Nightcrawler – How Cinematography Tells The Story
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Nightcrawler – How Cinematography Tells The Story


I think we all appreciate beautiful cinematography, and it would be hard to argue that Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is anything but beautiful. However, what I find most impressive about the film’s cinematography is how it supplements the story. Just about everything we learn about our dark and twisted protagonist Lou Bloom from the dialogue is reflected in the cinematography. Gilroy and director of photography, Robert Elswit, paid specific attention to every visual detail and used a lot of these to help enhance the story and give us more information about Lou. Today, I want to dive into a few of the major themes of the movie by looking at different scenes. Exploring what they reveal about our protagonists, and how they are conveyed visually. One of the major themes of the movie is isolation. Although Lou may be a part of the world, he isn’t really in sync with it. This is shown off perfectly in this scene. The camera pans from the cyclist to Lou. In essence, the movement shows the cyclist entering Lou’s world, but it also helps to reveal a lot about Lou’s world. Everybody except for him is out of focus. He has an interest in himself and seemingly nothing else. In the next shot we see both Lou and the bicycle in focus, something that he brings into his world. But this isolation isn’t unique to this one scene. Throughout the entire movie, we see Lou isolated from the world around him. When he’s interviewing Rick, Lou sits in front of the window. There’s nobody behind him. While Rick sits in front of these two men. Rick is a part of the real world, whereas Lou is not The film also uses bokeh to great effect to help distance Lou from his surroundings. Bokeh, if you’re not aware, is an effect that shows off light as round shapes almost always in a blurred background. It helps to distance Lou from everything around him. Everything is out of focus. The only thing that matters is him The camera also does a lot to show us that our protagonist is untrustworthy. One of the filmmaker’s favorite ways to show this, is just show Lou in profile. Even though we as the audience are supposed to connect with him, we never really understand him. He often hides half of his face from us. And even when we were facing him head-on, he is often kept in the shadows. We never know what he is thinking or what he is planning, until he tells someone. And even then, we have no idea if he’s being truthful. I think that the scene that shows this off the best happens right around the beginning of the second act. Lou is talking with Nina as they walk through the dimly lit newsroom. The lighting in the scene is of the utmost importance. Their world is full of darkness. The only sources of light coming from the television screens, showing us how both of their lives revolve almost entirely around television. When they start talking, Nina is in a medium shot, whereas Lou is in a long shot. This shows that Nina’s objectives are clear. She’s reserved but still trusting of Lou who, on the other hand, doesn’t have as clear of motives. He wants something, but it’s impossible to know what he wants. The more he talks about his ambition, the closer he walks towards her. The camera pushes in turning the long shot into an eventual close-up. I always read the scene to mean that Lou is pulling Nina into his web of deceit. His face is still covered in shadow, whereas hers is brightly and evenly lit. She lets him understand her, but he doesn’t allow her into his world. This idea of Lou being one with darkness is of the utmost importance to understanding the main message of the film. And it’s shown off perfectly through the film’s cinematography. When we first meet Lou, we see him trying to fit into the real world. When he interviews Rick, it’s in a public setting, a diner during the middle of the day. Compare that to the next time we see him talking to new hires, the final scene at night in a dark alley behind a liquor store. A major theme of the movie is Lou accepting darkness. He does his best work at night yet early on he tries to live a more traditional life by day. In the opening scene after making a lot of money selling stolen goods at night, he offers to work for free during the day. Over the course of the film, he comes to accept that he does his best away from the expectations of society. I think that’s made clear with the film’s second-to-last scene. After being released from a police interrogation, he is met with golden sunlight. Yet, he chooses to avoid all of this. He puts on his sunglasses and walks into the dark alleyway, away from the Hollywood sign. Against the grain of society against what everyone expects him to do. In this interview, Gilroy discusses the development of Lou. “Well, you know the character has no arc. And narratively, the character comes in stage left one way and leaves stage right exactly the same way, only stronger.” He never really changes. He’s the same person at the beginning of the movie as he is at the end. The only thing that changed is that he found a world where he can thrive. By the end of the film, he finds a way to succeed. He becomes one with the darkness. But it goes further than that because he also becomes one with the world around him. His actions may be evil and hard to relate to yet, it’s what we as the audience are drawn to. Much like everyone in the film, we’re drawn to the dark side of life. And Lou can only exist because he’s providing the dark and morbid entertainment that we all truly want. “Maybe the problem isn’t just Lou. That the problem might be the society that creates a Lou and rewards Lou, and sort of plugs that character into this larger as you said this larger ecosystem and landscapes.” Hey everyone, thank you for watching. And I hope you enjoyed. I’m pretty sure Nightcrawler was the most requested film for me to cover. And I’m glad I could finally get around to it. Gilroy and Elswit take so much care to use visuals to enhance the narrative. And it’s always great to see filmmakers who use the full potential of the medium. If you’re new here, make sure you hit that subscribe button. I have a new video coming out every Saturday. I also put a link to my last video that looks at Blade Runner 2049 and the evolution of humanity. Thank you for watching. And I will see you next week

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