'Boogie Nights' Turns 20: Revisiting Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Family' Masterpiece

'Boogie Nights' Turns 20: Revisiting Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Family' Masterpiece
From Slashfilm - October 10, 2017

I got a dream of making a film thats true. True and right and dramatic.

This line of dialogue comes courtesy of porn producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) early in the sprawling 1997 epic Boogie Nights, from then-upstart writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. In the intervening period, Anderson has lived up to that dialogue, maturing into his generations best filmmaker, the spiky and unique auteur behind Punch-Drunk Love, Inherent Vice, and the new centurys best film, There Will Be Blood.

Boogie Nights, which turns 20 today, is not Andersons first featurethat would be Hard Eight from 1996but its a poster child of the major concept that hes returned to in his other films. His filmography has focused on everything from porn to the oil industry to Scientology, but the core theme of his work, as highlighted by Boogie Nights, is the necessity of family.

San Fernando Valley, 1977

The actual, biological families we see in Boogie Nights are thorny and inspire heartbreak. Theres the mother and father of lead character Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), the boy who will eventually become porn star Dirk Diggler. Eddies mother (Joanna Gleason) is no-nonsense to the point of being spiteful and cruel, wielding as much power as possible in their unremarkable suburban California ranch house. She mocks his intelligence, his immaturity, and his shiftless nature. Eddie, however, is convinced that he has something special to offer the world, but doesnt seem to have a future outside of getting paid a few bucks to display his prodigiously large penis in the back alleys of the flashy nightclub where he works.

His mother, in her own sad way, is as lost as everyone else in the film is: she resents the domestic lifestyle in which she operates, almost as much as she resents Eddies father, who barely talks to her or his son. When Eddie leaves for good, after a final shouting match (one in which his dad sits, emotionally paralyzed, in his bedroom), its both pitiable and reasonable on both sides. Were it not for an offer to join Jack at his ranch house for future pornographic work, Eddie would be exactly as hopeless as his mother pegs him to be. Eddies better off away from his mother, and she from him, no matter how much she might have tried to steer him on a more respectable path.

The other view into a fractured biological family is even more devastating, amidst all the madness occurring in the middle of a story about porno. If Jack functions as the surrogate father of those who work for him, the surrogate mother is Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), introduced by Jack as a real and wonderful mother to all those who need love. But Amber needs love too, and struggles to reconnect with her young son, Andy, to get it. By the time the movie starts, in 1977, Amber has already lost touch with Andy for hard-to-dispute reasons: her work in pornographic movies and her rampant drug use. Later, after six years have passed, Amber attempts to regain visitation rights but is unable to argue against her ex-husbands claims that her son should never have to visit a house of drugs and prostitution and pornography.

The 80s

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