‘Nightcrawler’ is an unnerving cautionary tale on media consumption (and creation), of how audiences’ penchance for seeing sensational reports of violence in the news might perpetuate the violence itself. As a freelance cameraman on the constant lookout for scenes of night crimes for profiteering quipped, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ Leads, as in becomes the leading story of the day on TV, which boosts the station’s ratings. The film explores the extreme of what might happen if a somewhat sociopathic cameraman who lacks basic empathy take on the job of nightcrawling.
We need journalists, but ‘good’ ones might even risk lives, theirs and others’! A constant dilemma that journalists face in challenging situations of life and death is whether to be a ‘good’ journalist who is seemingly infected by the bystander effect, to just note and record whatever is happening, thinking someone else will do the right thing – or to be a good human who abandons the paid job responsibility to do whatever is altruistic to help instead. Which is more important? To save lives or to report news?
I call this the ‘Superman’s Selection Situation’ – likened to Clark Kent having to decide in the split-second on whether to just be a dutiful reporter or to ‘become’ Superman to save the day. Is it even possible to be a mere passive and objective observer who is not also an active and subjective participant? Is it not possible that non-participation in times of need renders one guilty too? If one is not part of the solution when one can be, is one part of the problem too? Where is the line drawn? Is it dotted? Does it shift?
When money is involved, in being the early bird who catches the worm, the nightcrawling business might, if not already, develop into a cutthroat competition. In the story, the titular nightcrawler not only becomes a cold-hearted cameraman capable of emotionally distancing himself from filmed victims, he even becomes unscrupulous, by sabotaging his competitor’s vehicle. When it becomes wrecked in an accident, yes, he zips by and films it for the news! No longer a mere news recorder, he is its maker too.
He even moves a body for better lighting and framing. He even films a dying man without lifting a finger to help when he is the only one at his house broken into by murderers, eager to capture more footage before the police arrive. He even withholds footage of the murderers’ identities to setup a confrontational shootout and dramatic car chase between the cops and robbers in public, endangering many lives for more ‘exciting’ footage. He even sacrifices his assistant to film his last bloody moments. All these for gaining money, fame and power in the media industry. Who would have imagined that news can come at the high cost of losing humanity and human lives? And how much of it is true? Caveat consumer!