Nocturnal Animals and Good Criticism – Film Brain

Film Brain objects to a column about the movie ‘Nocturnal Animals’ – not because he disagrees, but because it’s a bad piece of criticism.

The Article That Inspired The Video

About Film Brain

"Bad Movie Beatdown" takes a look at the very worst that Hollywood has to offer with commentary and analysis. "Projector" is reviews of current UK releases that have yet to open in the US. There may also be some commentaries and other material.


  1. I disagree with Mr. Buck. A review is a frame work of criticism, and criticism expressed outside of said frame work is no less valid or somehow weaker. After reading the article it felt obvious Victoria Coren Mitchell’s goal was not to enlighten the viewer to an overall assessment of the film’s worth to your average consumer, but to highlight one thing–the mistakes made by the film makers are so ghastly, so prominent they break beyond contextualization and their inclusions straight up ruin any sort of artistic merit they were trying to achieve. A god-damn mustache on the Mona Lisa.

    The film uses the framework of a separate “fantasy” story to frame horrible events which, for some reason, allows the violence and suffering to be shown against woman and allow it to be palatable for an audience. Suddenly the framework of a story within a story is just an excuse to show one thing–beautiful women in peril for the enjoyment of a male audience. She even highlights the evidence in the article, and I agree, the opening sequence of the film serves nothing except to contrast idealistic beauty with what society sees is unattractive for women. The reason being you’ll feel much more sympathy and emotional weight if you find your lead far more worth your attention.

    If I Spit on your Grave was contextualized and framed as a dream sequence, is the content suddenly excused? Does it make it any less of an exploitation film? Contextualize Nocturnal Animals all you wish, it still is displaying beautiful women being placed in peril, raped, murdered, and their beauty is the focal point even in death–for entertainment. It sets a standard and excuses behavior by sweeping it under the rug of context. You might as well shrug and use the excuse “Relax. it’s just a movie.”

    Did you know one of the first fully female nudes in Greek sculpture, the Aphrodite of Knidos is of a woman bathing? With the female form all but banned from public display in ancient Greece, the only way to get away with displaying the nudity was to contextualize it–she’s bathing. Mitchell even describes the dead women as “Titianesque”. Go look up the Venus of Urbino. A woman directly addressing her male viewer with her hand gently buried in her own sex, as iconography of sexuality and male pleasure litter the piece–but it’s okay…because she’s clearly just waiting for her servants to get her clothes.

    Mitchell’s criticism are valid. She didn’t do anything normal angry video game or film critics don’t do–she went off on something and called out a glaring flaw with gusto. It wasn’t badly written. God forbid a woman gets outlandishly angry over something she feels strongly about. I mean honestly–how many angry women critics are there on Channel Awesome compared to men who get loud and angry during their reviews?

    • He didn’t say her criticism wasn’t valid. He said it didn’t adequately address how the shocking image was used in the context of the larger film. You can’t just sight a few gruesome scenes and make a sound concluding that the only reason this movie exists is to excite audiences with scenes of sexual violence! There are scenes in the Bible (The Book of Judges) and Shakespeare (Titus andronicus) that contain such scenes. Even books and films written and directed by women have rape scenes in them that might sound worse if described out of context. As the late film critic Roger Ebert so simply put it, “It’s not what a movie is about. It’s how it’s about.”

      Maybe this movie did surfer from overkill. Even if they writer and directors intent was no simply prurient and they really did have a themes to explore, the effect may have been lost in an overlong assaults on the scenes. That’s actually what I think happened with I Spit on Your Grave (the director of that movie has been pretty adamant over the years that he always intended it to be an anti-rape film and sighted his own experience trying to help a rape victim in real life as it’s source). It’s certainly possible the story can’t justify the sheer level of violence. However, I don’t think you do your audience I service by just giving an impression disgusting nature of the part completely wreck the worth of the whole without give readers a real sense of the whole. That assumes you know more than your readers and they should just take your word for it.

      (Contextualize Nocturnal Animals all you wish, it still is displaying beautiful women being placed in peril, raped, murdered, and their beauty is the focal point even in death–for entertainment. It sets a standard and excuses behavior by sweeping it under the rug of context.) That is simply one interpretation based on a few scenes. Matthew has angrily attacked movies like The Cavern in the past for doing exactly what you described. He clearly doesn’t think the violence existed in this movie simply for enjoyments sake. Maybe I’d later see Nocturnal Animals myself and find I disagree with him (though I don’t plan to), but at least I got the impression of what kind of film he saw.

      I didn’t get that from the Mitchell article. I only got her disgust and her suggesting that anyone only who likes this movie does so because they want to see disgusting things happen to women. A rather sweeping indictment of anyone whose praised it and everyone who worked on it. You’re right that it’s not trying to be enlightening and that (some) angry video game and film critics go on similar rants all the time. BUT…I don’t like it when they do it either. Regardless of their sex or politics or views on anything else. An angry rant without context if NOT a real review. It tells you more about the persons reacting to what they saw than about something I might consider seeing myself. Not that I think any critic should ever put their personal beliefs or experiences aside as they gage their reaction (I certainly don’t), but if your just going to vent about how a movie made you feel sick that’s just useless to me. It’s just trying to provoke people into staying away, which has the counter affect of making some other more curious.

      Discussion about the appropriate means of dealing with problematic themes in art should be on-going and I encourage it. I certainly hope Victoria Mitchell and Matthew Buck and anyone who cares about these issues to keep those conversations going.That’s going to take careful consideration of both general tendencies and variations in content. If not enough to describes what feels wrong. It means suggesting how to do them right.

    • I choose to believe that you’re wrong Chaaya look up the definition of the word review. Now look I am not sexist (well maybe a little cause I’m still a virgin in my mid to late twenties) or a misogynist. Power corrupts and turns human people into show-offs for both sexes for all the centuries since time began, yes there was and still is injustice for women in the world. Philosophically it is God if you believe who made women the weaker sex but with their own special kind of strength. Feminism and Abortion Rights are not always correct. Rape is bad but many men get desperate sometimes because we’re fallen creatures as in flawed and not perfect and no government can take away natural human rights much or all the time.

  2. I think it’s important to note that this piece was in the Opinion section of The Guardian and not the film reviews. Victoria Coren is an intelligent woman, who has a strong opinion on this movie, however she’s not a film critic. I take on board her point, but I turn to The Guardian’s proper film critics like Mark Kermode or Peter Bradshaw to find out if a film is worth seeing or not.

    That said, this quality newspaper did publish one of the worst movie reviews ever:

    • I suspected it was never meant to be a proper review. Perhaps it’s better to compare and contrast two different reviews with a similar conclusion about the same film, but written in a drastically different matter in order to illustrate how to better write critical reviews.

  3. You’re a good man or boy Mathew Buck, a true professional, don’t listen to this man or woman in the first comments below much, they’re unprofessional.

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