Lou Bloom’s Sociopathic Form of Persuasion Would Catch the Eyes of Ancient Rhetorical Masterminds
The ideas of persuasion from the ancient times of Aristotle, Plato, and many other rhetoricians, still encompass the persuasive tactics we see so frequently in our world today. Lou Bloom, the main character in the movie Nightcrawler, uses a variety of these tactics that prove to be extremely effective and that propel him from a poor man on the hunt for work to (spoiler alert) a wealthy man who owns his own videography company. By the strategic use of his words to the graphic video footage he captures, he is able to achieve his goals while loving his job the whole time. Throughout the movie, we see a variety of persuasive strategies introduced by ancient rhetoricians like Aristotle, Isocrates, and Gorgias that give him an edge over every challenge that he faces.
At the beginning of his career, he quickly realizes that videography is his new thing; he loves it so much, and we all know what happens to people when they become engulfed with something that love something too much. We become so overtaken by the joy we feel that we lose sight of our own morality, health and the safety of others. Like any other human, Lou Bloom’s overzealousness towards his new love begins to overtake his whole life, and it ends up coming back to bite him in the ass. Through the ideas of the ancient characters mentioned earlier, he is able to overcome the bite on his ass and go further than anyone ever expected him to go.
In Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric, he states his definition of rhetoric, saying that it is “the ability to see, in any given case, the possible means of persuasion” (Aristotle 6). This means that a successful rhetorician is able to understand how to persuade a certain person or audience at any given moment. Throughout the movie Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom showcases his skills in persuasion, being able to succeed on a nightly basis. His persuasion is ever-present in two different aspects. In Against the Sophists, Isocrates, another famous ancient rhetorical figure, lays out three requisites of a good orator. He says that natural ability, practical experience, and formal training are the most important aspects that a good orator must have. We will see how Lou uses some of these aspects to gain a more significant edge over his peers.
The first aspect is through the words he speaks and his tone of voice that accompanies them. At the very beginning of the movie, he uses an uncommon and essentially unethical form of persuasion. He is cutting down a fence, and a police officer confronts him because Lou is in a restricted area. He walks up to the officer and acts much dumber than he really is. He says, “I’m lost” and “I didn’t see the restricted area signs.” Click on that last link and you understand how blind you have to be to miss it. From this early encounter, we understand what type of person Lou is. Yes, he is an extremely sketchy character, but by Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric (the ability to see, in any given case, the possible means of persuasion), he is a solid rhetorician. He finds himself nearly caught red-handed by the cop, but gets out of it by acting dumb (and proceeding to choke out the officer but that isn’t the important part).
As the movie progresses, we see many other aspects of his rhetorical genius and the connections he has especially with Isocrates. As you read earlier, Isocrates believed that natural ability is an extremely important aspect in the formation of a good orator. Although Isocrates would commend Lou’s natural ability to speak effectively, Quintilian would love him even more because of his natural ability to persuade while also developing cogent arguments off the dome in situations that always seem to fall in his favor. This is because Quintilian, as he states in his Institutio Oratoia, believes that natural ability is a necessary attribute of any great orator. Although he is worried about his own personal gain, an ideal that would not sit well with Isocrates as he makes clear in Against the Sophists, Bloom has such a natural aptitude to control a conversation or argument that Isocrates would have no choice but to commend him for it. An example of this is when he is interviewing Rick for the assistant job of his newly founded “news company”, a company with no employees and bottom shelf equipment that he started because he was struggling to catch any great video footage. He knew he needed some help so naturally, he put an ad on Craig’s List. Rick, the character played by Riz Ahmed, saw the advertisement for this job and took it. Calling Rick an idiot would be insulting to idiots around the world. He is extremely slow in every way possible and is easily convinced of things. For instance, in the interview with Rick, Lou Bloom never shows any sort of identification or proof that he is who he says he is, but he still claims that he runs a successful news company and that he “lost an employee” so is “interviewing for a replacement.” Yes, Bloom takes advantage of Rick’s unintelligence and gullibility, but he speaks with the confidence of a Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company, so how could even the intelligent not listen? Well, they do listen. Always.
Nina, the character played by Rene Russo, owns a very popular new company around Los Angeles called KWLA. Lou Bloom gets to know her well because he sells his video footage to her company. One of the more significant video films he sells to Nina is extremely graphic and disturbing to look at (the classic “viewer discretion is advised” line is used on almost every one of Lou’s videos), but this is what Nina loves. Lou knows she loves it so he demands an absurdly high price for the film, starting at $100,000. Knowing that this price is much higher than what he will actually get it for, he negotiates with Nina and ends at $15,000 which is still much higher than she has ever paid for video footage. This encounter further shows how effective and almost luminating his confident speech is to listeners of all mental capacities. Rick might have the brian capacity of Lenny from Of Mice and Men on a good day, but that is not the case for Nina. She is an intelligent, wealthy, successful woman, and Lou is still able to take over the negotiation because of his natural ability to speak and the confidence that accompanies these strong words.
Another instance where we see Lou Bloom outsmart intelligent people is when the FBI questions him about his involvement in the murder of a family, the shooting of a cop, and the murder of Rick, his assistant. If you were planning on watching this movie, I am deeply sorry for completely ruining it. The FBI questions him specifically because he was the one who filmed each of these events, and it looked like he knew these events were going to happen before they actually did (which is true in the latter two cases). He was able to get out of it because, again, he has a natural aptitude to speak and persuade. Not only did he outsmart Nina, he outsmarted the fucking Federal Bureau of Investigation. Even when things get sticky, Lou kept that same psychopathic confident composure the suits him so well for the entirety of the movie. This characteristic of Lou Bloom propels him ahead of his competition, and even though things get sketchy and borderline unethical, he comes out on top.
The second aspect of persuasion present throughout the film is within the video footage that Lou Bloom sells to Nina’s news company, KWLA. In Gorgias’ Encomium to Helen, he defends Helen by saying she was persuaded and did not start the Trojan War. Gorgias says that persuasion to the soul is like drugs to the body, and in Greek, the word for this is pharmakon, meaning drug, charm, or antidote. Whether it be a good or bad form of persuasion, it all applies to this idea that persuasion is like a drug. In Nightcrawler, the film footage is and addicting drug to Nina, and she just can’t get enough.
In the first video footage he tapes, a man is laying on the ground gushing blood from his neck and while taking his last breaths after being shot multiple times. When Lou goes to sell this video footage to Nina, she has no clue how graphic and up-close he got to the bleeding body so she doesn’t take him seriously at first, but when Bloom tells her how bloody and disturbing it is, she takes the time to watch it. Immediately, she is perplexed with the power and gore of the footage and is, in a weird way, overcome with joy from it. That feeling to her is addicting and she never wants to fuck up her relationship with Lou because of it. As this addiction continues to overtake her life and even her career, she has no choice but to continue buying footage from him, giving Lou that edge that we see throughout the movie. It’s like heroin to her.
At the end of the movie, Lou shows Nina the last tape that we get to see. This is the most fucked up part of the entire movie, but who is surprised by it? Not me! Bloom video tapes a shooting between multiple cops and two murderers. Then, like a jackass, closely tails the police chase that commences because of the shooting, and when the criminal’s car flips, Lou is the first one on the scene with his camera on and ready for action. He looks inside of the flipped vehicle, tells Rick that the man inside is dead and to come get a close up shot of the body. Sure enough, the man inside of the car is not actually dead, and when Rick gets up close, he gets shot multiples times in the chest. The film footage that he sold to Nina showed Rick taking his last few breaths on the ground in a pool of blood. One might think that Nina, a smart successful woman, would think this was beyond fucked up, but when she watches it, she says (and sorry for the tasteless memes), “I mean it’s amazing. Just amazing.” She then goes on to THANK HIM. I mean if that doesn’t tell you that she’s addicted to his footage, I don’t know what does. She is so overcome by the increased ratings of her station and the incredibly horrific footage that caused the improvement that she forgets about morals. Nina and Lou must be perfect for each other.
Through his confidence and natural ability to speak powerfully and through the addicting news footage that Lou provides for Nina, Lou Bloom is able to jolt himself to the top of the market and is able to start his own news company. Isocrates, Quintilian, Aristotle, and Gorgias would all be incredibly proud of him for the work that he has done, despite some of his sociopathic and unethical strategies that go along with his bone-chilling oratory. He started from the bottom, and now he is on top.