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It is no secret that Dan Gilroy wanted to make a movie about Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee), the famous photographer whose instant and seemingly prescient arrivals at crime and emergency scenes seemed as magical as an Ouija board. History has taught us better and now we know that he dwelled his way around becoming the only NYC freelance newspaper photographer licensed to have a portable police-band shortwave radio. And just like Lou Bloom, he worked mostly at night and listened closely to broadcasts, often resulting in beating authorities to the scene.
Nightcrawler was released in some places on 2014’s Halloween night, making it symbolically dark and mysterious of course. But the only terrifying thing about this movie is how faraway capitalism can push us, individuals, into pursuing a sustainable living career. Lou, our main character, is a stringer recording somewhat undergoing violent events, or at least before their proper aftermaths began to develop.
One of the most popular interests in this film is the paradoxical relationship between unethical journalism and consumer demand. Something the Wallace Souza case can seamlessly illustrate to us. A Brazilian TV host was accused of ordering killings just to boost his show’s rating after his television crew’s suspicious quick presence at the crime scenes.
Desperate for work, Lou quickly discovers the intricacies of breaking news & crime journalism. Interestingly enough, Open Road Films used some edgy marketing strategies to make the story more interesting. These included a fictional video résumé on Craigslist and fake social media profiles for the character we are about to unfold.
Outlining the Context
The movie starts by clearly telling us this story is happening in Los Angeles, something one quickly relates to social acceleration and disparities; not to mention a bit of crime too. The early score firmly grabs our faces and throws us into action in a trickery way. Our antagonistic character is shown in an economically compromised situation without losing his grip. Lou being introduced as a regular scrap supplier who stocks his inventory by stealing metal is a digestible example of how the economic setup of our contemporary society pushes individuals into the realm of desperate moves.
Although, the self-supplying shipment shown to us gets highly noticed by a private security guard who confronts Lou on the spot. He tries to talk his way out of the situation when suddenly assaults the guard off-screen and steals his shiny wristwatch. Later, while attempting to sell the scrap, he is rebuffed by his current seller when he asks for more money:
LOU: I’m willing to take less to establish a business relationship. If that’s your last best offer then I guess I accept.
Something that made us wonder about how useful high-level jargon is when we stumble upon such individuals like the man behind the desk in this scene? The symbolic nature of the following dialogue expands the bitter truth about a system that is willing to take advantage of the shady calls from the less fortunate individuals while shaming them for the same reasons:
LOU: Sir, excuse me, I’m looking for a job. In fact, I’ve made up my mind to find a career I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard-worker, I set high goals and I’ve been told I’m persistent. Now I’m not fooling myself, sir. Having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. But I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those who work their asses off, and that people such as yourself who reach the top of the mountain didn’t just fall there. My motto is if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket. Did I say I worked in a garage? Sir, I think you and I could work well together. So how about it? I can start tomorrow or even why not tonight?
To which the scrapyard owner answers “no” without even raising his face from a form. According to his interpretations of our economically-driven contemporary human world, Lou asks for a job and the answer is not only negative but also filled with contempt.
LOU: How about an internship then? A lot of young people are taking unpaid positions to get a foot in the door. That’s something I’d be willing to do.
SCRAPYARD OWNER: I’m not hiring a fucking thief.
Synchronically, the visual intentions around these couple of scenes bombard us with plenty of reminders about the burden capitalism instals in our anxious minds. Later on, encounters a fiery car crash that is filmed by Joe, a freelance cameraman who plans to sell his footage to the news for profit. He approaches the crew and notices the amount of gear these folks are carrying, which he instantly interpreted as stable finances around this career. And here is the moment of truth in which our talkative character gets properly introduced as the anti-hero figure we are familiar with thanks to the trailer, and other content analyses available across the web. Some sort of intelligence is needed to pay attention to something like that and quickly interpret the way he did, which leads us to the next point…
But what about the genius nature of his actions? As stated by Dan Gilroy in this interview, “the character comes in stage left one way and leaves stage right the same way, only stronger.” So Lou never really changes nor develops but unveils more freely in a commercial realm where he can comfortably thrive. But the genius appears behind how he manages to decode stuff. He studies a lot online and never had “formal education”, and is still able to make his way around in a particularly accelerated way. But accumulating knowledge isn’t what makes Lou so unique, is his ability to keep reflexivity upon the intel bingeing he is capable of.
LOU: Well, all sorts of things, actually. I’m on my computer all day. I haven’t had what you’d call much formal education but you can find most anything if you look hard enough. Last year I took an on-line business course, for example. I learned you have to have a business plan before starting a business, and that why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue. The site advised you to answer the following question before deciding where to focus your abilities. The question was ‘What do I love to do?’ The site suggested making a list of my strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? And what are you not that good at? Maybe you want to strengthen and develop knowledge about the things you’re already good at. Or maybe you might want to strengthen your weaknesses. I recently remade my list and I’m thinking now that television news might just be something that I love as well as something that I happen to be good at.
So maybe he’s not that much of a genius but an obsessive character making his way through a rough system fueled up by society’s morbid craving for bloody news. But one of the things we could respect Lou the most is his willingness to share both insights and tips. Same these are regularly kept secret by the industry as a whole, especially those related to the business and the production of visual content.
An Ethical Dilemma
This story offers clear examples of unethical practices that must be avoided at all costs, especially when talking about a profession-oriented to delivering unbiased information to the public like journalism is expected to do. But since Lou isn’t a properly formed stringer or journalist, his actions must be evaluated at a slower pace.
When Lou sees his first coverage live on TV, right after the big title “BREAKING NEWS: Carjacking Crime Wave”, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat empowered by the whole thing. Nina, the head of the station where Lou starts selling his footage, plays an important role in the unethical decisions taken by Lou across the whole film.
NINA: (…) We like crime. Not all crime. A carjacking in Compton, for example, that isn’t news, now is it? We find our viewers are more interested in urban crime creeping into the suburbs. What that means is a victim or victims, preferably well-off and/or white, injured at the hands of the poor, or a minority.
NINA: Graphic. 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.
LOU: I understand. I’ve always been a very fast learner. You’ll be seeing me again.
You can’t just tell someone with Lou’s psychological profile stuff like that with no repercussions. In that precise moment of the story, Lou got programmed into pursuing these sorts of stories with no remorse at all.
Upon the following shocking moments:
Lou steals a Cérvelo bicycle so he can get some money at a pawn shop to buy a video camera and a police scanner. But he knew what he had stolen, and made his research about it and even crafted a whole story about how he won the “Tour of Mexico” with this piece of machinery.
Following a story, he breaks into a house and starts filming some stuff once inside. He reaches the kitchen, sees a refrigerator with some gunshots and slides a photo near them so he can frame a more dramatic finding. Nothing to worry right? But that’s altering the scene, and that slight act became snowballed into the following events.
After arguing with Joe about a position he offers to him upon his next business move, he decides to cut Joe’s van breaks. An accident happens, and Lou is the one filming the aftermath. And this is a twisted payback to his competition, he made Joe a news story, and he even gave it for free to Nina showing us how meaningless Joe’s life means to him.
The climax of the film comes after breaking into a house right after a bloody crime was committed. He filmed the perpetrators and extended the whole situation so he could film the moment in which these criminals were ambushed by the police. Things escalated quickly and Lou kept himself together like a pro.
In the end, he directed Rick (his assistant) into filming the crash scene of one of the aforementioned criminals and gets shot right in front of Lou’s camera.
The dilemma here is the following. What role does his lack of ethical knowledge play in his raw style? We can’t deny the fact that he took the extra mile to deliver breaking news that would not only sell good but also save Nina’s news station. These knowledge gaps can’t be ignored and offer a good example of how important these kinds of subjects are in academic curricula. Sure, we already qualified Lou as mentally disturbed, but proper analyses require some deviant thinking as well.
Despite the reminiscences with Wallace Souza and Weegee, this movie offers a unique story that feels somewhat familiar to all of us. We all have been on the other side of the fence, craving for stories like the ones Lou was covering and crafting, and we as a society also have our share of responsibility in this plot. Nightcrawler (2014) is a fantastic film with a complex script that still holds popularity, and might even feel within the “cult” category as many other great films have been honored by society. Follow this link to get your own perspective on this visual masterpiece.