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Nightcrawler is rated 15 for strong bloody crime scene detail, strong language. The film is available on DVD.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is ready to try his hand at anything. Full of self-improvement aphorisms and entirely empty of scruples, he stumbles across the Los Angeles underworld of ‘nightcrawling’: following police-radio tipoffs to incident sites, and filming the grim aftermath. The resulting footage can be sold to cable news stations, who have no qualms about broadcasting images of car wrecks or bleeding shootout victims. If it pulls in viewers, it runs – or as Lou’s fellow nightcrawler Joe (Bill Paxton) puts it, ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’
As Lou’s fledgling business grows, he develops a symbiotic relationship with news director Nina (Rene Russo), who’s every bit as ruthless as he is, and an uneven partnership with ‘intern’ Rick (Riz Ahmed), a young man too desperate for money to say no. Just how far is Lou willing to go in pursuit of the success he craves? And who will end up paying the price?
- What was your first response to the film, and why? Is it comparable to anything else you’ve seen? What is original about it?
‘I found it beautiful, in the sense that you can see far and the neon lights sort of popped out, and the yellow sodium vapor lights really gave it an interesting sort of glow, so we’re trying to make it look beautiful.’ – Director Dan Gilroy
- What did you think of the way the film presented Los Angeles? How was the city shot, and what effect did this have? Do you agree with Gilroy that the images are ‘beautiful’?
- What did you make of Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead performance? How does the role of Lou compare to other roles for which he is known, and what qualities does he bring to the part? Were there any acting choices which you found particularly striking or interesting?
‘What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people, but that I don’t like them?’ – Lou
- How would you describe your emotional response to Lou? What aspects of his personality repelled you, and was there anything about him that you found compelling, or even sympathetic? Do you think that Lou doesn’t understand people, or that he doesn’t like them?
- Did you find the film funny, and how would you describe its sense of humour? What other emotions – such as shock, dread or disgust – did Nightcrawler evoke for you? Which scenes or moments had the most impact on you?
‘What I believe, Sir, is that good things come to those who work their asses off.’ – Lou
- How does Nightcrawler satirise and subvert the popular narrative of the ‘self-made man’? How does Lou go about casting himself in this role, and what films can you think of which tell this kind of story in earnest? In your view, is the idea of the ‘self-made man’ problematic, and if so, why?
- How does the film portray the news media, and the process of crafting a narrative which will sell? To what extent does news reporting in our society give us a window on reality, and to what extent does it simply reinforce existing prejudices or dominant cultural narratives?
- What broader critique does Nightcrawler make of capitalist culture, and the way that this plays out in the current economic climate? To what extent are Lou’s attitudes simply an exaggerated version of those commonplace in normal business environments?
‘To not have an arc, the messages and ideas in the film became more prominent. The character is plowing through boundaries, and keeps going.’ – Director Dan Gilroy
- What are some of the major ‘boundary-crossing’ moments for Lou in the film, and why did they feel transgressive or shocking to you? Do you agree that the lack of any arc of personal change for Lou adds to the film’s moral punch? Do you think an amoral outlook would lead someone to succeed in real life, and why or why not?
- How does Nina’s sense of morality compare to Lou’s, and do you think they’re guilty to the same degree? To what extent is it the fault of the news media that sensationalised stories are popular, and to what extent is it the fault of the viewers who tune in?
- How would you describe Rick’s morality, and how did his ‘voice of conscience’ affect your reaction to the film? Were there any points at which you found yourself consciously or unconsciously rooting for Lou’s amoral actions? If so, how do you feel about your own response?
‘All of us have a bit of a sociopath inside of us. Those feelings exist within more human beings than people may want to acknowledge.’ – Director Dan Gilroy
- Do you agree with the director’s statement here, and why or why not? Is Lou a compelling character because his behaviour is alien to most people, or because we recognise ourselves in him? What might be some of the consequences of the idea that all human beings have a capacity for darkness?
‘Making peace with what you don’t have, that’s what it’s all about.’ – Rick
- What is Lou really striving for, and what longings seem to drive him? How has he bought into cultural ideas of what is ‘real’, or worth having? Which do you think is a surer route to happiness – striving for what we want, or making peace with what we don’t have?
‘I feel that the world is increasingly about the bottom line, and not so much about human respect or human dignity.’ – Director Dan Gilroy
- Do you agree that taking capitalist precepts to their logical conclusion leads to a loss of ‘human respect’ or ‘human dignity’? Is there any real basis, logical or otherwise, for considering human respect and dignity more valuable than the financial bottom line?