Two moody portraits of placid ambiguity and ruthless realism are meticulously canvassed in these two films that chronicle the weathering journey of their green yet isolated individuals. Widely differing in tone, premise, and setting, Ida and Nightcrawler both feature a youth’s exposure to an unapologetic environment that fiddled with their malleable innocence. For the former, the future is left hanging but the protagonist is stained by her momentary freedom out the convent while the latter catches the antagonist clawing his way up to the food-chain of journalism exploits, erasing the supposed line of ethics in the process. An ingenious pair of character study, Ida and Nightcrawler aspire and succeed in imprinting a lasting impression this awards season.
Exquisitely filmed in monochrome, IDA is an incandescent journey of self-discovery through a contemplative road trip mired with secrets and uncertainties in the wintry 1960s Polish backdrop. Much of the film’s Oscar-nominated cinematography lingered on Anna/Ida and the large headroom above her that wonders about the ruminations underneath her calm façade. Steely and pensive, she is a perfect image of the youth whose idealisms are put to the test – she maybe initially deflective of the worldly enticements surrounding her but soon she takes a bite. The cliffhanger is reminiscent of Adam and Eve’s abdication after consuming the prohibited in the Garden of Eden. But Anna/Ida’s case is not born out of self-punishment; it was voluntary albeit uncertain of where she goes next. Aside from the historical examination of its setting (Jewish-Polish relations), IDA is a solemn depiction of one’s internal struggle as Anna/Ida grasps the pieces of her real identity while allowing herself to deliberate on the life she really wanted. While the audience slowly recognizes the ‘cracks’ as consequence of Anna/Ida’s brief immersion to the lifestyle she was deprived of, the ending is optimistic that despite the ambiguity of her destination, she will undoubtedly endure.
I’d like to think that today’s auspicious generation has not mutated to Lou Bloom’s peculiar DNA but NIGHTCRAWLER is the most resonant film about the youth’s dangerous ambitiousness since The Social Network. Maybe it’s the propensity to inflict harm as the expense of success in a dog-eat-dog world. But Bloom proved himself ruthless, apathetic and manipulative in seeding his career from the misfortunes of others that becomes corrosive of the motives of his new-found passion for unflinching journalism. Jake Gyllenhaal’s appetite for exotic characters is satiated under the lens of the darkly entertaining and manic titular lead. Special mention goes to Rene Russo (who deserved an Oscar nod as well as Gyllenhaal) for her sultry supporting role as Bloom’s broadcast superior-turned-accomplice. Aside from the beguiling personification of a predator, Director Dan Gilroy’s solid debut is also reflective of journalism’s voracious thirst for violence onscreen as if its only purpose is to feed viewers of the detestable domestic crimes. NIGHTCRAWLER’s behind-the-camera’s premise, along with Bloom’s recognition of the industry’s preys, is a subtle scrutiny of a more dangerous world we live in. In the end, the film’s truthfulness is stranger than fiction.