THE NIGHTCRAWLER

 

crawler

 

Amnéris Maroni

 

  1. Undeniably, The Best Film of the Year.

The Nightcrawler was an unexplainable absence on the list of the Oscar’s nominations for best picture in 2015. Not even Jake Gyllenhaal (Louis/Lou Bloom) who is superb in this role, better than in Brokeback Mountain, was remembered in the academy. In that year, one of the main competitor for best picture was Boyhood, undoubtedly a great film which was naively reviewed by the mediatic critics, and who dares to challenge the power of the media nowadays? However, let’s talk about the media, anyway, after all, Nightcrawler is all about the media.

The very first scene is strong enough to persuade the viewer not to leave the theater before the end. I dare to say that that very first scene also has the force to create a lasting memory and prevent us from forgetting this outstanding film, which was written and directed by Dan Gilroy, American screenwriter who has directed other films such as Real Steel (2011) and The Bourne Legacy (2012).

In that first scene, the nightcrawler shows up in the Los Angeles night. He is a young man who lives on stealing manholes covers and barbed wires, or else, he lives on society’s fringes, and he won’t leave those fringes even after he finds the path to power in the media world. Surely, he doesn’t lead such a life because he appreciates it! The rich city of Los Angeles, as the rest of the world, is trapped in a socioeconomic crisis, and there’s no place for the new generation, nowhere to go, no hope. The hopeless young man is in despair, he knows that he’s an involuntary member of a whole generation of young people who was betrayed, who doesn’t have anywhere to fit in, and he knows that it isn’t just a momentary issue. In that very opening scene we notice that the nightcrawler lives on the remainders, on the wreckage, on the debris and negligible wastes of society. He’s going to “build a career” on the remainders of an affluent surroundings.

Gyllenhaal is the nightcrawler, and the makeup makes him a convincing one. But, for me, what was more shocking was his stride: his neck sort of folded and buried over his shoulder, a way of striding he doesn’t get rid of along the whole story, not even for a single moment. This young nightcrawler, who lives on leftovers, when spying on other nightcrawlers, will find value in the market for the carnage, blood, death, disasters, crimes: saleable goods in the media market, good with attractive prices.

Smart, and soon we’ll see where this cleverness comes from, Boom doesn’t hesitate even for a second before buy a nice camera—after selling his boy’s bicycle for a loan shark. In possession of his new acquisition, he goes for his new venture: criminal news broadcasting. He goes in the business of taking pictures and shooting videos of his newly-found goods—the remainders, the remnants of human pain itself. Subsequently, again without any signs of indecisiveness, he starts “producing” the merchandise he captures with his camera, and he starts to “manufacture” tragedies so that, afterwards, he can take pictures or record on video to offer them, at ever-increasing prices, to the media that feeds on human grief and distress, by highlighting it and selling it as a spectacle. I’ve read a couple of reviews which portray Bloom as an intelligent and opportunist sociopath.

I saw the Nightcrawler some time ago and I was thunderstruck when I left the theater, with the impression that I wouldn’t manage to find my way back home! For some four hours I couldn’t muster any cognitive capability, and I felt unable to make mental associations. I found myself in utter apophasis. No doubt I had experienced a kind of trauma, though its quality was somehow creative, because as soon as I collect myself, recovering my speech and my thinking skill, I was capable of multiplying my world.

I thought that it would be impossible to see on the big screen a film comparable or superior to The Barbarian Invasion (directed by Denys Arcand) or Cosmopolis (directed by David Cronenberg, or even The Wolf of Wall Street (directed by Martin Scorcese), but now I’m sure I was totally mistaken about it. Michael Moore’s films—among them Bowling for Columbine—denouncing the American media and society—they can be seen as children entertainment on an afternoon performance, such is the difference in comparison to the Nightcrawler as a social criticism.

The Nightcrawler is one of the most unbelievable and painful metaphor on the contemporary world. The nightcrawlers, human vultures, aren’t only in the media setting, they’re also spread all over our culture: in the churches, in the universities, in the government, and, for sure, in the news broadcasting. Therefore, we cannot “turn our backs to them”, and just say that they are sociopaths/psychopaths, for that isn’t the most evident trait in the nightcrawlers’ psychology. They are normotic, abnormal due to excessive normality[1]—according to Christopher Bollas’s interpretation, “Normotic Illness”, in his extraordinary book The Shadow of the Object—the unthought known in psychoanalysis [2]! This is the key for the following text: Lou Bloom’s normotic personality—something that is very common on all levels of the present-day society and culture—will be crowned by the sociopathy.

  1. The Nightcrawler’s loneliness.

Lou Bloom, the young nightcrawler, experiences an overwhelming solitude. He’s complete downright reclusive, and it’s hard to assume, throughout the film, that he has ever had a mother, a father, a sibling, or something that slightly resembles a family. One has the impression that might have been just found somewhere, maybe in a garbage dump. It’s bleak and disheartening to see him at his tiny apartment, sewing on buttons and mending his clothes, as he solitarily watches TV. In one scene, while he watches a series with knights and princesses, he laughs, all by himself, and knits and irons his shirts. His single company is a plant, which he waters repeatedly. These takes showing Bloom’s repetitive gesture of watering the plant might highlight that it isn’t just his only company, but that it also is a way of him expressing his survival and preservation instincts.

The rest of the film is going to show him solitary. However, he isn’t a solitary that one day will leave this condition; Bloom is a solitary who will never find the door out of this prison, and he’ll die incarcerated in it. The other human beings can’t give him a hand, for he wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Some critics considered Bloom a typical self-made man, a tireless and relentless entrepreneur, without ethics and opportunist, someone who wants to succeed at any cost and nobody can stop him. I always envy such enormous blindness, so deeply appeasing. Let’s face it: one thing is a self-made man, something totally different is a normotic personality, that is completely structured. It is so much obvious that Bloom has such personality.

I want to discuss how Bloom has become so lonely, and so self-defensive, locking himself in this inhuman imprisonment, which prevents him from having and keeping any genuine contact with the other. When we’re babies, in order to protect ourselves against the other, for fearing the other, it’s common that we develop, still in the normality, many psychic, emotional and mental skills, so that we try to survive without depending on the other, whether the other is our father, our mother, or anybody else who might be scaring or threatening us. We grow more and more self-sufficient, and that’s how we dispose of the other, of the others, of all the others on whom we stop relying.

Probably that was what happened to the nightcrawler and to his unbelievable solitary solitude! A wise phrase by Donald Winnicott, a British psychiatrist (I recall it now without being able to offer the quotation): the worst crook once was a helpless, forsaken and likely a frightened baby. First, he was terrified by his parents, and possibly terrified by his “surrogate parents”—the society, the culture, the state—which denied him any true insertions, though they preached equality in a world of lights, colors, and shiny goods. With one hand, these “surrogate parents” offer goods, and with the other hand they guarantee what is wreck, remains, rubbish, and in what manner he must be treated.

Nonetheless, (as very well portrayed by the director) not everyone with such a kind of biographical past is going to behave the way Lou Bloom does. Rick (played by Riz Ahmed), a partner in Bloom’s misfortunes, as they prey the remains, the bits of human pain; Rick is jobless, homeless, and doesn’t stand any chance of social insertion, but he confronts Bloom, refusing to be just another piece in the lethal machinery, which demands the same from all of us, namely, a deadly obedience to a deadly order. Unfortunately, Rick loses the game, and the winners are Lou and Nina, the ruling order.

In one of the film’s final sequences, Rick, until then Bloom’s partner, is agonizing, but the nightcrawler doesn’t miss the opportunity to record the tragedy in order to sell its image for the bloodthirsty news broadcasting. At his final minute, Rick says that Bloom is crazy, but what sort of craziness is Bloom’s?

  1. Normotic Nightcrawlers

The nightcrawlers have a serious illness, a very common illness nowadays, and, believe it or not, such illness is much more severe than sociopathy. If it’s true that sociopathy and psychopathy are very critical, both of them are very rare, as well: maniacs, Jack the Ripper, serial-killers, all these cases are the exceptions when one looks at the whole population surrounding them. In her book Dangerous Minds: A psychopath lives next door (SILVA, 2010) —and, sometimes, may sleeping at your bed—Dr. Silva shows us that such minds are rarer, about 4% of a certain population: 3% men and 1% women—and those who wreak a bloody havoc are even rarer. On the contrary, the nightcrawlers aren’t rare, actually they are all around, because they are, as we’ve seen, normal people—abnormally normal people.

One of the most telling traits in a normotic person is the stability. This kind of person has a stable personality, being, most of time, someone who is self-assured, confident, and socially easy-going. There’s a scene that shows it clearly: smiling, Bloom meet and praises everybody when he’s introduced to the news broadcasting staff; being mindful, he praises one journalist’s tie, and another journalist’s beauty; a compliment for this one, a laudatory clichéd-word or sentence for that one. Jokes at the right time, for the right person. Everybody loves Lou Bloom, he a source of inspiration for everyone. That’s precisely so. Hence, I want to point out for my readers that we shouldn’t mistake a schizoid—shy, somehow indifferent to the objects, to the people—with a normotic[3]!

Intelligent and cunning, Lou Bloom needs just a short time to learn how things work out, and after getting the hang of things around him, the starts dealing cards, imposing what he wants; the other starts to obey him, because, after all, he “knows what he wants”. He is goal-oriented, and he has clear goals, which he unremittingly pursues, never losing sight of them. That’s Lou Boom in his nature!

A normotic person’s mindset is down-to-earth objective; it’s not psychic, that is to say, it doesn’t represent the objects, it doesn’t entail metaphor, it doesn’t symbolize, it obliterate sensations and intersubjective perceptions. There’s a sort of radical dissociation from subjectivity, a radical orientation towards the external world—the objective reality of the material world and the conventional behavior.

A normotic person’s subjective significance is lodged in the external objects, and there it’s bound to remain, without reintrojection. That explains why as long as the illness develops, the person goes on emptying herself of all the sense and significance that a living and creative life can generate.

A normotic person’s self is a deflected one, that is, it is transferred to the objects[4]. Put differently: “The self is conceived of as a material object, almost in the same way as one could imagine a common object. And the evaluation of the self is determined only by its external functioning, how it presents itself to the norm: the treatment that the person dispenses to the self, as an object, has a similar quality to that that a quality control sector demands as a product is made” (BOLLAS, 1992, p.193).

How does it happen with Lou Bloom? I would say that he lodges all his death instincts on the external objects, on the object-remnants. If we take into consideration the psychoanalytical teachings, Eros and Thanatos (Love and Hate) are fundamental for the psychic organization, and Lou either evacuates Thanatos-death-instinct-hatred on the external objects, or he distills his hatred on the lethal transgression. For instance, at a certain point, on which a “competitor” for the remains and pieces of the human pain manages to beat him on a race for images, Bloom punches a mirror on which he’s staring, shattering it in countless shards. Subsequently, he sabotages the competitor’s van, what’s going to eventually to wipe out the competition.

Despite everything, there’s also a certain aesthetic sense to Bloom, for he minds for the right angle on the videos and pictures, he worries about and tries to eliminate any distance between the dying objects-remains and the viewer. However, with the actions and the lodging of his hate and aesthetics on the external objects, Bloom empties himself of the death wish, and of a certain life instinct that’s inscribed in the aesthetic quality, which, obviously, would have and indeed has a “work” to do in the psyche. I quote Bollas: “The normotic runs away from the reverie, from the subjective states of the mind, from the imaginative experience, and from the dynamic and differentiated interplay with the other (BOLLAS, 1992, p.182).

With an echo of concreteness inherent to the objects, his ideal is to be an object-consumer-good amid the other objects-consumer-goods of the human production. Instead of symbolizing—a complex and sophisticated process that creates an enriched subjective space, and multiplier of senses and meanings—the normotic is a skilled de-symbolizer, that is, he evacuates/transfers his mental and subjective states to the external objects. By doing so, he gets emptied of meanings and affections, especially the “anti-productivity” affections, such as depression and anguish. A normotic’s ideal of happiness is to advance and agenda and, then, much action over the world, efficacy, and productivity.

  1. Nina: Infatuated Whispers Next to Human Remains and Shards.

Nina (Dan Gilroy’s wife, played by Rene Russo), chief editor of the morning news broadcasting, nurtures a prompt sympathy for Bloom, and vice-versa. Nina is beautiful, but she’s, at least, twice the nightcrawler’s age. Anyway, it doesn’t matter; what really matters is the “power of the remains, of the pieces”, and they’ll predominate from then on.

A normotic person seeks the love or friendship of another normotic. They get along well because both loathes life’s subjective element, as much as in oneself, as in the other. Normotic don’t see themselves as subjects, rather, they perceive themselves as objects. Therefore, they neither aspire nor imagine the other seeing them (the normotics) as subjects! They find satisfaction among the objects and the material phenomena. The normotic’s main refuge are the material objects; in the same way as someone seeks refuge in cocaine, in sex, in drinking, the normotic seeks protection in the world’s materiality; he’s just another material object among so many others!

A normotic person may come close, and even get married to another normotic. At the beginning of the relationship, the more normal one may even admire the objectivity, the high-achieving approach, the goals and the force typical of the normotic partner; however, someone with an enriched subjective life soon will realize that there’s something terribly wrong with the normotic.

Something excessively standardized, without any real affective game, an extremely artificial personality, clichés over clichés—it’s with these clichés that the thinking is slowly, but surely, repressed, to the point of practically disappearing. One of the normotic’s most striking characteristics is that he’s unable to keep a conversation with someone who has a subjective life. At the presence of a normotic person, conversations withers, die out, and people try to stay as much away as possible. Nobody understands what’s really going on, but the fact is that anyone who has at least some mental health simply keeps distance, because, at the end of the day, he doesn’t exist, he’s a fraud in terms of living personality!

Bollas calls our attention to that point when he writes: “it isn’t easy to describe the nature of a normotic’s identity, unless if one says that can feel it as an artificial acquisition, once no mental work has been employed in the biographical modelling o such identity” (BOLLAS, 1992, p.173).

United by the human remains, by bloody crimes, by people’s tragedies, Nina and Lou function, so to speak, as standing platform for one another. Better yet, they’re consumer-goods-objects one for the other. Nina needs more and more blood to serve early in the morning show, as breakfast to the viewers who make up the audience of the TV where she works, whose programing she manages. Lou Bloom needs Nina so that he can, ultimately, the company’s big boss, maybe owner (?). That’s a valid assumption if one considers the devouring power which is typical of nightcrawlers.

Then we witness a perfect marriage, without any genuine contact between them. The real lust between them is a peculiar one and becomes evident when Bloom manages to record, with his camcorder, a scene of “in natura” suffering, of pain and death. The video contains Rick’s final gasps and it’s shown to Nina with just as another prime consumer-good. Rick, the poor man who, despite his partnership with Bloom, definitely isn’t a nightcrawler, even in his last moments, dying, doesn’t stop denouncing: “you’re crazy”.

Let’s now take a look at Bloom’s craziness, as well was Nina’s, the new partner. As we’ve already seen, the absence of subjective life is a normotic’s inherent feature. He is deeply disinterested in any of life’s subjective aspects; he tends to adamantly reflects himself on the concreteness of the objects, on material reality, on data, on facts, all of them related to the material phenomena (BOLLAS, 1992, p.171).

I know that it is even hard to imagine, but, we if provide some more “hints”, we’re going to figure out precisely how a normotic operates—by the way, this film is an excellent psychoanalysis lesson! A normotic, just because he has an extremely miserable subjective life, he’s only capable of emitting clichés. A fine example in the film takes place when Lou is trying to woo Nina. Outraged, she replies: “but you just want to go to bed with me”. Lou, with an affective look, says: “and also have a friend”. In the sequence, comes the linchpin of the cliché: “to have a friend is the best gift that each of us can give one another”! Another normotic’s creepy “cue” is detected when Bloom says to Nina: “I want you just like as you want your job and your health insurance”! They’re consumer-goods objects among so many other consumer-goods objects and they measure themselves in comparison to the other consumer goods available at the market place. Isn’t it terrifying?

Bloom’s company has just one employee, and he isn’t normotic. Bloom constantly tries to impose the normotic way of life on his subordinate—objectivity, plans, goals, full concentration to reach the goals, blind obedience to the boss’s decisions. Rick, the employee, resists, and repeatedly denounces Bloom’s awkwardness. Rick thinks that his boss doesn’t treat human beings as human beings. He experiences fear and compassion, but he condemns the normotic’s insanity. In his relation with Rick, Bloom makes use of all sorts of clichés, and he speaks of cooperation, of communication, of the relevance of performance and evaluation.

Every and each phrase uttered by Bloom, in the whole film, is a cliché. This is the single possible kind of communication for a normotic. If someone has an enhanced subjective life, she’s going to speak from her inner world to another world, which she supposes to be somewhat different from hers. In order to create our world, it’s necessary to have “facts” psychically “digested”, so they can change into psychic objects, gain some richness of associations with other lived facts, be understood and located on a time arrow—past, present, future. None of that exists for a normotic person.

Finally, to conclude this item, it’s important to mention that the normotic people engender a curious alternative to their guilt. The feeling of guilt comes up after a deep dialogue between ego and superego. It’s in that and from that dialogue that an articulation of guilt takes place. Now, in the normotic’s case, due to his absence of subjective life, once he has transferred it to the external objects, he isn’t able to engage in that dialogue, though nobody knows better than him what’s right and what’s wrong; by the way, such codes are rigid, unchangeable, a kind of introjection of the laws” (BOLLAS, 1992, p.175).

This kind of code becomes very clear in the moment Rick is agonizing, and he is accused by Bloom of having failed in meeting established rules. According to Bloom, Rick had become an unreliable collaborator, for he had diminished the company’s negotiation power, a company that should grow and win the market. Thus, Bloom prompts Rick’s death, and record it on video, so that he can make a profit in the death’s market—the media.

Now, I ask the reader: who doesn’t know a normotic person? They are spread everywhere. It’s impossible to dodge them. For instance, at a dinner party you are introduced to a friend’s friend. That person takes a seat by your side and, just to fill the air with words, because normotics don’t bear the enriching solitude, he starts to tell the plot of a book he’s reading. The account doesn’t include a personal opinion, much less any criticism, instead, it’s limited to boringly retell the book’s story. Normotic moments can happen even during the dinner, when each one provides a kind of day’s report.

At the clinic office the situation is different. As a matter of fact, the normotic does enjoy reporting facts and more facts—the objective facts calm them down, for they go unnoticed as if they were just one object among many others. However, at the clinic, the psychotherapist has the possibility of doing something with it: a question, an association, an interpretation, something that can take the normotic out of the pit where he has hidden himself, that is, among the objects, as if he was just one of them. Normotic person are “difficult patients” for several reasons: they demand “results”, and the sentence we most often hear from them is “it’s no use”. They come to us waving their spreadsheets, and they write down every word we, by any chance, may utter. They sort of “schematize” the analyst’s words and interpretations. They treat the analyst as a merchandise, as a consumer-good, who has to yield what was promised to them, even though such promised had never been made. They want deep behavioral changes—note that they expect behavioral, not subjective changes! They suffer, and they suffer a lot, a suffering derived from the annulment of their interior life. They experience a huge emptiness, and a sense of absence of feeling of self. Nonetheless, they are unable to realize what’s happening to themselves. Their self-assessment is utterly different! They complain about the company they work with because they believe it’s failing in productivity, they say that there should be prizes for those who work as much as they do. They have a firm belief that their hardships are due to world being an insufficiently objective place, lacking the efficacy and the efficiency it should crucially possess. I quote Bollas: “for a normotic person, the action is the quality of life, so the depression and the states of anguish do not show up in a mentally elaborated way—they just diminish their other ‘flawless’ pursuit of happiness” (BOLLAS, 1992, p.174).

They grumble about and they can’t understand the reason why, at a party, people move away from them, and why the conversation always withers. Why does such thing happen just with her, who is so smart, who has post-graduated overseas, and has, at least, four MBAs?! It bothers her deeply. Any affective tone of voice on the analyst’s part during the session is denounced and turned away, sometimes, violently, followed by the claim that it’s going to waste session time. Normotic people never play, never laugh spontaneously during a session. But they allow themselves such gestures during a company’s celebration, as a cliché; again, they never do it with spontaneity, when the analyst ask them to. At last, when they decide that the treatment isn’t doing them any good, they just leave, with all the month’s sessions already paid, without thanking, without saying goodbye.

Normotic personalities can be found all around. Usually, they have tremendous social success. Something tells me that, perhaps, this kind of success might have become currently mandatory. It’s astonishing to think that C. G. Jung had already come to that diagnosis in the turning of the nineteenth to the twentieth century!

 

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REFERENCES

BOLLAS. Christopher. The Shadow of the Object: The psychoanalysis of the unthought known. R.J. Imago, 1992.

SILVA. Ana Beatriz B. Dangerous Minds. The psychopath lives next door. Ed. Fontanar. 2010.

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NOTES

[1] I’m going to work with a fairly hard differentiation in this text: normality and abnormality; and I’m going to anchor myself in D. W. Winnicott: in normality we have living life, creativity, a feeling of existence and reality, a joy of living from the true Self; in abnormality, we have a certain mental and psychic configuration, and those emotional conquests doesn’t come true.

[2] Other authors have also detected the normotics or normalpaths. The first of them, no doubt, was Carl Gustav Jung. I would dare to say that all of Jung’s writings are a kind of emphatic warning against the normalpaths and normotics types in today’s society. Many other others have already uttered a similar warning—Joyce McDougall, Masud Khan, André Green, Rober Stoller. I appreciate very much Bollas’ interpretation in that book I mentioned and I’ve commented on it in this article. By doing that, I believe I’ll be bring to surface the idea of many authors who have dedicated themselves to the theme, including the pioneer Jung.

[3] I’m going to cite a passage by Winnicott, which was also cited by Bollas: “Even though some people may be living satisfactorily well and performing tasks which might have an exceptional value, they might be either schizoid or schizophrenic. They might be sick, in a psychiatric way, due to their weak sense of reality. In order to balance this situation, it should be said that there are other who are very much anchored in reality, taking it so much objectively, that they are sick in the inverse ratio, that is, they are so much detached from the subjective world, and from a creative approach to the fact.” In: The Shadow of the Object. Op. Cit. page169.—my italics.

[4] Idem. Ibdem. Page 189. I cite Bollas: “This example highlights the concept of a deflected self, a self that is transferred to somewhere else. That is fundamentally dissimilar to the act of dissociation referred by Winnicott when he writes about the schizoid character, that is so because in this case there is a deeper personal self that goes on living a more secret life, hidden and protected by a surrogate self. Schizoid people have deeper and complex fanciful lives, possibly even substantial ones, but they suffer from a lack of spontaneity and liveliness. The normotic person is almost the exact opposite type. She can be very extrovert—though not truly spontaneous—and an expert in using the material objects, but she lacks profundity in her psychic life.”

Visit the website for Christopher Bollas: http://christopherbollas.com.

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