Nocturnal Animals: Ending Explained (In Detail)

What happens at the end of ‘Nocturnal Animals’? Why does Edward not meet up with Susan?
Nocturnal Animals: Ending Explained (In Detail)

As his sophomore feature, noted fashion designer Tom Ford adapted the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, having tackled Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man (1964) as his debut starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in 2009.

For Nocturnal Animals, Ford adopted the aesthetic of contemporary neo-noir films seen prominently in films like Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011) and Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014). Ford used the narrative conceit of a ‘story within a story’ to convey the dual narratives of the source material, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the prominent male character in both, and Amy Adams taking on the mantle of the leading figure in the reality of the film’s narrative.

The Set-up

Susan (Adams) is a well-to-do art gallery owner in Los Angeles and is struggling through a crumbling marriage with her unfaithful husband Hutton Marrow (Armie Hammer), even as work goes on as well as it can. Her life is disrupted when she receives a manuscript and an invitation to dinner from her ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal), with whom she broke up years ago to be with Hutton. Susan discovers that the manuscript, titled Nocturnal Animals, is dedicated to her. Her interest piqued by the title, which was Edward’s nickname for her, and by the timing of it appearing in her life, she dives in.

Nocturnal Animals Within Nocturnal Animals

The novel is about a family of three – Tony (Gyllenhaal again), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher, an actress who could be easily confused for Adams), and their daughter India (Ellie Bamber) – travelling across West Texas. They run afoul of a trio of local hooligans in the middle of nowhere and are forced off the road. The men – Ray (Aaron Taylor Johnson), Lou (Karl Glusman), and Turk (Robert Aramayo) – decide to kidnap Laura and India; Lou is left behind to sort out Tony while the other two leave in the family’s car. Lou has Tony drive Ray’s car out to the middle of nowhere and abandons him there. Later, when Ray and Lou come looking for Tony, he escapes them and calls the police from a nearby farmhouse.

The detective assigned to the case is one Roberto Andes (Michael Shannon), who takes Tony along to identify Laura and India’s bodies, which have been left in a shack after they were raped and murdered. No trace of the culprits is found.

It takes a year, and in the time that has elapsed, Tony has only felt more wracked by guilt and grown more dependent on alcohol. Then Andes calls to tell him that Lou has been arrested in an unrelated incident and that Tony should come down to identify him. Turk has been fatally shot in the same incident, and Andes and Tony track down Ray but are forced to release him given the lack of evidence.

Andes then reveals to Tony that he is battling cancer and is unlikely to live very long. He decides to take matters into his own hands and with Tony’s help, kidnaps Ray and Lou. When they make an attempt to escape, Andes shoots and kills Lou but Ray gets away, making for the shack where Laura and India were found. Tony tracks him down and kills him, but not before Ray manages to land a knockout blow on him. Dazed, Tony stumbles out and accidentally shoots himself dead, closing the book on the case.  


Over the course of reading Edward’s manuscript, Susan has reflected on her relationship with her mother, which influenced her marriage with Edward, and how it broke down, as well as on her relationship with Hutton – how it started and what it has evolved into. She also calls her daughter as soon as she finishes the part of the novel where Tony finds Laura and India’s bodies, as though wanting to make sure her own child is well, that reality has not melded with fiction.

Susan finally responds to Edward’s email with an enthusiastic report of his manuscript and suggests a place and time for them to meet while he is in Los Angeles. At the appointed hour, Edward is a no-show, and Susan is left sitting alone in the restaurant as the other diners finish their meals and leave.

This marked absence at the end of the film is Edward’s revenge on Susan for abandoning him and wrecking his life, just like Tony’s life in the novel is upended. Just as he felt all alone at the end of their marriage, and the way Tony’s life unravels, Susan too is left all by herself, though Edward could not have known that her husband was cheating on her. That part is just a coincident that deepens Susan’s hurt as she finally realises what she did to Edward: she left him stranded as she is now in the deserted restaurant, and he has ultimately amounted to what she believed he could never become – a credible writer (a notion she had dismissed as being too romantic), while she remains a nocturnal animal.

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