Did I just pay to support an anti-abortion film? Nocturnal Animals and Tom Ford’s gender politics

Anonymous contributor


K: ‘Fancy going to the cinema this weekend?’

Me: ‘oo yeah.’

K: ‘What do you want to see?’

Me: ‘Fantastic beasts is out as it will have monsters in it, I do want to see I, Daniel Blake but could do with less social realism, how about Nocturnal Animals?’

K: ‘So we can just look at beautiful people instead? Done. Plus it’s got good reviews.’

And it was with this conversation that my partner and I went to the cinema on a Sunday to escape Trump, Brexit, Farage, Aleppo, and celebrity deathwatch 2016 for a couple of hours. What followed upon exiting the cinema (SPOILER ALERT! do not read on if you want to watch Nocturnal Animals without plot spoilers!!):

K: ‘Did you enjoy that?’

Me: ‘I did, it was scary though, I was surprised by that. Gosh it just played on everyone’s big fears didn’t it? Rape, isolation, protecting the ones you love. And why do you think he didn’t turn up at the end? And do you think what happened in the book happened?’

K: ‘He was never going to turn up and no, I thought the whole events in the book were an allegory for her aborting his child. He lost a child and partner in his real life, he loses a child and partner in the book he writes. He feels brutalised so decides to brutalise her by writing the book.’

SH: ‘Bloody hell, you’re right, but aborting a child is not equivalent to the brutal rape and murder of a child, how is it I never get films?!’

K: ‘Oh really, I thought it was obvious. Did you not get the big ‘REVENGE’ painting placement as a signpost?’

Me: ‘Er. No. What do you fancy for dinner?’

Two days later and I am no longer thinking about my dinner but still thinking about Nocturnal Animals. Here are the good bits about the film: it is beautifully shot, really well acted (even Jake Gyllenhaal who I’ve always thought was a bit over-rated), and sustains the suspense and nerves the whole way through. Michael Shannon is great in it. As the dialogue above suggests, I left the cinema thinking it was a good film, not what I expected, but a good film. However after my partner pointed out the obvious I am struck by the possibility that I just paid to watch an anti-abortion film set in the US at the very time women’s reproductive rights in the US are being threatened.

My reading of the film is it suggests the kidnap, rape and murder of a man’s wife and child and his subsequent revenge is equivalent to the separation of a man from his partner and her termination of an unwanted pregnancy that he does not know about. The character Edward lives the latter and writes a book of the former that he then dedicates to the partner who aborted his child. The subtext is woman brutalises man by leaving him and aborting his child, so he brutalises her by telling the story of the loss of a wife and child in the most terrifying, fearful and emotive way possible. My reading of the film is it suggests that the termination of a pregnancy is equivalent to the rape and murder of a teenager. Nocturnal Animals is an anti-abortion film.

Given this is quite a strong statement, I looked at some reviews of the film. All reviews mention revenge and terror. Some reviews muse on the point Tom Ford is trying to make. But none reflect on the way in which the film suggests equivalence to the two main narratives of the film and the purpose of the revenge. Perhaps unsurprisingly none of the reviews speak to the abortion because it is a major plot spoiler (sorry readers) but there is no reflection on the equivalence of the two major events the plot is organised around. Film critics have praised the film and given it all the stars; feminist blogs such as Jezebel have criticised it for the focus on aesthetics over content, but no mention of the big A.

To make a film that provokes a direct comparison between rape and murder of a teenager with the termination of a pregnancy, at a time when reproductive rights are being challenging in the US, is deeply concerning. The cinematography and suspense deserves the praise it’s getting, but this to me is not enough to buy the silence of critics over a pertinent political issue. Either I have completely missed the point (entirely possible, as the above dialogue suggests), all film critics are anti-abortion (unlikely), or no-one is calling this problematic element out. Tom Ford stresses the importance of aesthetics, but as he no doubt knows all too well, aesthetics intersect with politics to shock, traumatise, and transcend. In Nocturnal Animals, Ford uses aesthetics to frame abortion as a brutal act against the male that makes the audience engage with the act as equivalent to the rape and murder of a teenage child. Ford has used aesthetics to produce the anti-abortion film of 2016.

12 thoughts on “Did I just pay to support an anti-abortion film? Nocturnal Animals and Tom Ford’s gender politics

  1. “To make a film that provokes a direct comparison between rape and murder of a teenager with the termination of a pregnancy”

    It’s artistic license of seeing the life of their child snuffed out, and the helplessness to prevent it – having never had a conversation about it, a prior notice before her action. It’s not anti-choice, but the nature of communication in a romantic relationship: she wanted out of the relationship before he did (for reasons of financial security, status advancement with new beau), and put an abrupt stop to it all.

    His right to an emotional wound from losing his life in early adulthood (marriage, wife, unborn child) in quick succession, is an emotional reaction, not attack on ALL women’s own choice (which aren’t all in the the same context of a relationship based on love, but lacking in assured future of material comfort for one of them.)

    Also the “brutalize” effect only works on her, if she has guilt about the past and reads herself, their shared life details into the book. (Part of the pleasures of reading thrillers, horror is investing oneself, and projecting one’s knowledge into the fiction.) It’s all from her perspective, as she rethinks her life at middle-age.

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  2. First of all… this film is based on a novel by Austin Wright. It is only written for the screen and directed by Tom Ford. Second of all it’s implied that she had the child. I think no other critic is mentioning the abortion in this movie is because there weren’t any abortions in the movie. After reading about the death scene, Susan calls up that daughter that she did not abort to tell her she loves her. Notice that her daughter was sleeping on the bed the same way the daughter was found dead in the book. (Or Susan’s projection of how she was found dead in the book) This means that Susan projected her daughter’s characteristics to the girl in the book. The daughter in the book, as Susan knows, is representing Edward’s daughter. The fact that the daughter in the book and Susan’s real life daughter have the same characteristics/mannerisms to Susan would imply that Susan’s child is Edward’s. So maybe she never told him that she did not get the abortion. She was at the clinic and Edward saw her but we don’t know if she went through with it, but then she has a daughter who is just like the one she projects to be the daughter in the book who is Tony’s. As Edward says in the movie, everyone writes about themselves. Third of all, you did not pay to watch an anti abortion movie. In this film it is implied that there was no abortion. Edward thought she had an abortion and he was so hurt that she didn’t tell him and that he found out in the worst way, while she was at the implied clinic parking lot in the arms of another man. So now obviously she’s dead to him and the daughter he “never had” is dead too. But the fact that he wrote about a daughter let’s you know that maybe he knew that she kept the child. He wrote about a daughter and she has a daughter. Huge coincidence, right? She just never told him she kept the child. But when the book arrives at her house and she talks about her ex-husband to her colleague, the colleague mentions that he is a professor at some college somewhere. So for that colleague to have known that about Edward, Edward could have easily figured that out about his ex-wife. In the story he is saying that she took herself and her daughter away from him in the worst way. So, in the story his wife and daughter get taken away in the worst way. Everyone write about themselves. It is not at all an anti-abortion movie. Maybe Edward didn’t want the abortion to happen, but that doesn’t make it an anti abortion film. It’s just his personal feelings about someone he loved and wanted to have a child with who decided to leave him have an abortion without telling him. An abortion she didn’t really go through with. Tom Ford said this movie is about not letting go of someone you love because love doesn’t come often and if you let go then it might not come again. This is what happened to Susan.

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  3. Glad I’m not the only one who saw it! After the movie ended, was wandering if the film was saying that a woman has no right to abortion, and started searching for “nocturnal animals movie critic to abortion”; “tom ford abortion” to find some statement from the director claiming he’s against women having a right to abortion, and that leads me to your blog and to only another one recognizing this “message”. Indeed Tom Ford is saying trough this movie that woman who gets an abortion is murdering somebody.

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  4. Interesting take. I immediately picked up on the abortion/book connection in the movie. I am a woman who has had an abortion and who is pro-choice and I was not in the least offended by the movie. If someone has the subjective experience of feeling the brutal pain, violence, sense of betrayal etc…tied into their experience with abortion, who is anyone else to judge that experience. One can be pro-choice and still not sugar coat the truth of what an abortion actually is. It is a violent act. I felt the violence and loss and in a way it felt like a raping of my body. Does one have to sugar coat their feelings in order to be pro-choice??

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  5. I feel that we are so removed from nature in our society. I think it is actually indicative of our masculine society to expect an abortion to be neat and clean without emotion, without acknowledging how gory and messy and painful an act it is. I think many that go through abortions have to separate themselves emotionally (masculine) and push through and compartmentalize, in order to survive. At least this was my experience. I am working at looking at the realness and pain of it in order to heal. Can not one artistically convey the deep pain that can be experienced with an abortion without being called anti-feminine. If not, where is the space for healing.

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  6. I have a lot of comments, as I just saw movie and immediately googled Nocturnal Animals/abortion to see if anyone else picked up on that connection, since I hadn’t heard anything about abortion before watching. What I was trying to explain in my last post was that it felt like the ultimate betrayal to him. The whole scenario. The abortion, the wife leaving him etc and he portrayed that betrayal through rape and murder. To me, this is very different than saying an abortion is the same as raping and killing a teenager. It did bring up another big topic to me though which is the need to sugarcoat people’s realities and experiences to fit into neat little boxes of political correctness. A lot of feminist rhetoric actually seems to be coming from a very masculine way of thinking….

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  7. Regardless of political stance, abortion is something that has emotional consequence for those involved, the would-be father included. Your particular brand of feminism here, which apparently fails to acknowledge that a man whose wife aborts their child w/o his knowledge and consultation would rightfully be traumatized, is troubling. In the movie, JG’s character wrote an allegory about his suffering. It’s a literary device. There’s being pro-choice, and then there’s completely disregarding and trivializing a man’s role in this kind of situation. You appear to fall in the latter category.

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  8. Even though I have very little interest in politics I can understand the sentiment that art isn’t separate from reality (politics – unfortunately – included) and therefore the current political climate is in fact of ‘some’ importance when we analyze the themes that are present in a certain art-piece. However, I’d like to bring to your attention to the fact that while the main character (and the screenwriter through him which can’t be ignored given how one of the points that the movie makes is the fact that every writer, writes about themselves) is indeed comparing the rape and murder of a daughter to abortion he’s also comparing the rape and murder of his wife to a divorce (or broken heart). The themes are purposefully hyperbolized because it serves the story. Because in the revenge stories that we all tell ourselves, our losses are grand and people who wronged us are monsters. Not because (or at the very least not just because) the screenwriter has a particular view on abortion.

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