In the final episode Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) asks: “is any of it real?” What are we meant to take from this, a TV show, a work of fiction that serves the primary function of entertaining us, and which does so by captivating us as viewers so completely that we sit zombie-like, staring at a screen filled with pixelated images on viewing devices that make those images look as real as, and often better than anything we experience in daily life?
And is Mr. Robot’s proclamation supposed to be a revelation to us? How can it be when it is exposing what we already know we know? Has TV gone beyond its initial remit of pure entertainment? Is this TV with a conscience? TV that will eventually bring down TV? TV that has somehow by-passed irony and entered a new phase of enlightenment? Or is it really just entertainment, but way cleverer than it used to be? Would we even know what “real” looks like if it were presented to us?
The quote above comes from Lou Bloom as he crosses a TV news station set and sees the backdrop used in TV news shows – a panoramic view of the city of Los Angeles.
The viewer, should s/he so choose, gets to ponder this observation as Lou inserts himself into the scene, and as the camera pans back, we not only see Lou via the screen we are watching, we also see him through the camera used to film the newsreaders. So, is it the distancing that makes it ‘look so real,’ and if so, how are we to qualify our own feelings on reality, and by extension, artifice? Is L.A. made more ‘real’ by the sheer volume of filmic representations, and is our interaction with screened images more real than our unmediated experiences? And how does that leave us all feeling about our lives in the ‘real’ world? Are we more inclined to live vicariously, if that offers us something more real than the kind of humdrum life that is not subjected to production, direction, wardrobe, and make-up, etc? Nightcrawler offers some difficult questions, to which it does not attempt to force-feed us the answers.