Why Louis Bloom Was Destined To Succeed In NIGHTCRAWLER
Nightcrawler's Louis Bloom is worthy of our criticism, but it is also easy to overlook how flawed his colleagues (and viewers) truly are.
In Dan Gilroy‘s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, it is easy to criticize Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the film’s central character. From the very beginning, he is established as a creepy, untrustworthy and manipulative criminal. However, Louis Bloom is not the only character in Nightcrawler who should have a guilty conscience, and some viewers of the film tend to overlook how, not only do the supporting characters display reluctance in trying to stop Louis, they contribute to his eventual success.
Louis Bloom Has No Character Arc
Dan Gilroy stated that he did not want to give Louis Bloom a character arc in order to make the film more realistic. He believes people develop their own personality and morals at a certain point in their life, and they are therefore very unlikely to alter themselves, no matter what happens. Some argue that Louis does have a character arc, as his sociopathic tendencies do increase throughout the film, but he does not go through a significant transformation.
The opening scene immediately signals to the audience that Louis is not a person that we should trust. We see him attempt to steal materials from a construction site, and when a security guard notices what Louis is doing, Louis responds by attacking the guard and stealing his watch, as well as the site’s materials. About five minutes into Nightcrawler, we already know that Lou lacks empathy and will do immoral things to get what he wants. His actions become more disturbing as the story unfolds, but Louis’ job as a stringer does not corrupt him because he was already corrupt to begin with.
The fact that Louis Bloom does not go through a major change has resulted in some criticism from a few critics, but Nightcrawler is one of the rare exceptions where a protagonist of a story does not need a character arc in order to be compelling. What makes it so interesting is how someone as despicable and heartless as Lou not only dodges incarceration, but also climbs his way up the career ladder and becomes a success. Louis’ very last line of dialogue in the film is “I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself”. And after witnessing everything he does, the audience more than believes him.
Money and Success is Valued More Than Human Life
Back in 2014, when Nightcrawler was released, Jake Gyllenhaal made some interesting comments to an interviewer who described the film as “icky”. Gyllenhaal replied with “I feel like we’re all participating” and said of the news that “Behind all this interest, people are facilitating that interest”. His closing comment – “I think it’s a really interesting comment on how creepy we all are” – says a lot about the supporting characters in this story, as well as our own society. Louis Bloom is not the only character worthy of some form of condemnation.
Once Lou has filmed a fatal carjacking, he sells it to news station called KWLA 6 and initially does not receive much money from the station due to his poor camerawork. The morning news director named Nina (Rene Russo) tells Lou that her station is specifically interested in recording violent incidents, as that increases their viewership. It is easy for the audience to criticize Lou’s lack of empathy – especially because of his gaunt appearance, with his wide-eyes and unnerving grin – but at no point does Nina display any genuine upset about the distressing footage Lou frequently sends her. Nina is so desperate to keep her job that she will hire a man who is clearly unhinged to gather footage of unsettling events, without any consideration for the people who were harmed in these situations.
The viewer pities Nina when Lou asks her on a date and blackmails her into sleeping with him, telling her that he will take his footage elsewhere if she refuses. He reminds her that she is the news director of the lowest rated station in Los Angeles and subtly threatens her by saying that he wants a physical relationship with her: “I want that… With you, like you want to keep your job and your health insurance”. Although Lou’s threats are undeniably cruel, Nina is clearly a smart woman who could find a similar profession elsewhere if her station got shut down, so the fact that she agrees to sleep with Lou to ensure that he will still provide the horrific footage her viewers wish to see shows that Nina’s own morality is questionable at best. When there are people like Nina working for TV stations, it is no surprise that Lou can blackmail his way to the top and succeed without any consequences.
Nina, as well as the general public, are acting unethically by giving Lou a platform to display his work, especially since the audience knows that Lou messes with crime scenes in order to get the perfect shot or camera angle. The only characters who truly challenge Lou’s position are his sidekick named Rick (Riz Ahmed) and Detective Frontieri (Michael Hyatt), who does not believe Lou’s lies about how he collected footage of shootings and home invasions. But any threats to Lou’s position of power are eliminated quickly, due to Lou’s intelligence and the naivety of his enemies; Lou tricks Rick by telling him the man they were chasing is dead, causing Rick to step out of the vehicle and get fatally shot. Rick realizes that Lou knew that the man was alive, and Lou simply responds with “I can’t jeopardize my company’s success to retain an untrustworthy employee”.
Meanwhile, the detective can find no evidence that will prove that Lou has been heavily involved in crime scenes and was the cause of Rick’s death, allowing Lou to avoid serving prison time and to start his own company with a group of interns at the end of the film. While Lou’s actions can not be justified (although the audience weirdly understands his point of view a lot of the time), he would not be a success if people were not fueling his career. What exactly does this say about modern day journalism?
If it Bleeds, it Leads
Think about all of the times you have seen a horrific crime scene on TV and wondered why people chose to record it on their phones instead of assisting the civilians who were injured. Louis Bloom is just the same – in one scene, we see him move a dead body in order to achieve the perfect camera angle. The deranged look on his face during this moment says it all; he will go to great lengths to achieve what he considers to be artistic and brilliant. Anyone who questions how he got so many disquieting images on camera is either ignored or erased from the picture.
Thanks to Lou’s ability to obtain disturbing footage from brutal crime scenes, the ratings for Nina’s news station increase dramatically and Lou earns a lot of money as a result. But the reason why viewership for Nina’s station has risen is not just because of Lou; more importantly, it is because of the viewers at home, the people who turn on the station and get a disgusting thrill out of seeing violent images. This notion ties back into Gyllenhaal’s comment: “Behind all this interest, people are facilitating that interest”. If you find Lou to be a frightening or “icky” character, the chances are that you are part of the problem by requesting to see this kind of footage in the first place; Lou would not film horrific events if he knew that people would not like to see them – it would lose him money and success.
Nightcrawler is not a film about the rise and fall of an anti-hero. Instead, it is an anti-hero’s success story, and how he climbs his way to the top of his journalistic career because he is completely aware of how the system works. Louis Bloom is not stupid; at one point, he asks Rick “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people, but that I don’t like them?” He knows how the world works, but he is simply too cynical to engage in normal human behaviour.
What cannot be ignored, however, is the lack of empathy in the world of media in general. During an early conversation between Nina and Lou, Nina details what kind of footage she wants from him: “The best and clearest way that I can phrase it to you, Lou, to capture the spirit of what we air, is think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” Louis Bloom is worthy of our criticism, but it is easy to overlook how flawed and unjust Lou’s colleagues, as well as the viewers at home, truly are. Lou believes that “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy the ticket”, and it is clear that others will allow him to go to unbelievable lengths in order to earn that money.
What are your thoughts on the characters in Nightcrawler?
Nightcrawler was released on 31 October 2014 in the US and in the UK.
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