Beyond the excellent performance from Gyllenhaal, beyond the gritty and realistic look, beyond the focused and limited number of locations and a script which eyes its central theme like a hawk- beyond all that, this film is an excellent glimpse at what awaits a business-savvy sociopath in a free market.
Everybody gets what they want. Louis gets money in exchange for his films. The studio gets films which gets them higher ratings. The station manager gets job security. The assistant gets a wage that allows him to live. The public get footage which they devour. Excluding the things that Louis does which cause harm to others, he actually provides a service to society. In the basic aspects, Louis is living the American dream as it was intended.
Louis is such a great character in my mind because on the one hand he is of course despicable, but on the other hand a lot of the sleazy stuff he does is explain-away-able. His associates knew what they were getting into. He plays the game the best – I almost want to see him beat his competition (into the ground). And that gives me pause to think what I might do if my morals were a little looser and my desperation were a little higher.
I’ve been studying basic economics in my own personal capacity lately, and it seems clear to me that capitalism is the best system of the lot. Now though, there’s a sour taste in my mouth – I realize that this system allows (and will continue to allow) people like Louis to rise to the top.
Here’s a hypothetical (and not one related to the film): Suppose you came across a drug deal which went horribly sour. The sellers and the buyers killed everyone on both sides. The drugs and the money remain, and you can take them with zero risk of the police ever finding you. You can donate the money to charity and destroy the drugs. The charity, as a result of that money, can save many lives. If you don’t take the money and drugs, the drugs will (ultimately) be destroyed and the money will be used to fund department upgrades – which may save some lives and may not.
So, perhaps the utilitarian equation here says take the money and give it to charity. But you can save more lives. Suppose instead of destroying the drugs – you sell it. One death from drug use corresponds to 2 lives that can be saved by the money you gain. You can enhance that equation further by investing the money in more drugs using economies of scale, and by expanding your operation.
You can kill other drug dealers, to make sure their market can be used for charitable purposes too – again with a net positive amount of lives saved and an increase from before. Eventually your enterprise will be efficient enough for you to start killing cops. You don’t want them to stop the drug sales which are saving lives. You buy politicians and misdirect the populace through the media to ensure the success of your charity work.
And then you have become death, destroyer of worlds. You no longer care for any humans – you’ve discovered you still sleep at night after killing so many. So you keep the cash.
This review first appeared under my Letterboxd account on 08/11/2017: https://letterboxd.com/sl1m/film/nightcrawler/