The second feature film by Tom Ford tells us a story within a story: the first is of a wealthy art gallery owner, Susan (Amy Adams), who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and confronts some unpleasant truths about herself; the second story follows the actual manuscript about Tony (also Jake Gyllenhaal), who seeks revenge after his family’s brutal murder.
The film begins with a highly controversial opening scene of obese nude women dancing in slow motion. The opening scenes are always crucial because they invite us to the filmic reality. My initial thought on this scene, keeping in mind that the director is in the high fashion business, was that Ford implies that the naked reality we are about to witness might not be pleasing to us all.
In the Vulture, he explains his initial intention: “I want to talk about America today: Gluttonous, overfed, aging, sad, tired.”
But after shooting the scene, he admits to regret his first intention and states the following: “They were so uninhibited, and I realized that actually, they were a microcosm of what the whole film was saying. They had let go of what our culture had said they’re supposed to be, and because of that, they were so totally free. This is what’s restricting Susan. She’s being who she thinks she needs to be: ‘I need to live this way, I need to look like that.’”
Moving on with the story within the story; what we watch is Susan’s imagination of the characters while she is reading the manuscript. Edward states that every writer writes about himself, therefore, it makes sense for Susan to picture Tony just as Edward. Within Tony’s story, Edward unfolds their break up and his revenge.
We do not know much about Edward other than the flashbacks of him 20 years ago. What we know for sure is that Susan left him for not being ambitious; which was repeatedly interpreted as being weak. The word keeps coming up in the film: either Ray challenges Tony for being too weak to shoot him, or Tony calls himself weak for not being able to save his family.
“I brutally left him” says Susan, creating the parallelism between their break up and the brutal murder of Tony’s family who “looks” exactly like Susan and her daughter. Whilst Tony seeks for revenge, Susan fears for her life. But Edward has something else in mind.
His revenge is the presumed success of the book, and him being a successful writer despite Susan’s lack of faith in him. Tony’s help was an officer with cancer; which I believe implies twenty tough years of Edward’s revenge.
The final scene was a very powerful end to their relationship, which initially ended twenty years ago and reignited through a manuscript. Edward ghosts on Susan at the dinner; which I believe was portrayed compellingly by Adams, that he forced her to confront her weakness. And this time, she is the one to be left with nothing.