The nightcrawler of modern ambition

August 17, 2018 09:44 pm | Updated 09:44 pm IST

Back in 2013, long-time screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut Nightcrawler hit our screens. At the time, as an aspiring film critic I didn’t quite feel compelled to write about it. Nightcrawler examined the rise of a ruthless freelance photojournalist — a ‘stringer’ named Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) – who scourges the dark streets of Los Angeles in search of explicitly tragic footage, that might seduce local news stations.

I liked the movie, but wasn’t as jolted as some of my older colleagues. Its social dimensions — that is, its dissection of modern-day journalism and consumer leanings — were lost on me. At best, I imagined it as a creepy update of Taxi Driver , and a solid example of nocturnal filmmaking.

Shifting perspective

Last week, I re-watched Nightcrawler . This time, it shook me to my core. The experience left me jittery. Most of all, my worst nightmare was realised: I identified with Lou Bloom. I related to him. In the five years that have passed, while I might not exactly be part of the desensitised media industry that Bloom represents, there have been uneasy parallels. He is a product of an urban survivalist culture. He approaches car wrecks and corpses with the single-minded intent of making them look irresistible for prospective employers. He is not the award-winning photographer who is unable to live with the guilt of clicking, as opposed to helping, a starving child; he is the guy who lobbies for the best angle, and then looks for the next child.

As a result Bloom doesn’t hesitate to invade, and exploit, the sacred privacy of a moment: he films a rival brutally injured, films his own partner dying, and even manipulates a fatal home invasion scene to derive maximum visual mileage. He lets the killers get away so that he can later track them down, shoot a live gunfight and become an investigative hero. In essence, he allows dangerous stories to unravel, unhindered by nature and rationale, only so that the world can read them through his eyes. Civilisation and structure are disruptors for a man who wants to showcase chaos and disorder.

World of opportunity

Writing professionally, especially as a freelancer, tends to make you an “emotional predator” of sorts. In the pursuit of being more human, you also tend to become more opportunistic. There is a subconscious pressure to pitch oneself differently. To wield a voice deemed too risky or personal for the medium. There is an intellectual race to do something that others perhaps don’t. In the process, I might have ended up internalising a style in which I put a lot of myself into words. And, by extension, a lot of my immediate environment — loved ones, friends, enemies, or anyone who has ever influenced my psyche.

There is, as you might notice, an abundance of “I” in this piece, too. This particular column space — one that often probes at the symbiotic relationship between films and life — is now an integral part of my professional armoury. I wouldn’t say it is dishonest. There are no distorted facts either. But I have never once stopped to think about the people I write about. About the feelings of those whom I turn the camera upon, just to understand the foundation of cinema better. It dawned upon me as I watched Lou Bloom that I might have subliminally turned my existence into his freewheeling LA streets.

Looking within

I wonder how often I’ve maybe “let” accidents happen, unhindered, hoping that perhaps I can write about them someday. I wonder if I’ve refused to fix relationships, address communication problems or reverse trends of social isolation, hoping to perhaps turn them into acclaimed pieces of paper. I wonder if I’ve ‘recorded’ my wounds instead of calling the paramedics.

For storytellers, it is considered advantageous to allow frank observations of life and its vulnerabilities to inform their grasp of their craft. But there is also the danger of adopting a life that supplies them with those observations. I wonder if this is a default setting for anyone with ambition. Bloom is, after all, an embodiment of this era’s social media paradox.

We share images of deep nakedness that are designed to give strangers an uninhibited peek into the deficiencies of human nature, however we also end up capitalising on those precise deficiencies to privatise the nobility of our actions. Checking our entitlement doesn’t make for as dramatic a picture. That would defy the inherent contradiction of Lou blooming at night. It would, then, mean closing our eyes when others do.

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