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Nocturnal Animals: Art That Makes You Work

This past weekend my wife and I went and saw Tom Ford’s new film Nocturnal Animals.  Nocturnal Animals is not the typical film we get at our local theater.  Generally, if we want to see something that falls into the “art house” category we have to drive to Champaign, IL or just wait for on-demand or Blu-ray.  Our local theaters generally reserve most of their screen space for giant robot movies and the rom-com of the week.  I’ve been complaining about this since high school when we used to drive not only to Champaign, but even Chicago sometimes to see many films. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a 4:00pm showing of Nocturnal Animals pretty well attended. 

Nocturnal Animals was wonderful and it was also a challenge.  I keep a pretty hectic schedule these days and it has become increasingly hard for me to concentrate on one task at a time, so often, when I’m watching TV or a typical Hollywood movie my mind will wander and I will soon be checking my phone impulsively like we all do.  Nocturnal Animals didn’t allow for this, because my mind was constantly working to figure out its puzzle. 

Recently, I visited the Kurt Vonnegut museum in Indianapolis, IN.  I was reminded of the joy discovering Vonnegut’s novels had brought me as a teenager.  They too were challenging and often perplexing, and they rewarded my active mind in a way that nothing I had read before had done. Vonnegut himself said that this was the reason that reading as a pastime would pass away.  He said it expected too much of the reader compared to other media.  Readers have to use their own creativity, comprehension, and analysis.  Most means of entertainment do all this heavy lifting for us after all.  Kurt Vonnegut thought we would eventually become too lazy for all that work.

Cinema, such as Nocturnal Animals, in many ways has more in common with reading a piece of literature than it does with going to see a typical Hollywood movie.  Some work is required of the viewer and the thesis of the product will often not be presented fully analyzed and resolved.  For many people, this is an uncomfortable experience.  They are used to media which can be easily consumed and understood while also scrolling through Facebook posts and nodding off occasionally. 

When the credits rolled on Nocturnal Animals, an older woman who had been sitting a few seats away from us turned to my wife excitedly wanting to discuss the film’s ambiguous ending.  It was a bit of a surprise because we’re becoming out of practice seeing films that are clearly meant to be analyzed and debated in this way.  Like Vonnegut predicted, we’re becoming too lazy for the challenge.  I’m tempted to take this analysis a step further and critique a culture that is too complacent to site check fake news stories and who would elect a Reality TV star President of the United States, but I’ll leave it resignation that I will usually have to travel or wait to see great films.

Adam Kinzer