One of the most acclaimed movies of 2014, Nightcrawler is considered to be a look into the ‘stringer’ culture feeding on the desire of today’s audiences for more and more engaging news – what it actually is, is a look into human depravity and our capacity to be entertained by suffering and disaster.
Our enjoyment of someone else’s suffering isn’t new – from ancient Rome where Gladiators fought for the entertainment of the general public, in increasingly gory fests to our pleasure in watching police car chases, disastrous accidents which ruin homes and destroy lives and weak journalism built on “shock value” – something juicy to keep the audiences on the hook.
IS IT ABOUT THE MARVEL X-MEN CHARACTER THEN?
Louis “Lou” Bloom (portrayed by a magnificent Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed, small-time thief, who comes across a car accident and ‘stringers’ (freelance photojournalists) arriving on the scene to capture the accident and sell the footage to local news channels.
From there on, we see Lou’s clumsy attempts at trying to start his own business, failing twice but getting a major story in his third attempt. We see him establish his relationship with the morning news director Nina Romina (portrayed by Rene Russo) and to get her the best of stories, he begins to tamper with crime scenes to make his videos more engaging for the audience. He also coerces Nina into entering into sexual relationship with him, in return for exclusive access to his videos.
Here we see the descent of the human soul, when evil brings short-term gains, you begin to rationalize despicable for the sake of money and status. When Lou is beaten to a story by his rival, he doesn’t think twice before tampering with his rival’s news van causing a major accident, putting his rival out of business.
Lou thinks nothing of stringing along another desperate youth Rick (portrayed by Riz Ahmed) as they stumble upon a triple homicide in an affluent neighborhood and hide evidence of their complete footage from the police. The crime scene is actually a hit by rival drug gangs instead of being a home invasion. But since home invasions are a more engaging story, especially in affluent white neighborhoods, Lou makes the footage lean towards that. Here, we see capitalism’s influence, where market demands and the desire for more money, can make lies and deceit completely acceptable to a human being.
Using their video, Lou plans to take the story further – he and Riz, who has begun to blackmail Lou for half his earnings to keep his criminal activities hidden from the police, stake the gunman’s house – when his partner arrives, Lou calls the police. In the ensuing gunfight with the police, a police officer is shot and one of the gunmen is killed. The other gunman escapes in a car with the police behind him, in a high-speed pursuit, with Lou & Rick behind them recording the entire chase. The police car crashes into traffic but Lou continues the pursuit. The gunman’s SUV soon crashes too.
Lou urges Rick to film the gunman as he is dead and the police would be there soon. As Rick approaches the gunman, he is shot by him and in turn, the gunman is shot by the police who have arrived. As Rick dies, Lou, films him and says that he couldn’t work with someone who had leverage over him.The footage of the shootout and the pursuit, cement Nina and her news station’s loyalty to Lou. He fabricates another lie for the police, who are unable to charge him with any crime. As the movie ends, we see Lou has expanded his team and has two vans with “interns” working for him.
I AM NOT LOU – THIS IS ONLY POSSIBLE IN A MOVIE
You might be thinking – um, so what? I am not like Lou – I would never be like him. He lies, steals, murders and blackmails. He is a psychopath but not me.
What Nightcrawler shows is the ease in descending into criminal activities, despite maintaining the illusion of decency and goodness. It also sheds light on our tastes and consumption – our desire to be entertained constantly. We demand the news channels engage us whether there is anything concrete to be reported or not. It takes a look at inherent class biases – where an incident affecting a particular group is considered more news-worthy than others.
We see this in real life, with state-backed news channels like Al-Jazeera, portray news affecting a certain religious group in a different manner compared to others. Its stories regarding this group, who are always portrayed as victims, are meant to stir sympathy for one group while demonizing the others. Other left or right leaning news providers such as The Guardian or Breitbart, all engage in similar tactics. They understand their core audience and target stories and manipulate these based on what they know their audience prefers.
In the end, we as humans do not want to be informed. We want news which confirm the views about politics, lifestyle, groups of people or religions, which we already hold. We are looking for affirmation not information. Instead of focusing on the Lou’s cropping up all over the world, we need to look at ourselves and ask, how our desires to have our egos sated has increased the flow of “fake” news in the world today.
Go ahead and watch Nightcrawler, if you haven’t already, and try to relate it to your own lives and see how you are responsible for creating a Lou, somewhere out there.