Confessions of a nightcrawler
Nightcrawlers. Believe it or not, but once upon a time I was one of them. Kind of.
I could never hear what they said on the police radio. In the middle of all the crackles and noise you could hear something that must be a human voice. But their words were usually indistinguishable, and if you by chance heard what they said, they spoke in codes that didn’t tell me anything.
My lack of understanding wasn’t really a problem though. This was in the late 80s and early 90s, when local newspapers still could afford to hire professional photographers. I was a junior reporter, fresh from the university, clueless and disposable. No one expected anything of me. Like everyone else I relied on the photographers.
Nothing on the police radio would escape their magic ears. And whenever they caught something newsworthy, they would change the plans of the day instantly. Whatever we were up to, we would instantly throw ourselves into the car in order to get to the place where all the action was as soon as possible.
To be honest it always freaked me out. The sooner we got to the place of the accident (usually it was a car accident), the higher was the risk that I actually would see something. Someone injured, someone stuck in a car wreck, a dead or close-to-dead person. And it just didn’t feel right. But who was I to argue? I was a junior. This was what I was supposed to do. So I put myself into robot mode and stopped thinking about it.
The memories from my short career as a journalist came back as I watched Nightcrawler, which is a movie about the people who make a living on taking pictures from scenes of crimes and accidents. Of course there’s a huge difference between my experiences and what we see in this film. For instance we never published images of the victims. We had innumerable photos of car wrecks, but if there was one where you could see and identify someone, we refrained from publishing it, or masked and blurred it so you couldn’t see the person in question. We didn’t trespass any barriers put up by the police. Compared to the photographers in Nightcrawler, we were saints.
And yet – there is a connection: the nagging thought: “why are we doing this?” and the following answer: “because there’s an audience for it.” The only reason to publish images of wrecked cars and homicide victims is that people want to see them. It’s a shared responsibility.
Enough of rambling about my lost youth, I should move on to Nightcrawler, because it’s certainly worth talking about, as one of my favourite movies of this year. Besides I’ve probably mislead you a little with all this talk about ethics in journalism. While it’s undeniably about journalists, I would say that the theme isn’t journalism as much as it’s capitalism. It’s got a knife-sharp edge, directed towards self-help and management literature.
Most of it takes part at night in Los Angeles, where we follow photographers who drive like maniacs all over the city in order to come first to the spot to get the best shots to sell to TV channels.
In the centre of the film is Lou, a former thief, who accidentally ends up in this profession. It’s clear from the start that he’s a psychopath, a person you’d want to stay as far away from as possible in real life. But as unlikeable as he was, I still found myself engaging with him.
I kept wondering how much further he’d be ready to go (the answer always being: “further”), I was constantly sitting on my edge, and when the movie finished, I was equally exhausted and exhilarated, but also a little troubled. All those terrible empty business phrases that Lou used – didn’t they sound awfully familiar, as something that I would say at my job without thinking further about it?
Before finishing this report I also need to mention Jake Gyllenhaal who is absolutely convincing playing Lou. I could have imagined an actor like Matthew McConaughey in this role, but Jake Gyllenhaal – sociopath? That was something I never saw coming. I would be surprised if he wasn’t one of the candidates when it’s time to hand out the Academy Awards.
Dark, funny, engaging and exciting, with a brilliant acting performance, that already feels like a classic. There are many good reasons to watch Nightcrawler.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, US 2014) My rating: 4,5/5
A bunch of Swedish blogging friend of mine also watched Nightcrawler: