Nightcrawler begins oddly. The film’s protagonist, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is introduced to viewers while he steals wire fencing. Apprehended by a security guard, Lou notices the guard’s watch and kills him for it. In most anti-hero stories, the spectator is supposed to connect with the lead character. Typically given some tragic back story, the anti-hero usually begins as a normal enough person who starts committing crimes. The anti-hero’s moral fall also heralds their rise towards success, while the spectator cheers the anti-hero on. Symbolising complete freedom from law and morality, the anti-hero lets the spectator live vicariously in a world absent from consequences and everyday constraints. Yet in Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom nothing can be found resembling the typical anti-hero. Stripped of a backstory and absent of any redeeming qualities Lou Bloom simply arrives into Nightcrawler. Devoid of any moral scruples, no excuses are ever afforded to Lou. Any initial impressions of Lou being an overly desperate man fades as he preys upon others during his rise to the top.
Dispassionate towards its own protagonist, Nightcrawler eschews the traditional anti-hero structure of a flawed character study. Instead Nightcrawler examines the forces which allow Lou Bloom to flourish; capitalism and modern media. What binds the pair together in Nightcrawler’s world is a shared lack of empathy for anything.
Capitalism, characterised by Lou Bloom himself, masquerades behind the language of ambition. Nightcrawler’s opening scene preordains Bloom’s entry into the nightcrawler profession of recording disasters. From a security guard’s watch to ATMs and luxury cars Lou scours L.A for opportunities to exploit until his arrival, by way of a recent car crash, into the nightcrawling trade. From there Lou Bloom commits depravity after depravity to excel in his new career; justifying each new descent with a coldly twisted rationale of business savvy, market demand, and motivational speaking. Lou’s behaviour is naked capitalism in action. He finds a market where he can sell a service and takes any measure to beat his competition. The tragedies that Lou manipulates into fruition is his creation of a product, another part of his nightcrawler service to the ever-needy news networks.
Lou’s ruthlessness is only matched by the media networks purchasing his disaster footage. In green rooms and editing booths, the same news networks projecting concern for local citizens are addicted to the disasters they peddle. Each news bulletin of catastrophe is an overcompensating display of empathy. In the background the networks tailor each new tragedy into a demographically targeted narrative, which push the boundaries ever further to shock viewers and boost their ratings.
The symbiotic relationship between media and capitalism in Nightcrawler points to a society which has gone numb; hooked on the cathartic sting of fresh tragedy to give it any facsimile of feeling.
By Saul Shimmin
Nightcrawler is available on Netflix for subscribers in the U.K and the film’s trailer is below: