Boogie Nights 1997 ★★★★★
Rewatched May 26, 2012
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Silent J said:
People love to break down and analyze films like Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, and Magnolia and while those films are fun to analyze (especially Pulp Fiction) it is so interesting to break down a film like Boogie Nights. I find new layers, themes, and symbolism every time I watch Boogie Nights. Here's what I think...
Boogie Nights draws many similarities to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. These films are similar in both style and story. Both show a world of characters within a seedy underworld filled with sex, drugs, and money. Even the characters have striking similarities. Both Eddie Adams (Dirk Diggler) and Henry Hill joined their professions at early ages. Henry started working for the mob as a pre-teen and Eddie joined the porn industry at 17. Their downfalls were heavily influenced with drugs, specifically cocaine. As both delved into cocaine deeper and deeper, it all went downhill from there. Many of the themes in this film are presented in Goodfellas, but many of those themes are not handled as well as in this film. As much as I love Goodfellas, I understand that those characters are flawed and difficult to like. They're killers, they're volatile, they're uncompromising, you can't trust them, they're just hard to like. In Boogie Nights, you also get flawed characters but they are more likable mainly because they are more relatable. While you can't relate to gangsters who shoot up the place until they get what they want, you can however relate to characters without a place or family to call they're own so they use someone elses "family" very much as Rollergirl isn't as accepted in the real world (constantly picked apart by kids at school) but in the porn business, her world/home, she finds a mother (Amber), a father (Jack), friends, and her definition of happiness. We can relate to characters like Jack has a passion towards something, but he's slowly falling to pieces watching his empire fall to pieces. To fall from grace and into obscurity. We can sympathise with these characters better. They are flawed, but they try. Like Little Bill.
Speaking of Little Bill, here's something else that I think Boogie Nights holds over Goodfellas...not glorifying it's characters. While the life of a gangster is both appealing and fascinating, one of the reasons people dislike the characters in Goodfellas is because the crimes of the characters come to little to no consequences and when there are consenquences, it takes so long for these characters to be punished. It isn't until much, much longer when Tommy is punished for killing Billy Batts, among other things. However, characters in Boogie Nights are punished almost immediately. Little Bill is made sympathetic throughout the film and when his vengeful acts are not encouraged or played for the audiences closure, but simply disturbing. He punished himself later in the end. Dirk is probably the best example of this. He begins the film as just a lost innocent (which is a very important theme in the film). He is just an average innocent guy without a care in the world until he hits fame. The drugs, cars, new suits, mansion, the awards...it all changed him. Add that with all of the positive reviews he got like "Diggler delivers a performance worth a thousand hard ons!". Those reviews not only boosted his confidence, but he got much, much cockier and conceited. He does'nt show it full fledged until he snorts his first batch of coke. That's where it all got to his head. At that point Eddie died and the more confident, crass, vain and selfish Dirk Digler was truly born. Dirk wasnt born with a name, but from drugs, money, and power. From that point the people who welcomed him into a new family were mere stepping stones to him. He berates everyone who he use to love on the set from Jack (You're not the boss of me!) to Amber (You're not my fucking mom!) and everyone else (Fuck you! Fuck all of you! I'm the biggest fucking star here!) It isn't until the end of the film when we see a broken weeping Dirk crying back "home" (porn industry) to his father (Jack) that we see Eddie back if only for a brief second. He was punished for deserting his family by falling deeper and deeper into the depths of his Hell. He was safe with his family, but on the streets he is nearly killed. It isn't until he realizes and admits to himself that he fucked that he is forgiven.
Of all the damaged characters of the film, Amber is the worst of them all. She is so obsessed with being the mother of the pack that she does'nt realize that she's doing more harm than good. Much of the destruction is caused because of her involvement, especially when it comes to Dirk. For one thing, amber gives "Eddie" his first batch of coke; that batch led to him becoming a changed man I mentioned above. He went from Eddie the innocent to Dirk the dick (literally and figuratively). Actually, for some reason, Dirk "The Dick" Diggler has a nice ring to it. Makes an even more badass porn star name. Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Second, Amber has an oedipus complex towards Dirk. The oedipus complex is when a son or daughter has a sexual desire towards their parent. In this case, it's reversed. She wants to be a mother towards Dirk but also feels sexually attracted to him. In fact, they have regular sex on and off the set if I'm not mistaken. If Dirk (possibly) sees Amber as a mother as much as Amber sees Dirk as a son, it's gotta fuck up a kid deep down to fuck the closest woman he's had to a mother. Sigmund Freud believed Hamlet had oepidal feelings towards his mother and look where he turned out.
Another strong key to story is Jack, on and off the set. Burt Reynolds is perfect as Jack not only because he's so good at playing the part, but Burt represents the nostalgia factor; he represents the star of 70's era of Hollywood that faded away in modern times while Jack is essentially the big shot of the 70s porn industry and therefore fades away in modern times once the porn business slowly dies away. Both of their careers began to fade away as times changed. With Burt, films changed and Hollywood got younger actors as he got older. With Jack, his downfall began when he lost his biggest star and the porn industry slowly fell into obscurity in the 80's.
I like how well of a job PTA did of emulating the 70s. He made you believe you could actually see, hear, and even smell everything from that era. He makes it feel like such a loving, colorful, carefree, and beautiful era to live in. Then the 80s took a more twisted, fucked up turn for the worst. Everything was fine, hell it was fantastic during the 70's but even in the very first minute of the 80's (Bill's murder-suicide) the 80's seems so filthy (more filthy than the porn business), so disturbing, and so ugly. In short, 80's fucking sucked.
A big theme in Boogie Nights is desire. Each character desires something beyond what they can have. Amber desires a child. She can't get custody of her actual child from her ex-husband and her co-workers are'nt exactly proper substitutes. Jack desired to be a filmmaker. Films faded when VHS became a thing. Buck wanted a stereo business. The bank would'nt loan him money because of his former past. No matter how hard they tried, they can never secure their true desires and while Buck is the closest to doing so, it's money he did'nt truly deserve. Without that stolen money, he would'nt have had much of a happy ending.
Much like Pulp Fiction, symbolism plays a very important role in the story. I did'nt realize that until my recent rewatch. I realized for the first time that when Jack first sees Eddie across the room, you can see bright stars in the background behind Eddie's head, symbolising that Jack knows at first sight that he sees "A big bright shining star". There's probably more subtle symbolism, but I'll have to watch it even more times to notice others.
These are just my opinions. I love this film, but not everything I say here is truly set in stone. This is just how I perceived it. I would love to read some of your opinions of the film.