Elijah Bynum’s Sundance stunner, Magazine Dreams, conjures a muscled Jonathan Majors as the unforgettable Killian Maddox, a name repeated enough to ensure its memorable printing. A socially awkward bodybuilder with maxim aspirations right there in the title, Maddox can be easily be slotted as the modern Travis Bickle, an unpredictable incel grappling with the boundaries and expectations of masculinity. It’s a long, stuffy movie, but Magazine Dreams is also an absolute winner for Majors in the endless ways his main character fails both himself and society.
What drives men to violent behavior? Magazine Dreams chooses an “all the above” sort of answer. Maddox uses steroids to bulk himself up to perilous extremes, along with unhealthy diets and an obsession with working out and preserving a pristine body image. But it’s also his personal grievances with people who criticize him, women who reject him, and plenty of institutional and classist racism along the way. You’d think a film as downbeat as this would evoke “nightmare” in the title instead, but you can’t have the dream without the capacity for what it theoretically takes to get there. Assuming the dream even exists in the first place.
Magazine Dreams is the first great film of 2023.
Magazine Dreams submits that the dangers to society can be both victim and perpetrator, which is real enough for even a fictional portrait that rings true. But just when the film reaches a crescendo in its obvious ode to Whiplash, the runtime reveals that we’re only about halfway through this man’s spiral. It’s at once an exhausting realization, but also a perfectly matched answer to the stories of tragic men falling prey to their own devices.
There’s a more interesting story in the aftermath, when the dust settles from the typical bombast of a Hollywood movie machine and all we have left is a meditation on what’s truly transpired. Magazine Dreams could easily be considered the unofficial sequel to Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, though here’s hoping the Marvel-bound Majors gets more attention for his awards-worthy showcase in this than Joaquin Phoenix did in 2018.
Magazine Dreams had its world premiere at the Sundance 2023 Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Find more of our Sundance 2023 coverage here.
MAGAZINE DREAMS - 9/10