Reflections on “Nightcrawler”
written and directed by Dan Gilroy
and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is articulate, intelligent and confident, yet he is unemployed. We first meet him as he tries to convince a small time scrapyard owner (perhaps poetically appropriate as Lou is willing to start at the bottom and grow, hence the name Bloom) to hire him and Lou virtually bombards the businessman with reasons for hiring him. Lou has an answer for everything, saying exactly what the businessman should want to hear in terms of commitment and willingness to work. He does not, however, listen to the business owner and neither does he truly engage with him – everything Lou says has been thought through and is well prepared, but at no point does he seem genuine or genuinely desperate. He is always controlled and almost excessively polite, almost as if he is giving a performance.
This initial meeting with Lou is very important as it perfectly captures the man and his attitude, indeed we shall see him repeat a variation of this “performance” on numerous occasions in the course of the film. We get the impression he is willing to say and do whatever is necessary to convince and manipulate a potential employer into employing him.
After eventually taking the not very subtle hint that he is not wanted, Lou drives off into the night and encounters a road traffic accident which is filmed for a local TV news programme, which inspires him to take up the profession of cameraman capturing news items to sell to local TV companies.
Lou’s lack of engagement (gradually revealed as lack of empathy and compassion), combined with his determination and a willingness to lie to and manipulate those around him, allow him to film scenes a local TV news company KWLA finds useful – often gruesome and intimate and filmed without the slightest regard for the health, privacy or dignity of those he films.
Nina Romina (Rene Russo), news editor at KWLA, is more than willing to accept Lou’s work more or less without question as she engages in a competitive war for eye and audience-catching stories and footage. Ever mindful of audience levels and ratings, she appreciates the raw and vibrant nature of Lou’s filmic efforts and encourages him to bring her more and stronger material.
Lou grows more daring and confident in his abilities and his worth to the TV company, eventually attempting to manipulate Nina into sleeping with him as part of a lucrative and permanent contract. To our astonishment, Nina does not reject his conditions out of hand, but suggests that to accomplish all of this he will have to provide ever more hard-core material, thus ensuring Nina’s place at the top of the TV news pile.
By ensuring he is in the right place at the right time and by manipulating his assistant, the police and even the perpetrators of some bloody murders, Lou delivers his and Nina’s dream material, though in doing so he clearly crosses the line. He no longer simply reports on events but influences and creates events with tragic and devastating results simply to gain attention and increase his employer’s audience share.
Innocent people, loyal co-workers and police officers are all endangered and sacrificed to allow Lou and Nina to fulfil their ambitions.
When push comes to shove, however, Nina shows her true colours and refuses to take any responsibility, renouncing Lou to the authorities in order to keep her story and footage, revealing herself to be as heartless, calculating and monstrous as Lou.
This film is a stunning indictment of the direction of TV crime news reporting in the USA where it appears that people and stories may be regarded as mere commodities to be used, manipulated and even endangered to allow business to thrive.
Lou Bloom is a psychopath but no-one seems to care as long as he delivers the goods in a business which may have started out with worthy objectives of seeking truth and providing high quality reporting, but which may now be corrupted by business and personal ambition.
The irony is that these journalists are seeking human interest stories but develop inhumanity in order to achieve their goals – even the reactions and responses of the news anchors are whispered to them in order to create interest and build an ongoing desire to tune in to their channel. Once again we witness a lack of genuine or heartfelt engagement or empathy, but rather a situation where everything is manipulated to the TV company’s benefit.
Psychopath Lou fits perfectly in this sociopathic industry in which privacy, dignity, justice and protection of citizens are subverted and sacrificed for the sake of prime-time television coverage. Even Lou and Nina’s “relationship” and potential sex life may be considered an element in the advancement of their careers – it appears that nothing is genuine or sacrosanct.
Apart from being a clear indictment of the way things are going in television news, the film can be seen as having a broader “message” about the dehumanisation of society and the lengths to which each of us may be willing or obliged to go in order to make our way. Is manipulative and cynical television journalism merely a symptom of a more profound ill in society? Are we really living in an age where “art” (or a representation of life) is perceived as having greater value than reality itself, or where reality (and human life) may be sacrificed to such “art”?
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this film which I found interesting, stimulating and thought-provoking. I wondered at first where it was going to go, but it builds steadily and has very assured direction and script by Dan Gilroy.
Some elements of the film reminded me of “Network” and its scathing attack on standards in television, while Lou Bloom also made me think of a malevolent Chance (from “Being There”).
The ending was, for me, vaguely reminiscent of Taxi Driver in that I couldn’t help but wonder if Lou really had got away with it and maybe this was some warped vision he had of how he would have liked things to go. On the other hand, if this was the reality, it begs questions about responsibility and ethics.
Credit must also go to Jake Gyllenhaal whose magnetic and repulsive performance as the heartless, relentless and highly manipulative Lou Bloom is a terrifyingly realistic creation/warning.
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