Artwork by Chloe Leeson
Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the finest working actors today, and his performance in Nightcrawler certainly cements that. When seeing it for the first time, I was very much reminded of the character Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver. Many critics have also remarked on how much Gyllenhaal’s performance echoes De Niro’s Bickle. Both are demented anti-heroes obsessed with the sleaze in urban America. Bickle wants to clean it up and save the day, but Bloom wants to document it and bring its ugliness out in the open for the world to see.
But Lou Bloom also evokes De Niro’s character Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy. The role is seen, even by Scorsese himself, as the sister performance of Travis Bickle. Rupert Pupkin is another socially awkward outcast with ambitious dreams, to be a comedy star. In short, Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom is what you get when you mix Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin together.
Nightcrawler and The King of Comedy have many similarities, both are biting satires of the ruthlessness of the media and showbiz world. Though, The King of Comedy takes a lighter approach than Nightcrawler. Their main characters both have delusions of grandeur, and an insatiable hunger to climb the ladder of success. Both characters go through great lengths in order to achieve their dream job. For Lou Bloom, that means resorting to blackmailing, re-staging actual deaths for his shot, letting his partner get killed for the great footage. Rupert Pupkin goes so far as to kidnap the host of his favorite talk show.
While Lou Bloom and Rupert Pupkin are similar in their ambitious nature, Bickle and Bloom both share the sociopathic characteristics that define their character: loneliness, the manipulation of others, a sense of disconnect from the world around them. Both are unsettling and at times extremely frightening people. Lou Bloom films his “friend” dying without batting an eye. Travis Bickle will go as far as to assassinate a presidential candidate.
Lou Bloom’s room could easily be the 2014 version of Bickle’s in Taxi Driver. A small cot-like bed, a tiny television. Both have several scenes where they are passing the time alone. Interestingly, both feature scenes where the characters interact with their reflection in the mirror. Both scenes work as a warning of bad things to come. For Taxi Driver, it is the infamous “You talkin’ to me?” scene, where Bickle rehearses getting out his gun to an unsuspecting aggravator. In Nightcrawler, it is a short but scary scene in which Lou Bloom breaks down in frustration and screams at his reflection, then goes on to break the mirror. Again, seeing that these three characters are reflections of each other, we have scenes in The King of Comedy where Pupkin is alone in his room pretending he is on a talk show, and pretending he his having lunch at Sardi’s with his favorite talk show host, signing autographs to fans as he talks. All three are social outcasts who spend far too much time alone.
Nightcrawler, Taxi Driver, and The King of Comedy all feature awkward date scenes in which the characters reveal their uglier sides, though the latter being the least uncomfortable. These scenes are crucial in showing the characters awkwardness with others. In Taxi Driver, it is unsettling to see just how little he knows about interacting with others when he takes the girl to a porn theatre as their date. But in Nightcrawler it is downright frightening, for Lou Bloom blackmails this woman in order to get his shows on the air. In The King of Comedy, we see just how much Pupkin is obsessed with fame and how little he realizes that he is not going to be a star, nor is he any friend of the celebrities he meets.
Pupkin, Bickle, and Bloom are all deranged loners who will go to obscene lengths to achieve their warped ideas of the American Dream. All three characters are men who are much bigger in their minds than in actual life. For Travis, he is a gun slinging John Wayne, put on earth to rescue beautiful women from the ravaged characters on city streets. For Pupkin, he is late night comedy’s greatest comic star. For Lou Bloom, the future of news television and leading newsgatherer of L.A.’s nightly news.
And what is most interesting about all three characters is that, in a sense, achieve their dream and come out the winner. Travis kills a pimp and becomes a hero hailed in the papers. Rupert hijacks a TV show and becomes a freak celebrity, even publishing his own book. Lou stages a car chase which ends up securing his career, he becomes the boss of a booming news business that has several news fans. Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler is very much infused with the makeup of Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, but Jake Gyllenhaal makes his role as equally iconic as De Niro.
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.
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