Some people never obtain a grip on reality. Almost every character in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 pornography epic, Boogie Nights, has zero sense of the outside world. They live in an odd, erotic and strucalized place with plenty of parties, sex and drugs. I think it’s safe to say that the pornography business is beyond illogical. It’s sad that we have people who offer themselves up to have sex in front of a camera. I understand having problems (family, friends, relationships, etc) that bring you to a dark place. But reducing oneself to erotic behavior, on which the pornography business is based on, is sad.
It’s clear that Paul Thomas Anderson is a great director; he understands his topics and even embraces them in most cases (There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk-Love and Magnolia). But see Boogie Nights isn’t so much about the sex, as it is about the effects this cruel business can have on people. Anderson dives into a place well off his comfort zone, and strikes gold with Boogie Nights.
The film is centralized on Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a 17 year old kid who when discovered by pornography filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), is compelled that he’s going to be a star. Eddie is a kind, excited and most of all an oblivious kid to his newfound business. So when he receives an offer to work for Horner, he immediately abandons his parents and everything he knows and ventures into uncharted territories.
Eddie soon embraces his new name as Dirk Diggler. Feeling comfortable with his new lifestyle, where he has a so-called “family”, Eddy becomes that big star he predicted he’d be. With Eddy (Dirk) Horner has finally accomplished his life-long goal of creating a pornographic film that is both sexy and artful.
But Dirk (Eddie) is young, so when receiving all this attention and glory, he gets swept up in the atmosphere that is the pornography business. If he were to have any sense of reality before, it’s gone now. It’s a classic tale of what comes up, must come down. In this case it’s Dirk who starts to fall when getting hooked to drugs. Peer pressure is a dangerous thing, especially when you have nothing else around you.
In a mind-blowing conclusion in which Anderson shows these pornographic stars venture off into the real world and constantly fail, Boogie Nights is a near masterpiece. These people have trapped themselves in a corner; jobs opportunities are slim, morality checks are far and few and damages to their personal lives are continuous.
I don’t want to get into full-detail of the “family” Eddy receives when joining his new business. But Julianne Moore gives one of the strongest performances I have seen on screen in a long time. She plays the pornographic “mother” of Eddy and everyone else who needs love. She’s confused; in practicality a midlife crisis women who can’t get her kids back, due to her participation in this dangerous business. Other performances including John C. Reilly as the best friend of Eddy and Don Cheadle as an aspiring business owner, who’s a veteran porn-star, are fantastic. Aside from the supporting roles, Mark Whalberg (Eddie aka Dirk) guides Boogie Nights from good to great. Last but not least Burt Reynolds is pitch-perfect as Jack Horner, the pornographic director who strives for success.
The only real fault of the film is the prolonged third-act, in which Anderson drags his film through. Scenes are constantly extended, which ultimately detracts from the relatively satisfying conclusion.
Boogie Nights captures a time and place like most films cannot. It presents these people as who they are, never with an agenda or personal preference. That is the true accomplishment of the film. The ending of Anderson’s Boogie Nights is inevitable. No matter how far away you run from your past, you’ll eventually have to go face to face with it. We go back to what we know and what we know inevitably comes back to us.