Re-writing Classical Hollywood:

                                             Postmodern Apropriation in Nightcrawler

  This movie fascinates me because it works on two very different levels. On one hand,

  there is the critique of contemporary media. The “Horror House” broadcast is the

  primary example, where the newscasters provide a running commentary of the aftermath

  of a grisly triple-murder over b-roll images of the victims lying in pools of their own

  blood. This scene is a carefully crafted critique of a) the spectator's fascination with

  violence (the pixelated blood functions in the exact opposite way it is intended; it draws

  our attention directly to it), b) the contemporary postmodern mindset that takes pleasure

  in the misery of others (after going to break, the director exclaims, “That's a ten share!”),

  and c) the lengths to which media outlets will construct and manipulate our desires for

  their own profit (the newscasters are continually reminded by the producer to repeat the

  words “graphic” and emphasize that the killers are still at large in the once “safe”



  On the other hand, the film stages a critique of classical Hollywood cinema, and the

  popular Horatio Alger myth; the typical American “rags to riches” story where the

  protagonist works hard, pays his dues, and ultimately achieves the success of his dreams.

  Popular Hollywood films typically reinforce stories such as this (e.g., Rocky, The Pursuit of

  Happyness, October Sky, etc.), and we recognize this familiar structure in Nightcrawler.

  When we first meet our protagonist, Lou, we see he is a thief. He bungles an attempt to

  rob a construction site, and instead attacks a security guard and steals his watch. One

  evening he watches as a camera crew films a woman being pulled from an auto wreck,

  and is introduced to the world of freelance journalism. He purchases a camera and a

  police scanner, and sets out to become a stringer; on the hunt for violent content to sell to

  local TV stations. The major confrontation of the film revolves around Lou working at

  getting his graphic video footage into the news. He hires an intern named Rick, and

  builds a relationship with Nina, the news director at Channel 6. “I want to be the guy

  that owns the station…that owns the camera,” he tells her, and a montage sequence

  depicts him gathering and cataloging an assemblage of violent clips called


  One of the key sequences in the film comes when Lou tampers with the scene of an auto

  accident. Arriving before the authorities, he drags a dead body that has been thrown

  from a car into a small pool of light so that he can better capture the carnage. Gazing

  down at the staged accident, the music swells to a crescendo (the same music that also

  plays when he later manipulates Rick into getting shot) and he throws his arms up above

  his head in a peculiar moment of triumph. He emerges here as a different kind of hero;

  the postmodern, fragmented hero who triumphs in, and profits from the misery of others.

  The films' final car chase furthers this point, as it is seen largely through Rick's POV as

  he experiences it through the lens of the camera. As Lou's Challenger screams through

  the busy LA streets, Rick continually shouts out “Did you see that?!” This is a common

  exclamation during moments of extreme violence, drama excitement, and so forth, but

  we also need to read this as a literal question. Rick has to ask if Lou sees what's going

  on, because Lou doesn't have a camera. Lou is seeing with his eyes, watching the events

  unfold in “reality”, unlike Rick, who's view of the action is mediated through the camera.

  Lou's perspective is actually less “real” in our postmodern, image-based culture, which

  often experiences the image before the real. The penultimate scene of the film furthers

  this point as well, when Lou, seen through the POV of a security camera, looks directly

  into the lens and says, “I like to say if you see me, you're having the worst day of your


  The classical Hollywood hero bests the bad guy, saves the day, and lives happily ever.

  The ultimate postmodern capitalist, Lou is the bad guy who builds his business

  exploiting people on their worst day, and lives happily ever after profiting from the

  misfortune of others.

posted on 08/08/15 by apw