Nightcrawler Ending Explained: A Story Of Success

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
(Image credit: Open Road Films)

Nightcrawler was one of the most buzzed-about films of 2014 — mainly because it’s a Jake Gyllenhaal film that should have earned him an Oscar. However, the Academy failed to even give Gyllenhaal a 2015 Academy Award nomination. It was one of the biggest Oscar snubs of 2015.  Despite the Academy’s huge blunder, Nightcrawler remains one of the best films from 2014. The haunting Nightcrawler ending helps the film earn its praise.

Nightcrawler examines a profession not often discussed in mainstream media and a man’s quest for greatness. This Jake Gyllenhaal movie is unforgettable, and the Nightcrawler ending leaves viewers stunned, but with plenty to ponder. 

Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

(Image credit: Open Road Films)

What Happened At The End Of Nightcrawler?

Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) explains to Rick (Riz Ahmed) that he wants to wait for an optimal time to alert the police of the location of the triple homicide murderers. Rick realizes that Lou is setting up a situation that provides him with plenty of content to sell to the news.

A little bewildered, Rick decides to renegotiate with Lou to get half of the reward money from turning in the criminals. Lou tries to offer a lower amount, but Rick refuses to accept anything but half the reward.

Lou agrees to Rick’s demands. Eventually, the night turns into a shootout and car chase between the police and criminals. Rick and Lou arrive at the location of one of the armed criminals, whose car has flipped over. Lou leaves the car first to film, and he then tells Rick to join him and film closer.

Rick sees that the man is still alive, but not quickly enough, and is shot several times. Rick uses his last words to accuse Lou of setting him up to be shot. Lou admits it, but blames Rick for not accepting his initial lowest offer. Rick dies.

Later, Lou sells the footage to Nina (Rene Russo). The police question him and he denies everything. Flash forward, Lou hires some new interns for his thriving company. 

Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

(Image credit: Open Road Films)

Why Rick Had To Die

If you pay close attention, you see the moment that Lou decides to eliminate his problem. He then not-so subtly tries to maximize the chances of Rick being murdered in this eventual shootout. If you adopt Lou’s perspective, Rick had to die. 

By demanding half the reward, Rick showed that he wasn’t the spineless, loyal soldier of Lou’s dreams. He also knew too much about Lou’s criminal behavior. At any moment, if Rick felt he had the ammo, he could try to take more and more from Lou. This presented a problem for Lou’s business and future. 

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

(Image credit: Open Road Films)

Nightcrawler: A Capitalism Fairytale?

There have been plenty of great movies about capitalism and the pursuit of money, but none quite like Nightcrawler. 

Jake Gyllenhaal’s terrifying performance may even distract you from realizing the film’s rag to riches story. Lou is a young man struggling to find work. He sees an opportunity, takes it, and builds his career and business from the ground up.

Lou even talks like a walking self-help book. He’s all about becoming a success and doing whatever it takes. He’s the perfect example of someone who achieves the American dream by any means necessary. 

In an interview with Indiewire, Nightcrawler screenwriter and director, Dan Gilroy, shared his vision of Lou and his capitalistic obsessions:

I believe he’s an uber-capitalist, and capitalism is a religion, it’s a religion that gives him sanity and which ultimately drives him insane and pushes him over the edge. It's’ a mindless pursuit of a goal that can never be achieved. That ultimately leaves only a hunger, which goes back to the coyote —this perpetual hunger that can never be satiated.

Gilroy goes on to say how Nightcrawler is a story of one man’s success:

And I feel like the world as I see it — and this is a personal film on a lot of levels — has been reduced to transactions, and that Lou thrives in that world because that’s the only thing that has any relevance to him. And we approach it as a success story of a guy who is looking for work at the beginning and is the owner of a successful business at the end, and the reason I approach it that way is because I didn’t want at the end for the audience at to go, “Oh, the problem is this psychopath!” I wanted the audience to go ‘maybe the problem is the world that created and rewards this character.’ Maybe it’s a larger question.

If you frame Nightcrawler as a movie about capitalism, the sharp satirical elements from the story sing. They also make Lou’s actions more understandable. You don’t necessarily root for him, but you understand how he became this person and why the Nightcrawler ending is happy for him. 

It’s also hard to not draw comparisons to Lou and some other business people whose ethical lines are shaky. Lou is only a self-made monster because society rewards those willing to sacrifice others and blur the lines of morality for success.

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

(Image credit: Open Road Films)

The Cost Of Ambition

In the same Indiewire interview, Gilroy gives Lou the implied backstory of abuse and abandonment. He even mentions that Lou, at some point, was homeless like Rick. This cycle of abuse and loneliness has turned Lou into someone without any emotional ties. This makes him willing to do whatever it takes to become financially successful.

When Nightcrawler starts, Nina hasn’t completely sold her soul for success, but by the Nightcrawler ending, she has succumbed to Lou’s way of thinking.

Nina in some ways can be seen as a victim, because Lou coerces her into a sexual relationship. However, Rene Russo doesn’t see Nina in that way.

She told Shockya this about how her perspective on how Nina differs from Dan Gilroy’s vision of the character:

And the other thing was that I think he always found Nina as more of a victim, and I didn’t. I saw her as she knew what she was doing. She got herself into it. Yes, there is a certain amount of victim, but she also wasn’t going to play the game if he didn’t bring her what she wanted. Overall, for myself, there is a sociopath in all of us, in a way.

Russo also addresses how Lou uses his leverage at a time when Nina is most vulnerable because of her age and fear of losing her job. Nina sacrifices some of her freedom to continue to have the station thrive. However, Lou is not the most stable character, so she’ll forever be at his mercy. If he feels he isn’t getting what he wants, personally or professionally, he could find another station and that could destroy Nina’s career.

Rick is another character who actually suffers because of his ambition. From Lou’s perspective, Rick had to die because of his greed, and not his ambition (which he lacked, according to Lou). However, Rick probably thought he was being ambitious by demanding more money and that cost him his life.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

(Image credit: Open Road Films)

Why Nightcrawler Works As An Anti-Hero Story

Lou is the classic anti-hero. To most, he’s definitely the villain of the story, but in Lou’s eyes, he’s the hero. In a New York Times interview, Nightcrawler composer James Newton Howard shared that the score sometimes doesn’t match with the images on screen, because the music matches Lou’s perspective. The score may represent triumph, but play during horrific scenes because Lou views it as something that’s helping his career.

In a similar fashion, Lou gives these grandiose speeches that if you listen to them from Lou’s point of view, they would have the same power as a speech given by, say, Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness. You’d cheer and clap. However, Lou makes you feel uncomfortable. All his words feel artificial and disingenuous.  

Nightcrawler taking the anti-hero route makes the movie extremely funny as a satire, but also shows the horrors of an extremely capitalistic mindset. It also works because the occupation of a nightcrawler lends itself to some darkness.

To be a successful nightcrawler, or possibly even as a news reporter, you have to lose some of your moral standards to be okay with discussing, reporting, filming, and showing certain violence.

Nightcrawler is one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best movies. It showcases the actor's devotion and commitment to embodying his characters, no matter how dark they go. Nightcrawler is one of the Jake Gyllenhaal movies available to stream. It’s currently available on Netflix.

Jerrica Tisdale
Freelance Writer

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.