Archetypes: Film: ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014): Rene Russo’s Nina Romina’s Older Working Woman’s Survival Strategy

Open Road Films

Open Road Films

Over the years, movies have given us a wide array of female characters at all levels of professionalism who supervise, control and make life-and-death decisions. But last year no cinematic woman stayed in my head as long as Nina Romina, the fictional news director at a television station in Nightcrawler.

The original screenplay, written by Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy and which just received an Oscar nomination, had Nina on the page from the get-go. However, as Rene Russo – Gilroy’s real-life wife and a BAFTA-nominee for this role – portrays her, she makes as strong an impact with her brief time onscreen as does Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the fledgling, warped news-videographer with whom she establishes ties.

Lots of fictional and non-fictional female movie protagonists have inspired through their expertise, talent or sheer drive to call the shots. But many are relegated, in the minds of female audience members, to that-could-never-happen-to-me or wishful-thinking realms. On the other hand, the scenario tied to Nina Romani is as real as they come. What middle-aged or older woman, still in the work force, can inhale Nina, a fiftyish professional, and not think, “That could be me in a few years.”

Nina’s first appearance is also her first meeting with Bloom, who brings her footage of a car crash. She tells him she already has footage of that accident. He was closer to the mayhem at the scene and his reel is gorier, Bloom tells her. Nina’s colleague tells her Bloom’s video is excessive. But, because the network’s Los Angeles locale is in the throes of a carjacking crime wave, she asks Bloom the magic words: “How much?” Bloom gives her an inflated price, and she responds by telling him that it’s late in the news cycle and that essentially he’s got no other options. He settles on the lower fee.

Nina appears to be in control and, as Bloom leaves, she tells him to buy better equipment, zero in on urban-crime incidents in which the middle-class suffers injury at the hands of minorities or lower-income criminals, and aim for “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” There’s lots of projection here. Nina knows what Lou will eventually piece together about her. She’s professionally desperate – internally in chaos, stressed, pressured by her higher ups, and increasingly hemorrhaging hopes of job security. Essentially, she’s another version of victimized women with blood pouring from their throats – their voice – whom she targets as media fodder.

Nina quickly gets used to a steady stream of Bloom’s increasingly graphic and ratings-bait footage. In turn, the enterprising Bloom seizes an opportunity to make a sexual advance. She tells him she doesn’t date people she works with and that she has only accepted his dinner invitation as a professional courtesy. “Friends don’t pressure friends to sleep with them,” she says. But he reminds Nina that she’s the news director on the vampire shift of the lowest-rated station in Los Angeles and that she’d probably like to keep her job and health insurance, given that her contract is up for renewal shortly.

Nina decides that, in this devil’s bargain, the end justifies the means, both personally and professionally. Bloom’s videography – “We are beyond all broadcast standards,” says Nina’s colleague – progressively ups the ante for prurience, and she acquiesces to her dominator’s increasing demands for both sexual specificities and professional recognition.

The network’s “Horror House” home-invasion headline, whose content is created with Bloom’s footage, is a good descriptive of Nina’s own personal psyche. The character has hardly conjured up sympathy for decisions she has made. However, chances are, by now, that a good number of female viewers have asked themselves what they would have done in the same circumstances, with ageism and dwindling jobs to consider, and when simply quitting is economically not an option.

Gilroy also seems to have solidified this older-professional-woman quandary by having named the character Nina Romina. Romina is an anagram of Romani, the ethnic group more popularly known as Gypsies. As the Romani migrated from their ancestral India, they found few welcome mats. As a result, the Romani were marginalized, a descriptive that applies, more often than not, to females, especially to older women.

One could say socio-economic factors are stacked against Nina and, as a result of the risk of falling off an even low-grade periphery, she’s had to become a rogue, Gypsy-like operator to survive.

Like Nina, who gets breaking-news video onto the screen for all the wrong reasons, Nightcrawler and Rene Russo reveal deeper, must-be-seen, gender-based ugliness for all the right ones.

Archetype: Survivor. Exploiter. Victim. Outsider. Doormat. Slave. Underdog. Desperation.

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