I read somewhere that Dan Gilroy’s movie, ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014) is a satire. That it sets out to illustrate how TV News sets no moral boundaries in farming its harvest of sensational, violent breaking news. And I agree – that does seem to be its purpose. The story’s protagonist, Lewis Bloom, (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles into the world of the stringer and becomes adept at covering accidents and crimes with bloody outcomes. Eventually he learns how to manipulate events, even cause them, so that he and his crew can be first on the scene. TV stations will pay handsomely for such footage. Because it is the stuff that drives the ratings, Get it? When you’re ordering your breakfast TV, easy on the ethics and heavy on the tomato sauce.
But where’s the satire? I’d expect equal parts grim reality and wry, dark humour. Bloom’s not caught up in events where his naivety points up the tragedies that push in on him. He is the events. And his lack of insight alienates him from seeing the tragedies as anything other than product; His psychopathy doesn’t allow him to abandon anything in order to reach that state of sublime unconcern. There is no transit from sentient to indifferent. And so it is with us, or at least, me. I couldn’t engage with Bloom or anyone around him. (Particularly Renee Russo’s grasping news editor. I could find no explanation for her appearance other than a powerful Agent) The story, then, is nothing more than a prosaic commentary. I wasn’t able to laugh and despair in equal measures. There was no anxiety about the state of main stream media that I haven’t already experienced. There was no wry, guarded laughter at the surreal but worryingly tangible future for television news. Just a shrug and a ‘So what?’ Just think for a moment what Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ might have done with this idea and you’ll get a better insight, perhaps, to my reservations. Or maybe it’s all down to Jake Gyllenhaal’s resemblance to Jason Gunn. That certainly didn’t help.
‘That was the story of Howard Beale. The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.’
From ‘Network’ (Sidney Lumet’ 1976) A satire.