The movie American Animals tells the true story of a group of young men in their early twenties who, in 2004, mistook their lives for a movie and attempted one of the most audacious art-thefts in recent history -from the special collections library of their own university.
The film revolves around two friends from the middle-class suburbs of Lexington, Kentucky, one of whom, Spencer, is determined to become an artist but feels he lacks the essential ingredient that unites all the great artists that have ever lived-suffering, experience, exposure to… well, anything at all. His closest friend, Warren, has also been raised to believe that his life will be special, that he will be unique and remarkable in some way. But as they leave the suburbs for universities in the very same town, the realities of adult life begin to dawn on them and with that, the realization that their lives may in fact never be different, important or special in any way.
On an orientation tour around his new college, Spencer is shown the secure special collections room of the University Library -home to some of the rarest and most valuable books in the country, if not the world -(including Audubon’s extraordinary Birds of America, valued at tens of millions). When he shares this information with Warren, they begin to wonder: what would their lives look like if they planned to execute the perfect robbery?
They begin to explore the idea and slowly become absorbed in an elaborate role play in which they become characters in their own strange movie. They watch heist movies for inspiration and as the plan becomes more and more involved, so the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur.
Realizing it’s more complex than they first thought, they recruit two other friends into the plan. Suddenly aware that there is little standing in their way of getting away with it, they arrive at a moral and existential crossroads: one path leading to a future of relatively predictable outcomes and the other leading somewhere completely unknown where only one thing is guaranteed -nothing will ever be the same again.
The question of knowing what happens if you cross the line and what lies on the other side of it becomes all-consuming. But what they find on the other side of that line is a reality they are neither prepared nor cut out for, and which is irreversible and impossible to live with.
American Animals is a heist movie of sorts, but really a misguided existential journey of four young men searching in all the wrong places for identity, meaning, adventure and a “special” life.