*Warning: This feature does contain film spoilers*
Nightcrawler opens with the image of an unaltered billboard that is draped in white. The billboard that would normally promote, advertise or represent something is instead blank, emotionless. This could not be a more appropriate image to open this film with considering Nightcrawler is a film that is devoid of emotion, sentiment or integrity. This form of detachment from human emotion does not stem from the film’s content, but rather from Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the film’s main character, Lou Bloom. Even in the strictest of definitions, the character is a sociopath who feeds off the vulnerability of others. By proxy of Gyllenhaal’s performance, the film transforms itself into an unapologetic film that chronicles the plight of its lead character without ever throwing judgment or morality upon his actions.
A sociopath, in many regards, are opportunists. They craft a narrative and use their persuasive social skills to create an entry into individual’s lives, companies or corporations. Typically such personalities are perceived to be harmless, such as being personable and generating attention towards themselves. Also, their inability to feel guilt often feeds into their confidence, which allows for them to present themselves as being more than they actually are. Gyllenhaal’s performance occupies many of these qualities, to which the viewer must immediately acknowledge as being contradictory to who he truly is, which is a vindictive manipulator. However, Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is able to generate animosity towards him by continually smiling and giving direct eye contact to those he speaks to. Part of his charm also falls in that his eyes never deviate from whom he is speaking to and he is never the first to break the gaze. His interactions are also heavily influenced by this voice tone, which is often a soft octave, almost as if he were to be aiming to keep it at a neutral level so his emotional core cannot be publicly evaluated. It is only when he is speaking to someone privately that the film viewer can detect a change in vocal tone, which is typically direct, forceful and feeds into his belief structure that he has earned whatever he may be demanding.
However, Bloom’s demands can only be met once he has embedded himself within something such as, in the case of this film, a television station. He doesn’t achieve this by working the system, but by presenting himself innocently and allowing others to believe they can utilize him for their benefit. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Bloom’s entry point is earning the minimal trust offered to him and flipping it to benefit himself. This contrast is apparent in two monologue scenes between him and Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the nightly news director. In this first scene, he proclaims to Nina a story that viewers must assume is entirely fabrication, yet his delivery of this supposed memory is convincing enough win the respect of Nina. In this particular scene he recounts being a part of a seminar that asked him to write down what he loved to do. In the context of this speech that sounds eerily rehearsed, he is able to frame his interest for television while also manipulating affection towards himself. The speech isn’t for Bloom to connect with Nina, but rather is done with the purpose of benefiting himself by gaining her trust. The second monologue then is done in a opposite tone later in the film when he is aware he is integral to the station’s ratings and viewership. Having footage he knows that could dramatically benefit the station, he now offers a cold ultimatum that is so perfectly executed that by the time he asks, “Do we have a deal?” Nina has no choice but to give into putting the station in potential financial jeopardy while also giving into his nonchalant sexual proposition towards her. Bloom is only able to achieve the confidence to do so because his first monologue gave him access to Nina’s concerns with ratings and competition with the other networks. He has learned enough about her personality to use it against her and he doesn’t hesitate to get what he wants with such information.
Incidentally, sociopaths believe their actions are justified and whatever they want is supposedly rightfully theirs to take. Their course of action to achieve these goals often go hand-in-hand with compulsive lying, such as in the example of Bloom’s initial “What do I love to do?” monologue to Nina mentioned in the previous paragraph. Part of what makes Bloom an effective liar is his ability to believe there is fact in what he says. He is able to convey complete conviction with whatever he claims because he believes his own narrative even when his statements are complete lies. “The situation is that I lost an employee and I’m looking for a replacement” he tells Rick (Riz Ahmed), whom he hires as his close-to-unpaid “intern,” which is a total fabrication considering Bloom barely has any expenses to keep himself afloat, let alone own his own company. Yet he declares he has one when he hires Rick, which he does solely to benefit himself. His lies toward Rick continue by not paying him his “salary” of thirty dollars a night while he himself has been earning thousands of dollars upon selling their footage to Nina. Yet Rick is the victim of Bloom’s anger when he catches his intern in a lie about reading a “traffic memo” he had written for him. “Nobody likes to be lied to,” he snaps at Rick, which poses as an ironic circumstance within the film considering Bloom’s penchant of lying to get what he wants. His anger towards Rick when being lied to falls in that sociopaths demand control, especially the ability to control others. Therefore, being lied to puts Bloom in a powerless position and he despises being associated as such when he has continually lied to himself about having controlling his environment and those within it.
What makes Nightcrawler a unique film goes beyond portraying a sociopath’s actions, but by showing what a truly intelligent sociopath is capable of achieving when all those around him are tricked with pleasantries. What transpires in Nightcrawler is a build-up of confidence that allows for Bloom to escalate the “proper framing” of crime scenes, which is his own euphemism for manipulating crime scenes to get better footage. His professionalism is nothing short of a mirage he has concocted for the benefit of having others believe he is a legitimate cameraman. In the first instance in that he tampers with a crime scene it is him simply rearranging family photographs around bullet holes on the deceased’s bullet ridden refrigerator. This footage gets him a positive reaction with the station, which mentally tells him that his work hinges more on manipulation than opportunity. He understands the stations are interested solely in the content of what his camera captures opposed to the journalistic integrity of how he attained it. Bloom is aware that the only talent he needs is essentially to craft the news in a manner that others will depend upon him for future footage. That is power to Bloom. He wants people to see him as an asset they must have. This is a desire that motivates him to willfully keep evidence from the authorities because it would detract from the sensationalism that his narrative will ultimately provide. Bloom’s sole concern is capturing the narrative he has created, even if it’s at the expense of other people’s lives. A sociopath shows no regard for anyone other than himself, which is how Bloom boldly represents himself by the film’s conclusion.
The narrative of Nightcrawler further emphasizes Bloom’s sociopathic nature through Rene Russo’s character. Russo’s Nina represents a true opportunist within the film in contrast to Bloom, whose sense of opportunity coincides with his true motivation, which is to consolidate as much power to himself as possible. For Nina, she is another type of opportunist in that her motivations stems from the desire to get her station higher ratings and a much broader viewership. For Nina, the goal is to provide sensational stories to attract the attention of more viewers. She tells Bloom when she first sees him, “Think of our broadcast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” representing the news station as one that will never be interested in simplicity. Yet, this sentence is interesting in that Nina says “our,” not “mine” when referring to the news station, which is evidence of Nina’s goals extending beyond herself. She is someone who is willing to manipulate the footage given to her and tarnish her personal morals to attain such material, yet she does it for both her benefit the and the benefit of the news station. Nina’s concern is ratings and she is well aware that the more sensation footage has, the higher the ratings will become. Therefore, sensational material excites her. This is especially evident in the film’s conclusion when she sees the finalized footage Bloom is offering her that includes a police shoot-out, a tremendous car chase and on-camera murders. In this moment, her desire to acquire this footage is done in the context of sexual desire, which functions as a blatant metaphor of Bloom fulfilling her internal expectations. With such footage, Nina will be able to catapult her station to the next level, which again, transcends beyond benefiting herself.
Nightcrawler isn’t a cautionary tale, but instead is precisely what Nina demanded of Bloom and what Bloom sought to capture on camera: A sensational story. Bloom says in the film’s conclusion with a coy smile on his face, “I like to say that if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life,” and in that regard, the viewer is left with a feeling of emptiness because they have been denied the typical film ending they were expecting. The film ends with Bloom having been commended for his work and his grab for power has been achieved. Like the characters of Nightcrawler, the viewer is another intended victim of Bloom’s. Viewers of this film may expect the typical film ending in which Bloom must answer for what he has done, yet they are denied of such a sense of satisfaction. Instead they are left with the reality that Bloom was able to manipulate his way into power and he believes everything he has done is justified. Bloom walks away smiling because he truly has become what he already believed himself to be, that he is invincible. Only a true sociopath would accept such an adjective to be a truth regarding themselves and their criminal actions.
This article was first featured on www.seroword.com