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Movie Review

Boogie Nights

Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
CONTRIBUTOR

Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
160 min.
Year of Release:
1997
R
Copyrighted by producer.

Controversial movies, for whatever reason, are always assumed to “glamorize” their subjects. And, it’s always generational—in the 1930’s, for instance, Garbo’s classic “Anna Karenina” was dismissed as “smut.” Which puts a burden on Christian adults who will inevitably find socially redeeming value in “Boogie Nights”, easily the most explicit anti-pornography movie ever released.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson, obviously, seems amused by pornography, and this isn’t directed with an “anti-pornography” message. But it’s there. Just like how director Martin Scorsese is amused by organized crime and Quentin Tarnatino is amused with 1940’s film noirs. Seeing Uma Thurman overdose on heroin in “Pulp Fiction” should be “anti-drug” enough for most people, and, likewise, there are similar dire consequences of pornography in “Boogie Nights”.

Essentially, “Boogie Nights” is an exhausting, three-hour story in the fallen-angel tradition. Mark Wahlberg headlines as a high-school dropout in 1970’s California who’s taken under the wing of porno director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), who becomes a father figure to him. He gets drawn into an underworld of porno stars and drug parties. Throughout the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, most of these losers pay the piper:

  • Wahlberg’s character goes from rags to riches back to rags. He hits rock bottom and has to return to Horner just to survive.
  • Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) loses custody of her kids, never to see them again. She’s always taking drugs or preoccupied, even when her daughter calls.
  • Bill (William H. Macy), frustrated with his wife’s freewheeling adultery, shoots her off-screen and then, on-screen, himself.
  • Buck (Don Cheadle) wants to open a home-stereo store, but the bank won’t give him a loan: “We don’t finance pornographers,” he’s told. He gets the money another way (in the movie’s most unexpected, violent, way.)
What most people will find offensive and downright repulsive about “Boogie Nights”, strictly by content, is how ambivalent and “hands-off” the director takes towards these characters. The only character I really sympathized with was Amber (Moore from “The Lost World”), and that’s because she has children inadvertently exposed to her lifestyle, each time they call. It’s not a pretty picture.

Regarding the ratings controversy. Although the sex, nudity, violence, and profanity is extreme, it accounts for maybe a fraction of the movie at the beginning. This is not a three-hour “smut fest.” Not even close. Nonetheless, AVOID “Boogie Nights” like the plague unless you’re familiar with film-school cinematography like “tracking shots” and “long takes.” That’s the only potential audience for this material.

ALTERNATE RECOMMENDATION: Bill Perkins' excellent book, When Good Men Are Tempted

Viewer Comments
I read your review of “Boogie Nights,” and couldn’t help but to wonder if you had ever actually watched the movie. While the anti-drug message was quite clear, I do not believe this movie was anti-pornography. On the contrary, I think it was trying to explain that pornography is just as legitimate a business as running a grocery store. It was bringing sex into the open, while using humor to tone down the harsh sexual nature of the film, so that people could see that acting in a porn film is no different than acting in action/adventure film. And, just so you know, Amber had a son, she never actually had a daughter. Her and Rollergirl were just high and in need of human affection.
—Candice Mitchell
How does one go about making a “R-Rated” movie about pornography and the adult film industry? By making it a character study. This is exactly what writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has done with his second feature, “Boogie Nights,” a surprisingly charming and touching film about a changing industry and the men and women caught in the midst of this change…

It is the sexual content of “Boogie Nights” that is most surprising. Instead of saturating the film with nudity and explicit sexual encounter, which would seem the natural course in a movie about porn, “Boogie Nights” contains only one major sex scene that is brilliantly staged and composed. Without resorting to voyeurism, the audience is literally taken inside the shooting of a pornographic sex scene. The scene is played out in the camera’s viewfinder. Again it is shown from inside the camera lens. The film is seen as it moves through the camera gears. When they run out of film, the scene is stopped and the actors previously engaged in sexual intercourse now engage in small talk as if nothing had ever happened.

To the men and women in the porn industry, sex is merely a job, nothing more. As with his previous film, “Hard Eight,” Paul Thomas Anderson has layered “Boogie Nights” with deeply spiritual overtones. It is a retelling of the parable of the prodigal son. Dirk is the son, running away from his father, Jack, and his family, the company. Though Dirk has turned his back on Jack and his family, when things hit rock-bottom, he comes crawling back. And Jack accepts him with open arms and kind words.

It is a touching moment of reconciliation… I cannot, however, recommend this film whole-heartedly due to its content. While not explicit, there is one sex scene and several instances of nudity. There is constant profanity and drug use as well as moments of extreme violence.
—Joshua Hornbeck, age 20
Relevant recommendation