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nocturnal animals

Spoiler Alert: Yeah, he did.

I just wanted to see a movie with my girlfriend. I was looking for ninety-plus minutes to escape the realities of our recent presidential election and enjoy an American pastime with a side of greasy popcorn. What I did not want, let alone expect, as I sat down to view Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals was one hour and 57 minutes of squirming in my seat and continuous reminders of the violence and stigma attached to my identified gender.

Don’t get me wrong. I saw the trailer. I knew I signed up for a psychological thriller that was sure to have some violence in it. But I liked film’s three reputable actors — Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon — actors I naively assumed wouldn’t participate in a film that shames a person’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

The film follows a wealthy insomniac/art gallery owner Susan Morrow, played by Adams. She receives a manuscript of a novel written by her estranged ex-husband Edward Sheffield, played by Gyllenhaal, along with an invitation to dinner during Edward’s upcoming visit to Los Angeles. Adam’s character is nothing short of miserable — she’s unhappy with her current unfaithful husband, and seemingly tormented by something in her past. And here we go...

Susan begins to read the novel, at which point the film jumps back and forth between her reading and a recreation of the novel’s dark and violent plot. Edward not only dedicated the novel to Susan, but named it Nocturnal Animals after his nickname for her. Remember, she is up all night tormented by something from her past — something that she did to Edward...something “unforgivable."

Gyllenhaal also plays Tony Hastings, the main character of the novel who is enjoying a drive with his wife and daughter when out of nowhere they are run off the road by three creepy troublemakers. At this point, I noticed myself and other women in the theater growing nervous and uncomfortable, as we all know too well the loss of power and control we would feel if stranded on the side of a deserted road with three grown men. The scene is a trigger for any woman who has ever experienced sexual assault, harassment, or feared for her safety. As we squirm and hold our breath, Tony’s wife and child are indeed brutally murdered, leading the character on a quest for revenge.

So let’s recap. This guy wrote a novel, inspired by his ex-wife, and sent it to her to read it. She can’t sleep at night because she beats herself up so much that she did something “terrible” to him. And apparently it was SO terrible he wrote a novel about his wife being raped and murdered. Right.

After about 90 minutes of violence and suspense, the audience is now waiting to find out two things: Will her ex-husband show up to dinner after all these years? And what the hell did Susan do to her ex-husband that made him write this violent novel?

As the movie bounces back and forth in time, we see Susan waiting in a restaurant for her ex-husband and flashing back to her sitting inside a car with her future husband. It’s dark, gloomy and pouring rain, and who do we see standing outside her car? Edward! He looks stunned, devastated, and in disbelief. Susan looks up and sees him. And here it comes...she is in a car outside a clinic and she has just had an abortion. The movie cuts and ends with Susan in the restaurant alone (Edward never shows) and then the credits roll.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME, TOM FORD?!?!

Let me get this straight: A guy is so tormented by “something” his ex-wife did that he writes a terrifying, graphic, violent, and disturbing novel about his wife and child being raped and murdered, and the “something” his ex-wife did was have an abortion???? Gee, thanks, Tom Ford. Because we don’t have enough abortion stigma around already?!

Abortion is a safe, common, and legal procedure that occurs when a woman decides she cannot be pregnant. The reasons behind that decision are personal and range from not being able to afford a child, contraception failing, birth defects, not wanting to continue a pregnancy that resulted from rape, and others. Yet, every day, women are bullied and harassed for making a decision that is best for their health and livelihood. From the Pope stating women must be “forgiven” for the sin of abortion, to women being forced to have funerals and bury fetal remains, abortion has far too many narratives from people who have absolutely nothing to do with the decision. And that includes you, Tom Ford.

Tom, I don’t know if you know this, but the fight to make decisions over our own bodies feels more daunting each damn year. From shootings at abortion clinics to an impending anti-choice administration, our reproductive rights are constantly bullied and chipped away. But guess what? Reproductive rights advocates are refusing to be punished for abortion. We are calling out stigma when we see it *cough, this movie*. We are mobilizing. We are uniting. And we are not giving up.

So please, Tom Ford, do us all a favor and stop with the abortion shaming. There is nothing sexy or mysterious about the right to choose. Much like I have bodily autonomy to put on your designs, I have the autonomy to decide whether or not I want to be pregnant. And I refuse to let Hollywood, or anyone else, shame me for it.

Lauren Himiak is a writer, feminist activist, and advocate for the health, wellbeing, and equality of all people. She has a Master of Arts in International Affairs, Governance and Human Rights, and will gladly talk to you all day about space or Wegmans. You can follow her on Twitter.

Top photo: Nocturnal Animals

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