Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

Rare is it that a film is so proudly allegorical as Nightcrawler the debut feature from Screenwriter Dan Gilroy which personifies the horrors of a corporation into body of a man.

Structured around a cold central performance by Jake Gyllenhaal which has had reviewers reaching for the comparisons to anti-heroes of Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976) and King of Comedy (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1983) Gilroy’s film is not so much a version of people suffering the American dream gone wrong as what happens when it goes right.

Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom drives the night streets of Los Angeles filming accidents and crimes as close up to the bloody reality as he can. the viewfinder of his camera takes in a level of violence that Gyllenhaal, gaunt and with deep-set dark eyes, does not.

Unlike Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin Bloom is not a man suffering. In fact he is hardly a man at all. Gilroy gives us an empty vessel without a piece of humanity to tie him to. Bloom has no parents we see, no family, no friends and what is more it is impossible to think of him having had any.

Bloom’s use of business speech rather than conversation, his negotiation date with the excellent Rene Russo, and his ruthless (and literal) undercutting of his competition are the worst excesses of the corporation writ large.

Gilroy gives us not a character so much as a cipher. At that point the writer director tips his hat in his opinion on his central themes. “Lou”, “cipher”. It is a black joke in a black hearted story.

Angel Heart (dir. Alan Parker, 1987) used the same homophone as Louis Cyphre – played by the once Travis Bickle Robert De Niro – hired Mickey Rourke’s Harry Angel to track down a sold previously sold to him for fame. In the eighties Satan’s business is discreetly selling of stardom for souls. In the last forty years the process has been streamlined.

Soullessly Lou Bloom operates in the knowledge that he will have all he wants at conclusion. When knowing he will cause innocent deaths he has no remorse and no empathy.

A lack of remorse and empathy are charges that Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott level at The Corporation (2003) in the documentary of the same name. Achbar and Abbott’s thesis is that the business entity necessarily suffers from what we would call in a person “psychopathy”. That all corporations have to as Bloom does relentlessness in their pursuit of their aims and cold to the damage on life around them.

Cinema claimed the term “psychopath” for all time in Alfred Hitchcock‘s slasher masterwork Psycho (1960).

No one does not know the story. Anthony Perkins‘ Norman Bates is the vehicle for his dead Mother’s rage. It is Mother who murders and Bates is the innocent. Perhaps not. We recall how he watches Janet Leigh‘s Marion undress before she take the shower that comes to a sudden end to a knife in his hand.

Bates and Bloom have that in common. They are the psychopath not because of what they do, but because of their willingness to watch.

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By Michael Wood in November, 2014.

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