← Back to Reviews

Boogie Nights


Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, John C Reilly, Julianne Moore

"You're not the boss of me, Jack. You're not the king of Dirk. I'm the boss of me. I'm the king of me. I'm Dirk Diggler. I'm the star. It's my big dick and I say when we roll."

"What can you expect when you're on top? You know? It's like Napoleon. When he was the king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him, you know, in the Roman Empire. So, it's history repeating itself all over again."

"Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it's amateurs and not professionals? I'm a filmmaker, which is why I will *never* make a movie on tape."

Boogie Nights was my second PTA film. I am ashamed to say I watched this and There Will Be Blood before even knowing who PTA even was. I liked it a whole lot, but I wouldn't call it love. What I did love the first time and was only enhanced on this viewing was the scope of the film. I love an ensemble film done well and PTA is probably the best in the business right now. The way he just drops you into the world he creates is mesmerizing. The way he moves his camera and the music choices he makes give you an immediate sense of time and place. I felt drawn into this movie from the first scene. I wanted to get to know these characters and this world. Maybe why I didn't fall head over heels in love with this movie the first time I saw it, and probably why it took me so long to see it in the first place, is because of my feelings about pornography. Of the many things I would change about our culture, the general feeling about pornography is one of them. Without making this a moralizing rant I will just say that I think it is an industry that dehumanizes those that participate in the making or viewing of these films. It preys on the broken giving them a misplaced sense of self-worth. The reason I bring my personal feelings into this is because I think PTA does a great job of showing this in his characters without ever condemning or judging them. What makes this even more interesting is hearing PTA's personal views on pornography and knowing that our opinions on the industry are polar opposites. Is this me bringing my personal baggage to the art? Or does PTA see what I see but thinks to condemn is to judge? I know what the characters in Boogie Nights are telling me but what are they telling you? I think it is an interesting question to bring into the viewing of the film.

At first we are only given a small glimpse into the brokenness of three characters. We see our main character, Dirk Diggler (Wahlberg), in his home life. There is nothing particularly abnormal about it. He has an over bearing mother and a father who seems to be distant. Of course there may be more to it than that but this is what we are given. It is obvious that Dirk feels very repressed by this environment and wants to break free. He is not well educated and is trying to get by on minimum wage jobs. Jack Horner (Reynolds) offers him an opportunity to be in show business, to become a star. Amber Waves (Moore) is already immersed in this world but we get some insight into her brokenness as well. She has a son who she is not allowed to see. Her escape seems to be drugs. We see her snorting Cocaine immediately after getting off the phone with her ex-husband. Characters like this is where PTA's deft hand works so well. What came first the chicken or the egg? Is Amber broken because of the loss of her son? Or did she lose her son because of her vices? We get another small glimpse into this later, in what is one of the best scenes in the movie in my opinion. It appears to be the latter, but the question remains as to why she turned to this lifestyle in the first place. The third character we see in a broken state at the start is Rollergirl (Graham). This may be the saddest character of all because we see her in a High School setting, implying that she is not even of age yet to make this sort of decision for her life. She is seen taking a test but appearing to have no clue how to even begin to answer these questions. A boy towards the front of the class begins to tease her in a sexual manner. Again deft character development from PTA. This lets us know that this character already is known for the lifestyle she has chosen. This world is not new to her. She takes the abuse for a moment but quickly leaves the classroom. Again we will get a call back to this much later in the movie that makes us realize this character wanted something different for her life. Finishing school and having other possibilities open to her was a real desire, but something she couldn't get a grasp on at this point in her life. There are other small things that give us glimpses into the type of people who choose this vocation. When Dirk first meets Jack he asks him if he wants to see him masturbate for $10, letting us know this character is already involved it what many would consider sexually deviant behavior. When Dirk meets Reed Rothchild (Reilly), who is already immersed in this world, the first question Reed asks is, “did Jack find you on the street?”. Again this heavily implies that Reed was probably found on the streets, but that is never a certainty. So we are given our archetypes by PTA, it is up to the viewer to make the decision for themselves about what this says about the characters and this world.

After this brief introduction into the brokenness of some of these characters, PTA immerses us into this lifestyle for a long period of time without ever coming up for air in the “real world”. The reason this is significant is just like the characters we forget that this lifestyle is abnormal for most. Things are going well with Jack and Dirk's movies, so our cast is living it up as one big happy family. The homes and cars are extravagant. The drugs and alcohol abuse have no significant consequences. Dirk is winning awards and he is loved by everyone. I can't stress enough how great PTA's writing and pacing are. I truly got so lost in this environment that when the conflict comes I forgot how these people are viewed by the rest of society. They even come to the point where they begin to think they are making “legitimate” movies. Jack, Dirk, and Reed come up with a reoccurring character in the vein of James Bond. The conflict comes, and it homes hard. A new character is introduced and he is viewed by Dirk as a threat to his stardom, probably rightfully so. Dirk storms out of Jack's life not realizing what the repercussions of that decision will be. Money almost immediately becomes an issue. This leads to Dirk and Reed to become involved in situations that they are ill equipped to handle. It also leads to two of the funnier scenes in the movie, and two of the sadder scenes. Dirk and Reed trying their hand at being musicians is absolutely priceless. They are horrible but have no idea. It is emblematic of their relationship throughout. From the moment they meet they are kindred spirits. They have a child like quality that makes them different than those around them. Their first interaction is trying to one up each other about how much weight they can lift. After that while the “adults” are partying all around them, they decide to have a contest, seeing who can do the coolest dives off the diving board. There is a wide eyed innocence to them that doesn't fit in the seedy world they are in. It endears us to them, and makes there characters very fun to watch on screen. It also makes a scene where Dirk has decided to masturbate for money, once again, very heart breaking. We have grown to care about this character, even those of us who do not condone his lifestyle can not help but want Dirk to have some form of success and happiness. When he gets beat it is a cruel reminder to him and the viewer of how these characters are perceived by the world.

I will not go into detail about what happens to many of the other characters in the final third of this film. We see the same '”real world” lessons for Amber, Rollergirl, and Buck (Cheadale). Each are looking for something else in their life but have a hard time grabbing a hold of anything permanent because of the lifestyle decisions they have made. We also get a glimpse into the hypocrisy of those who condemn the lifestyle. This is a point that should not be missed. These characters are treated as less than by those from the outside looking in. These people are not without their vices and choices however. PTA has such a firm grasp on the psyche of the pornography industry. Both those in it and those outside of it. It really is astounding how much care and insight went into this story and each character. I have not even mentioned characters played by Macy, Hoffman, and Guzman. Each has smaller but significant arcs. Two industry titans played by Phillip Baker Hall and Robert Ridgely also have roles that give us a glimpse into an even more reprehensible side of the porn business, child pornography. Even this is a line that PTA chooses to blurr, however. We meet Rollergirl and Dirk both when they are only on the cusp of becoming adults. So how does that make Jack any different? Pages could be written about no less than a dozen of the characters in Boogie Nights. The themes are so complex, the characters so rich.

I am not afraid to admit that even at a
initial rating, I severely under rated Boogie Nights. This is not a topic I am still completely comfortable with so I don't think it will be a movie I return to on a yearly basis. I do however love the care that PTA gave to this film. I think the character building and camera work are astounding. The set pieces and music choices are perfect throughout. It is obvious that this is a film that PTA gave amazing care to. I hate the word masterpiece and am trying to never use it again. If it ever fits though, it fits here.