by Branden Wittchen
Firstly I would like to apologise for this article being so late to the game. The movie press have been talking about Nightcrawler since October. Or even earlier for the ones who caught it at TIFF. Due to my current living situation (there’s only 1 cinema in town, which of course didn’t get the movie and the next cinema is over 1,000 km away) I have only, in the last few days, been able to catch Dan Gilroy’s fantastic feature film debut.
So what exactly does a 2014 dark, media satire film starring Jake Gyllenhaal have to do with Scorsese’s 1976 classic Taxi Driver? Well if you’ve seen them both, or read the many reviews that have compared them, you would know that the answer is; actually a hell of a lot. While many reviewers have also likened Nightcrawler to another 1976 picture Network, and an alternative Scorsese-De Niro partnership in 1983’s The King of Comedy, it’s Taxi Driver with which Nightcrawler shares most of its DNA. Many have compared Nightcrawler’s main character Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), however I believe there is much more in common between the two movies. Even to the point to suggest that Nightcrawler may very well be an homage to Taxi Driver.
So let’s have a look at how much they have in common.
1. Infamous mirror scenes
In Taxi Driver we have the classic “Are you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here” dialogue in front of a mirror. The scene represents Bickle’s aloneness, and lack of mental stability. In Nightcrawler we are given Gyllenhaal’s breakdown in front his bathroom mirror. In frustration he screams at his reflection and breaks the mirror. The scene works to show us Lou’s temper hiding below the surface and the thin mental line that he walks. Both scenes work as a warning to bad things to come.
2. Deranged main characters
It goes without saying that Travis Bickle and Lou Bloom would both be interesting cases for psychology students to test their DSM knowledge on. Now it’s not uncommon for movies to contain mentally disturbed characters. But what isn’t common is to have them as the main character. Have the director put us in their frame of mind as much as they can, and not feature any scenes relating to them seeking help or getting better.
3. The cars
In Taxi Driver we have the black and yellow cab in which Travis spends his nights. In Nightcrawler we have the Dodge Challenger in which Lou Bloom spends his evenings. In Taxi Driver, this helped in establishing the New York setting, while Lou’s vehicle signifies his increasing wealth due to his success in his vile career. Regardless of the meaning behind the vehicles, a great deal of time in both movies is spent inside them with the main character behind the wheel.
Okay, now this one may be a bit of a stretch as filmmakers don’t necessarily have control over the marketing and the posters. The Nightcrawler poster also may have very well been produced after all the Taxi Driver comparisons arose. Either way there is no doubt that these two posters share a lot in common. In fact I doubt that the maker of the second poster could deny the influence of the Taxi Driver poster.
5. Night time
The majority of both films are set at night. Their jobs necessitate it and both main characters are insomniacs. The cinematographers of both films use night to their advantage in creating a dark, dirty, and exciting atmosphere.
6. Age of lead actors
This one may very well be coincidental. After all I’m sure age was not the biggest factor when it came to casting Gyllenhaal in the lead role. However when stacked up with all the other evidence it can’t be ignored that both Gyllenhaal and De Niro were 33 at the time of filming their respective roles.
7. Iconic…umm, fashion, for lack of a better word
Taxi Driver has the Vietnam jacket and the Mohawk. Nightcrawler has Lou Blooms slicked-back hair, Ray-ban style sunglasses and, of course, the watch he forcefully steals at the beginning of the film.
8. A “love” interest of an inappropriate age
Travis Bickle falls “in love” with teenage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) and attempts to rescue her from her seedy career. Lou Bloom falls “in love” with a much older Nina (Rene Russo) and attempts to revive her career with his seedy camera work.
9. Bizarre date scene
Both films feature a bizarre date scene. In Nightcrawler Lou takes Nina to a Mexican restaurant where he black-mails her in to having a sexual relationship with him. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle takes a campaign volunteer to a porn theatre as a date. It’s quite obvious in both movies that neither of the two women enjoyed their date.
Aloneness seems to be a central theme in the two movies. Both main characters are filmed several times in their apartments passing the time. This is either by watering the plants, talking to themselves in the mirror, watching TV, fabricating gun concealment devices or downloading and editing footage.
11. Diner Scene
Both movies feature awkward diner scenes. Lou interviews Rick (Riz Ahmed) for an internship position in a diner. The scene is quite an awkward exchange as Lou conducts the interview the only way he knows how – in strange cubicle business talk, as if he were looking for an employee for some sort of accounting or software firm, while in reality he will hire anyone (with a GPS enabled phone) willing to work for nearly nothing. Taxi Driver features an awkward exchange between Travis Bickle and Iris, also in a diner.
12. Nightcrawling Vs. moonlighting
At the beginning of Taxi Driver Travis Bickle is asked by his future employer if he is moonlighting, meaning to work a secondary job at night. Lou Bloom is informed that his night job, listening to police scanners, racing to scenes of violent crimes and accidents to film them and sell to news stations is called Nightcrawling. The two words are practically interchangeable as well as their connotations.
13. Vanquishing their foes
Travis Bickle makes enemies with Iris’ pimp played by Harvey Keitel. Lou Bloom makes enemies with another nightcrawler played by Bill Paxton. In one way or another they both kill their respective enemies.
14. Run-ins with the law
Travis Bickle becomes a person of interest to some secret service men. While Lou becomes a person of interest to detectives after some rather suspicious footage is shown on the news.
15. Awkward job interviews
Taxi Driver begins with an awkward job interview for a position as a cab driver while Nightcrawler features an awkward (sort of) job interview near the beginning of the film where Lou tries to sell himself to a construction manager to gain some full time work. The difference between the two though is that Lou is unsuccessful as the manager tells him he won’t hire a thief.
16. Both end with climactic shootouts
The climax of both films is shootouts near the very end. There is a distinction between the two. In Taxi Driver Bickle is one of the shooters, while Louis Bloom’s only form of shooting is with his camcorder. Either way, both shootouts serve as the most thrilling part and both are initiated by the main characters.
17. All ends well for the deranged main characters
In the end both main characters are hailed as heroes by the media. Let’s not get into the debate about whether the ending of Taxi Driver is Travis’ dying dream or not. The point is we are shown a thankyou letter from Iris’ parents and a newspaper clipping proclaiming Travis as a hero. Similarly Lou is rewarded by the media for his footage of the shootout, with financial rewards that he uses to expand his business. Essentially both movies end with the characters as heroes in their own eyes.
Now I will admit that some of these comparisons, if looked at in isolation, may be clutching at straws by a fan of both movies who’s seen Taxi Driver one too many times. However when looked at collectively, it seems doubtful that they are mere coincidences. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Gilroy is a fan of Scorcese’s work and very carefully studied Taxi Driver before writing his script. Nonetheless, I’m sure he would admit to it being an influence; and I’m sure that after re-watching Nightcrawler I will spot even more similarities.
I remember reading an article once featuring a guitar hero of mine, Zakk Wylde, famous for being Ozzy Osbournes guitarist and front man of Black Label Society. He stated in the interview that when writing songs or solos he always goes to what he calls the “guitar god Refidex”. Meaning he starts with a little Hendrix here, puts some Jimmy Page in there, adds some soulful bends a-la David Gilmour, and ends with some Van Halen shred. He believes that guitar playing is all about using what you’ve learned from your heroes and referencing them in your own work to then create something new. I believe that filmmakers do the same thing. I find that filmmakers and musicians are always fans of what has come before them. And if you pay close attention, you can spot these influences in their work.