My friend John talked up Nightcrawler to me pretty much nonstop through 2015, so I felt like it was my obligation to eventually make my way to seeing the movie, and I wasn’t disappointed. While he has a pretty specific way of talking about the film (I don’t want to steal any of his thunder), I kept thinking about the way that the film frames anxiety.
Anxiety is this kind of overriding force in the contemporary period, and I think that we (and by “we” I mean the cultural spot that I find myself in) is increasingly better at framing and understanding the role of anxiety in all of our lives. We’re ungrounded from the Greatest Generation, or from the gains of labor movements/the establishment of the welfare state, and we’re tossed into this horrifying neoliberal order where the only thing that supports our existence is a strange form of self-branding and constant promotion. While the New York Time op-ed set might suggest that that is a marker of the millennial set, as someone who has equal footing in academia, public criticism, and game development, I feel this ungroundedness pretty extensively.
Anxiety, then, is the mode of life.
What’s fascinating about Nightcrawler is that it presents us with a character who can totally manage that system. He is a subject without anxiety, with no connection to it, and he has fully absorbed the logic of contemporary capitalism as a kind of magical system that wards off fear and any lack of surity. He is able to peer into the network of connections that we are all sucked into and understand how to navigate them. Of course, the film comes down on the straight-up evilness of that action–he’s awful in basically any way that one can be.
In that way, he fits right into the logic that Adam Kotsko outlines in his Why We Love Sociopaths [a note: I’m fully convinced that the word ‘sociopath’ shouldn’t be used, period, but the analysis of this figure in television and film is profoundly on-point around characters such as Walter White and Don Draper]. Kotsko’s argument comes down to the idea that we love these characters because they lack the complications that many of us have. At the bottom, they are knives that are able to fillet late capitalism to their benefit.
Nightcrawler presents us with a world of achievers and of victims; people who can manage and people who cannot. Of course, we’re supposed to see them as the villain, but the film is so profoundly cynical when it comes to its relations. There are no middle figures–they’re eaten alive by protagonist Lou’s tactics. If this were a medieval play, Lou would be a cackling demon.
What’s fascinating is that there’s no utopia, no over the rainbow, for us to think about. Nightcrawler is a closed system of experience that offers no outs other than mourning for the victims run over by the plot. There’s no imagination, no “good side,” and not even different systems of management being presented. There’s only Lou.