Nightcrawler and Interstellar – an Exploration of Darkness
November 21, 2014 § 1 Comment
From the vast, mysterious dark of outer space in ‘Interstellar’, to the night-time Los Angeles gloom of ‘Nightcrawler’, cinema-goers are spoilt for choice this fall, that is if they’re looking for moments of thrilling disquiet, and the saturnine, gloomy intensity that comes with all-engulfing darkness. ‘Interstellar’ sees Matthew McConaughey reinforcing his new-found place in serious cinema as Cooper, a former NASA pilot tasked with one last mission; to journey into outer space to find a new home planet for mankind. Christopher Nolan reaffirms himself as king of cerebral, fast-paced science fiction films, taking pages from his own creations (Inception, Dark Knight series) as well as his influences (namely, 2001: A Space Odyssey), creating something entirely refreshing and pioneering in the process. Nightcrawler is Dan Gilroy’s directorial début, following Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he scours the night for crashes and crime scenes, filming them for profit. While less ambitious thematically, it is sleek and efficient, cold and calculated, much like its protagonist, and proves to be both a poignant reflection on our modern taste for dramatic violence, as well as a spine-chilling commentary on how sociopaths such as Lou Bloom thrive in such environments.
At first glance, there is no doubt that Lou belongs to the night. His skin is pale and light-deprived, his mannerisms and interactions with people are eerily eccentric, as one might expect after a considerable period of isolation. His eyes, however, his eyes…they are sunken, enlarged and unblinking; always looking and always searching for the spoils of the night. Shakespeare said that the eyes are “the windows to the soul”. This soul is driven by an intensity of appetite that takes precedence above all. Daytime in this film feels odd, as if it somehow doesn’t belong in Lou’s world. His days show him in isolation, performing banal tasks such as watering his plants or ironing, waiting for the night to fall. As such, L.A. becomes a place of eternal night and uninterrupted violence, a stylistic approach that lends weight to Gilroy’s vision.
The character of Lou Bloom could be said to be the archetypal man of capitalism and the American dream. He is enterprising; from the get go, he systematically works his way up from buying a cheap police radio and camcorder to expanding into what appears to be a legitimate video journalism business. He repeats time-worn motifs of ‘hard work and initiative’, that ring hollowly, especially considering how he gains all of his success stealing, blackmailing or taking advantage of those around him. In this overt paradox, it is clear that Dan Gilroy poses Nightcrawler as a criticism of the free market and the flawed socio-economic structure that it ingratiates. How can such a system be successful if it not only permits but actively enables sociopathic opportunists such as Lou Bloom?
Stylistically, Nightcrawler follows in the steps of the likes of ‘Drive’, moody and intense, fast-paced and hypnotic. The focus of ‘the road’, as in Drive, lends a sense of purpose and direction to Lou Bloom that is all but an illusion. He drives the night searching for opportunity, but he remains a mere predatory outsider stuck in a rotten, filthy city. Above all, Nightcrawler is an enthralling character study of a sociopath and his remorselessness in taking advantage of the ill fates of strangers, as well as those directly around him. Like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, he isn’t a hero, yet is praised and rewarded as one, and escapes the legal or moral punishment one might expect to be exacted on a villain.
Interstellar is much more ambitious in its narrative scope. It rises beyond the filth of the streets, following McConaughey as he and a small crew of astronauts travel across space to find a new inhabitable planet for humankind. It is the 2050s (or thereabouts), and earth is experiencing some sort of global crop blight. McConaughey’s character proclaims that he was ‘born for this’. As Gyllenhaal’s cold, merciless character in Nightcrawler is suited to his new-found occupation, so is McConaughey’s Cooper. That is where the similarities end, however. Cooper is very human in the sense that his motivations are mixed where Lou Bloom’s are singularly self-focused. In his mission, he is part fuelled by the love of his family, partly by an altruistic desire to help his species, and part glory and self-fulfilment. Strangely, for a dystopian film, Nolan’s approach is much more sympathetic in comparison to Nightcrawlers cynical, resigned tone.
The film is, on face value, a blockbuster epic about the survival of mankind, and space travel (in case you missed that). Unusually, Nolan puts these themes second to love. As Anne Hathaway’s character Brand says, “love is the only thing that transcends time and space”. Interstellar is – compared to the likes of Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy – very sentimental, almost soppy. Where Nightcrawler is cold and precise in its aims and vision, Interstellar is all encompassing, and flails a little because of this. The sentimentality – between Cooper and his children, as well as Anne Hathaway’s character, can be clichéd at times. There are also various unanswered questions and plot holes.
However, with a film that tackles themes of space/time travel, human extinction, love and self-sacrifice, it is my opinion that Nolan deserves some slack. Like the best of us, the film is ambitious and loveable, and that is what makes it utterly human. While Nightcrawler will leave you feeling dirty and cynical and Interstellar inspired and uplifted, both films are not only exhilarating for their entirety, they also make you think. Both veterans such as Nolan and newcomers like Gilroy are vital to intelligent cinema and the ability to entertain and inspire, inform and provoke, and it is my hope that both directors keep producing such quality work in the future.