Arthur 'Weegee' Fellig, Bill Paxton, Capitalism, Corporate Rule, Dan Gilroy, Enrique Metinides, Institutionalized Greed, Jake Gyllenhaal, Louis Bloom, Nightcrawler, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Sociopaths/Psychopaths, Stringer Journalism, TV Sensationalism, Vulture Journalism
In the movie Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom is a member of today’s lost generation of unemployed youths and he ekes out an existence by cannibalizing L.A.’s infrastructure for scrap metal money. After watching a stringer journalist film a car crash, the wheels in Lou’s head start turning and he immediately recognizes an opportunity. He immerses himself in the lucrative business of vulture journalism where stories are marketable only if the victims are white and live in affluent neighborhoods. Fear of urban crime creeping into the suburbs is what really sells. Lou’s gravitation towards the world of sensationalized, ratings-driven mainstream news seems a natural development for someone able to dehumanize and objectify people for the sake of a story. In fact, Lou becomes an artist of the macabre like photographers Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig or Enrique Metinides, using the camera to capture tragedy and death in the most visually arresting way possible. He quickly rises to the top of the field while rationalizing his cutthroat behavior with the platitudes of corporate self-help books and entrepreneurial manuals.
Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss for the role of Lou was a brilliant move that renders the actor unrecognizable and gives him the look of a half-starved animal desperate for his next meal. The hungry coyotes that prowl the L.A. suburbs at night served as animal symbolism for Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the cunning Lou who sees the corpses of his fellow human beings as merely stepping-stones to success. Halloween was a fitting day for the debut of a movie featuring such a protagonist whose ruthless drive to get to the top and whose only consideration is the bottom line are the real horrors of today’s institutionalized greed.
Lou could be considered a ‘disruptor‘ in L.A.’s market of freelance video journalism. He views everything solely in terms of his sociopathic business plan to expand and grow at any cost. For him, human relationships exist merely for economic gain. With consummate skill, he is able to warp anyone’s moral compass, twisting people’s own weaknesses against them in order to gain leverage for what he wants. Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), the leading competitor in the nightcrawler industry, falls prey to Lou in what could sardonically be called a ‘hostile takeover’.
The young homeless man named Rick (Riz Ahmed), whom Lou recruits as his hapless assistant and intern at the slave wage of $30 per night, meets a similar fate when he tries to negotiate for a higher wage. The darkly humorous relationship between these two serves as satirical commentary on today’s exploitive labor practices by corporations such as unpaid internships and the financial bondage of visa workers. Human resources, like other “resources,” are disposable inputs.
Nina Romina (Rene Russo) is the news director of a local TV station to whom Lou sells his gruesome work. Like his other victims, Lou identifies her most vulnerable insecurities and uses them to worm his way higher up in the ranks of shock-and-awe TV news. A mutually parasitic relationship develops between the two as Nina demands more eye-popping footage to boost her station’s rating and secure her job while Lou is more than happy to provide it no matter what ethical boundaries are crossed. At some point, the tail begins to wag the dog and news becomes a staged event created for mass consumption by a TV audience eager for the next lurid spectacle.
Below is a fascinating interview with the movie’s director Dan Gilroy who discusses the messages the story makes about capitalism and modern society.
Some quotes from the director:
“…maybe the problem isn’t just Lou… The problem might be a society that creates a Lou and rewards Lou…”
“Every scene in Nightcrawler is ultimately a transaction. I’m very interested in the economic aspects of it, what it says about capitalism. I believe that Lou moves through a landscape of a world of transactions. I believe that’s the world we’re increasingly living in. I believe it’s a much more dog-eat-dog world. I believe that people are much more aware that whatever safety net we thought was there is really not there. What used to be a domestic competition is now a global competition. People are willing to do your job for a fraction of what you do.”
“I believe that Lou is representative of our times. And I believe the Lous are increasingly being rewarded… If you came back ten years in the film, Lou would probably be running a major company. I feel a lot of the people in the boardroom have sociopathic behavior and are being rewarded for it. They are making choices that are affecting tens of thousands of people’s lives. They are putting people out on the street… What Lou does would serve him very well in the boardroom… He’s a uber-capitalist. He’s a hyper-capitalist… The thing about hyper-capitalism is that everything becomes bottom line. Hyper-capitalism to me almost becomes the jungle. It’s the strong will consume the weak.”
“If Nightcrawler shows anything, it’s that the world we live in is a very hard-edged place where people do not take into account human dignity… Look what we’ve come to.”