Nightcrawler’s Antihero Lou Bloom: Sociopath Par Excellence

Dan Gilroy’s 2014 thriller Nightcrawler is set in the nocturnal underbelly of Los Angeles. It’s been called a social commentary about crime journalism, and American entrepreneurship. But, Nightcrawler is really a story about Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a petty thief turned amateur cameraman, who muscles his way into the cutthroat business of night crawling.

Nightcrawlers are cameramen who prowl the night, piggybacking police radio to get to the bloody accident and crime scenes first. The nightcrawler with the goriest images of victims has the best chance of having his film footage bought by a news station, and having it lead in the evening news.

As we soon learn, Lou Bloom and the job of night crawling are a match made in heaven. We first meet him as a young man who ekes out a living as a petty thief stealing hubcaps, chain-link fences, copper wire and scrap metal for cash. He prowls the night like a coyote hunting food to survive. Nothing is more important to Lou than the catch.

We get the first taste of Lou’s fearless, sociopathic personality, when he asks to be given a job by the construction owner with whom he just fenced stolen goods. It never occurs to Lou that the owner may draw a line between employees and thieves. He is unfazed by the owner’s refusal to hire him or by the boldness it takes to steal the watch right off the arm of a security guard who just caught Lou stealing scrap metal. And, when coming upon a group of freelance television camera crews filming a gruesome car crash, rather than fear of the fiery scene  and dead bodies before him, Lou seizes the opportunity to question cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) about his job as a nightcrawler.

The hunt and gore of crime journalism enlivens every fiber of Lou’s being. With no hesitation, Lou buys a camera and interviews a young man named Rick (Riz Ahmed) for an internship position, making it seem like he’s heading some big news station. To Lou, he’s not lying, because in his mind, he already does. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of local TV news, Lou thrives and becomes the star of his own story.

There’s nothing likable about Lou Bloom, no Tony Soprano soft spot that connects us to him in some way. In contrast to Bloom, Soprano had just enough emotional conflict to make him seek psychological treatment. Lou Bloom isn’t conflicted in any way about anything. His sole aim is to succeed, no matter the cost.

Power is what Lou Bloom is all about. He doesn’t have relationships, he has transactions. He maneuvers people and crime scenes to gain advantage. It never occurs to Lou that things won’t work out for him, because he’s smarter than other people.

Bloom is a sociopath par excellence. His absence of fear and boundaries, and aggressive nature, and lack of an emotional appreciation of humans meet the definition of the psychopath established by Sigmund Freud back in 1928. Add to this Lou’s high intelligence and superior observation skills and you get a very lethal combination of personality features.

Just ask his assistant Rick, whom Lou maneuvers into being killed one evening on the job. Nightcrawling turns more dangerous when Lou alerts police to the location of killers who murdered a family. While waiting for the cops to arrive, Rick asks Lou for a raise, because the job has become more life threatening. Lou gives him the raise stating that Rick could have asked for more. When Rick ups the ante and says he will quit if he doesn’t get more money, Lou feels threatened. And there’s nothing like being placed in a position of weakness to stir a sociopath’s aggression. Lou tells Rick, “You took my bargaining power away. You used the threat of quitting against me. I can’t jeopardize my company’s success to retain you. I can no longer trust you. You would have done it again, just admit it.”

The cops arrive on the scene. Lou tells Rick to go and film the dead killer, while all the time knowing the killer is still alive. The killer shoots Rick dead. What does Lou do? He does not miss the chance to get film footage of Rick laying dead on the ground. After all, if his pictures bleed, they will lead in the evening news.

What makes Lou Bloom run?

Lou Bloom is a product of his genetics and childhood, rather than a product of his time. Sociopaths are made on a foundation of no emotional attachments to people, under arousal of the nervous system, and minimal anxiety. They don’t react to stressful and emotional events as we do. They have slower brain wave activity and a slower resting heart rate that minimizes fear and anxiety, in them.

Lou Bloom fits the sociopath’s profile to the letter. Nothing makes him squeamish. He isn’t afraid to get caught stealing, or fearful of fire, blood, or gunfire. In contrast, he gets off on all of it. Also, true to the sociopath’s nature, Lou doesn’t form relationships, he takes hostages, cleverly manipulating and blackmailing people all the way to the top of his career.

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler does make a strong statement of condemnation of crime journalism and American entrepreneurship. But, Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Lou Bloom the sociopath is so brilliant that the cultural commentary pales in comparison. Gyllenhaal doesn’t give us a way to emotionally connect with Lou Bloom. He makes us peer in curiously at Lou from a safe distance, as if we ourselves were watching a gory accident or crime scene.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is right up there with De Niro in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. I have no doubt that Nightcrawler will become one of your favorite film thrillers.

If you liked today’s post, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 it to let friends know about it. Best regards Deborah.


2 Responses to “Nightcrawler’s Antihero Lou Bloom: Sociopath Par Excellence”

  1. avatar Rita Thompson says:

    However, since I am sure this was rated “R” I won’t be seeing it.
    But I understand the character you describe. Very frightening!

  2. Thanks Deb, hand no idea what the movie was about, or what a Nightcrawler actually is. Excellent post, I just tweeted the


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