Confronting Nightcrawler

nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy’s 2014 film NIGHTCRAWLER has become one of my favorite films. It’s available on Netflix now, and I highly recommend it.

The hero, Louis Bloom, is a socpiopath. The mastery of the film is, through Gilroy’s writing and Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting, Bloom’s evil is revealed, and yet we are still compelled to spend time with him because he’s so damn fascinating.

Bloom is a young, aimless thief who decides he wants to become a stringer, or freelance news video producer, after seeing an experienced stringer record the scene of a bloody car wreck on the side of a highway in Los Angeles.

On a simple level, Bloom is an embodiment of the modern corporate ethic. He spouts cliched management speak and motivational guru bullshit that he admits he picked up from the internet, yet when placed in contrast to his amoral willingness to do anything to succeed, it becomes a disturbing reflection on American culture. It is as if we have created Bloom, and we have to watch our unhinged child grow into a dangerous man.

Bloom would be called an “antihero,” but I dislike the term. He’s the hero of the story, and the story is dark. There’s nothing “anti” about Louis Bloom. He wants praise, success, money, and all the things most Americans want. He is not counter-culture or antagonistic, except to people who get in his way, to whom he is brutal. He’s a corporation, in human form.

His first line in the film is telling. Confronted by a security guard while stealing fencing and scrap metal near the airport, he says, “I’m lost.” This is clearly true. Bloom later fumbles through an attempt to get the junkyard owner to hire him, but the man sees him for what he is — a thief — and dismisses him. He returns to the road, wandering, and comes to the scene of the accident, which becomes his inspiration.

This is also one of Bill Paxton’s last roles, and as one of Bloom’s competitors, he is fantastic.

What amazes me about NIGHTCRAWLER is how it presents a calculating loonatic who nonetheless gains our empathy. Bloom is looking for deep, true fulfilment, but his inner workings are so broken that he can only achieve a twisted version of success.

Side note: Writer/director Gilroy is married to Rene Russo, who is also fantastic in the film.

Seeing the world through Bloom’s eyes forces us to see America, and in particular, TV news culture, for what it is. NIGHTCRAWLER is a success story, in a system where success cannot be achieved without blood on your hands.

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4 thoughts on “Confronting Nightcrawler”

  1. Well, I probably never would have watched this flick, if you hadn’t flagged it. It’s really something… 😉 Still trying to sort out my impressions, beyond the obvious “Eeew.”

    I sort of think our culture right now has a love affair with the concept of the sociopath. We like to talk about it as if it were something other, different from us, when in fact it’s just part of the spectrum. And I think there are actually a lot of people near that end of the spectrum, and they fit into our capitalist, commercial, competitive society pretty well. Where you draw the line between sociopathic and just really bad varies from one perspective to the next (probably not true for psychologists, but most of us aren’t).

    So Jake Gyllenhaal could have played his Louis Bloom character completely straight- as a regular guy performing exactly the same actions. I never worked up any empathy for him, because I didn’t see any humanity in his portrayal at all- he made him all monster- which came off a little flat to me, and I think that’s an exaggeration. It makes it too easy to label the character “sociopath,” without facing the fact that those tendencies are prevalent, even without the very slightly aspergers delivery. I guess it would have been slightly more horrifying (I guess that’s possible) if he had been just the tiniest bit sympathetic, rather than so far out as to be alien.

    Apparently the last scene, focusing in on the watch he got in the first scene, is a message telling us what the filmmaker considers the most important thing about him. It has to be more subtle than I’m thinking right now, so I’ll continue to ruminate on it, and see if the character grows on me. He’s certainly memorable

    1. I honestly didn’t notice the watch near the end. Ha! I just rewatched that part (at ar)… and… I think that’s just a bookend. The real end is him welcoming the next generation of sociopaths. That’s the horror. He’s not a one off. He’s the future.

      I can see your point about his lack of humanity. However, I think Bloom at 90% sociopath would’ve felt fake. If he’ll assault a security guard for a cheap watch, he’ll certainly pressure Rene Russo into sex and, after massive disappointment with his lack of commitment, let his assistant (Rick!) get shot.

      All that said, I’m glad you gave it a shot. Sorry it wasn’t for you.

      To make it even… what’s your recommendation to me?

    1. That’s gonna be my Fathe’rs Day thing with the girls.

      I find Gal Godot charming, but still, it’s gonna be hard to tip the late 70s puberty-fueling fantasy that was Linda Carter. 🙂

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