintaining any attachment to him.
After finishing the manuscript, Susan arranges to meet with Edward at a nearby restaurant. However, he never shows up, leaving Susan alone to further reflect upon her past.
Clearly, Edward was working through some residual heartbreak after losing his ex with a story of his own. It’s a compelling thriller about the dangers of the stories we tell ourselves to process pain, with twists designed to keep viewers guessing until the end.
But what’s worse: Reading a disturbing story by your ex; or being forced to spend hours alone in a restaurant because of him? That’s one last mystery I’ll leave up to you.
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EDWARD MYSTERIOUS PRESENCE AT THE SHOW
In the present-day reality of Nocturnal Animals, Edward never physically meets Susan. Their past relationship is covered in flashbacks, and it is implied that Edward wishes to communicate to Susan after all these years through his novel’s manuscript.
Even though Susan never believed that Edward would make it big as a writer, his penmanship finally gets to her. Towards the Nocturnal Animals ending, it is established that Edward is indeed a brilliant author as his unabashedly raw narration manages to make Susan teary-eyed.
Suffering from a failed second marriage, Susan wishes to reacquaint herself with her ex only for him to never make it to dinner.
While no direct answers are offered, it is heavily implied that the novel was a strategic move by Edward to seek his revenge from many years ago. Not only did Susan belittle him in their youth but she also went on to cheat on him with Hutton (who would go on to be her second husband).
If he had met her for dinner, Nocturnal Animals would have still ended on a wholesome note. But as Edward’s plans come to fruition, Susan is left alone with her ego bruised.