I saw Nightcrawler the night prior, and as I watched Jake Gyllenhaal pour water over his plant, my mind found itself caught in a seemingly never-ending war–is our villainous, obviously sociopathic, protagonist likable or sympathetic? Or is he, in some weird, uncomfortable way, a relatable character?
What really fucked me up was when I had arrived at the conclusion that Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is definitely not a sympathetic character. What fucked me up even further was when I had realized that we spent our time relating to the social awkwardness of our narcissistic, antisocial, apathetic, manipulative, deceiving villain–also the protagonist. Which I’m certain confused anyone who thought that he is the antagonist. By definition, he isn’t. An antagonist is an obstacle that must be overcome by the protagonist, and the protagonist is just the central main character of a given story.
Just a little Writing 101 for you.
He is, however, a villain, and this is one of the few films that pulls us into a story where we follow a villain. He isn’t even an anti-hero–he doesn’t save anyone. Though I suppose, this could be argued. We are pulled into the challenges and obstacles he must face, and as the film unravels before us, we quickly notice how dynamic our protagonist really is–how willing he is to do anything, just to get what he wants. His questionable morals and apparent personality disorders become clear. He is an intelligent, charming sociopath. The only reason, however, that I say he is not an anti-hero, is that Louis Bloom’s character has zero traces of heroism. He works, breathes, and kills, for himself and his own twisted satisfaction. One might call it a lack of true purpose. Just what is he trying to achieve or prove?
Now, he certainly has motive. He has reasons for doing what he does–to forward his business and become the biggest and the best video news production company. And for that, Louis manipulates the head editor of a news station, illegally withholds evidence and information from detectives in an ongoing, open case, aims to use withheld evidence as a way for him to get $50,000, and kills his own partner, just to have something to film.
Of course, he feels no remorse as his partner lays dying and stares at him with the terrified, confused look in his eyes, stating that Louis knew that he would die–that he had planned it. And Louis, great old, crazy Louis, talks to him as if they’re sitting in an office, and is trying to let go of his personal secretary as gently and professionally as possible.
Louis is obviously not a sane person, but he is convincing. He is intelligent, charming, and socially-awkward–an adorable trait that automatically forces our mind to think, “Aw, he’s shy and nervous and can’t talk that well. He must be so nice.”
But he is not nice.
He is obviously. Not. Nice.
But we still like him, and I couldn’t help but wonder, why is that? Why do we like a character whose perception is so skewed and whose morals oppose our own? Why do we like a character who abuses those who have only helped in forwarding him towards his goal, whatever that goal might be?
A lot of the time, it’s the backstory that gives us a reason to like a character. We sympathize with a tragic past and a depressing childhood, because sadness swells our hearts without a care. When that knowledge is presented to us, we are given a reason, and sometimes, we are given a purpose too–the past explains why a person is the way he or she is. The past makes us care, or it makes us want to.
But we aren’t given that in this film, and I find the absence of the central character’s background to be highly interesting. We know nothing of his family, or of his childhood. We know not of his circumstances when concerning friendship, or past relationships. For all we know, they could all be dead, and he could have been the one to kill them.
So how did they make us like someone so bad?
It’s easy. A lot of writers follow time-worn rules. They make a character sympathetic by giving everyone a sob story, by showing us the character interacting with a family member, or struggling with a problem that cannot be solved overnight. This writer, Dan Gilroy, didn’t do that.
What he did was effective and subtle.
I earlier described the character as a sociopath, and one of the characteristics of a sociopath is that they are convincing. What’s truly amazing about Dan Gilroy’s writing of Louis Bloom is that he did not only write Louis Bloom as able to convince the characters within the story that he is a likable fellow, but he convinced the audience too.
It was difficult to hate Louis Bloom. We can agree to disagree here, but in his purest form, Louis Bloom is so convincing that we might even call him inspiring. Dan Gilroy used the socially awkward trait well–the formal way of speaking, the sincere smiles, way Louis carried himself at the beginning of the movie, until the end of the movie. We saw human interactions involved Louis, and that’s what made it so difficult for me to tell whether or not I liked him.
I can safely say that as a character, I did. I enjoyed his character–dynamic, complex, dark, twisted. Amazing to write about.
As a person? Please go to jail.
That’s where the tension comes in. We cannot decide how we are choosing to judge him. Are we judging him as a person, or as a character? The answer as a person might appear obvious, but it suddenly becomes much more difficult judging as a character. Our bias doesn’t leave us alone, and we’re too subjective to really make a proper decision.
Overall, this movie fucked me up good. I recommend it, 8.5/10.
What did you guys think?