Boogie Nights (1997) is Paul Thomas Anderson's exploration of the '70s and 80's porn industry, focusing on a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of John Holmes named Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg).Adult film producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) spots busboy Eddie Adams in one of his regular nightclubs, and in talking to him learns of both his extremely generous endowment and his quick recovery time (he has already brought himself off twice that evening for $10 a look). After a fight with his mother, Eddie runs away to accept Horner's offer of film work, and soon finds success on the screen as Dirk Diggler, the star of the Brock Landers action/porn series.However, the luxuries this affords Diggler and his fellow actors come with a high price, especially when those luxuries begin to include increasing amounts of cocaine. Many of the actors are also struggling to reconcile their adult film careers with either their previous lives (Dirk's co-star and mother figure Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) is in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband; another co-star, Rollergirl (Heather Graham), drops out of high school after her career makes her an object of cruel mockery by fellow students) or their futures outside pornography. The industry itself is also changing with the rise of videotape, and some careers are destined to fall by the wayside.A major Growing the Beard film for Anderson that got him his Auteur License and also doubling as the Star-Making Role for Wahlberg and a Career Resurrection for Reynolds, Nights was acclaimed by both critics and audiences, and even got Anderson nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
This film provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: Eddie/Dirk's parents. His mother beats him savagely and calls him stupid for dropping out of high school, while his father does not lift a finger to interfere.
Little Bill: My fucking wife has an ass in her cock over in the driveway, all right?!
Ate His Gun: Little Bill, after shooting his wife and her latest lover on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, puts his gun in his mouth and blows his brains out all over the wall behind him.
Bad Bad Acting: All the characters in their movie-within-a-movie porn performances, Amber Waves' affectless "that is a giant cock" being a good example. The cast and writers studied actual adult films from the 1970s to ensure the dialogue was appropriately cheesy and the acting suitably flat.
Beware the Nice Ones: Rollergirl, as her former high school classmate finds out to his cost when he sneers at the life she has made for herself since dropping out.
Bigger Is Better in Bed: Basically the only thing Dirk has going for him, despite his constant attempts to prove otherwise.
Bittersweet Ending: The porn industry has changed greatly, and not exactly for the better, but the characters are eventually reunited as a family, Dirk kicks the drugs, and Amber, Reed and Rollergirl begin to spread their wings outside of being limited to working in the porn industry (Amber directs the commercial for Buck's hi-fi store, Reed launches a moderately successful magic act, and Rollergirl finally gets her GED).
Black Dude Dies First: Buck is easing his way out of the porn business, and he and pregnant Jesse, who have had a business loan turned down by the bank because of their porn careers, console themselves with baked goods. Buck goes into a donut shop late one night, whereupon a guy comes in with a gun and demands the contents of the safe. Beautifully averted, in that the only other customer pulls a gun and shoots the stick-up guy, who in falling over shoots the customer, whose gun goes off in his dying hand and shoots the clerk, whose brains splatter all over Buck — who is unharmed. Traumatised but clear-headed, he grabs the bag full of the contents of the safe and hightails it out of there, subsequently using it to fund the hi-fi outlet.
Cluster F-Bomb: Jack and Rollergirl both drop one while beating the tar out of the frat boy who insults them during the abortive "On the Lookout" experiment.
Coitus Uninterruptus: Subverted with Little Bill's wife. He walks in on her or otherwise discovers her having sex with another man several times during the first half of the film, and she simply carries on as though he isn't there.
Cultural Rebel: Buck Swope, Don Cheadle's character, is a fan of country/western music, to the point that he wears cowboy hats and shirts with fringes (the whole Roy Rogers getup). Remember, he's played by Don Cheadle.
Deus ex Machina: The donut shop robbery which lands Buck the money he needs to open his stereo emporium. A robbery goes bad when a customer produces a gun and shoots the perpetrator, who shoots both the cashier and the other customer, leaving the bag of money sitting on the counter and Buck the only witness.
Dirty Old Man: Colonel James is seen with a series of extremely young, often underage, girls during the film. This point is driven home rather well when we see him in prison, and he implies that when the police raided his house after his latest underage girl died of a massive cocaine overdose, they found pictures of children.
Disposable Sex Worker: The film is centered around sex workers, and the story explores them as three dimensional characters. However, while the story itself doesn't view sex workers as disposable, an in-universe example has some suggestions that the porn industry as a whole could (can?) display a tendency towards this mindset; a girl, heavily implied to be both underage and either a sex worker herself or one of the Colonel's regular girlfriends, suffers a bad reaction to some bad drugs she's given during the early party scene, and while the guy who gave her the drugs freaks out, everyone else seems to view the fact that she's on the floor bleeding copiously as a minor inconvenience at most. She's last seen being carried away from the party as if she were trash to be disposed of.
Domestic Abuse: A deleted subplot featured one of the porn stars, Becky, get out of the industry through marriage only for her husband to turn out to be a violently insecure man who would beat her. It was removed after the director felt that seeing all of the characters have horrible lives would have been too depressing.
Do Not Call Me Paul: After Eddie Adams takes the stage name of "Dirk Diggler" he insists that everyone call him that all the time.
Drugs Are Bad: Especially if you have to give handjobs and get the crap kicked out of you to feed your habit. Cocaine destroys Dirk's film career by making him unable to perform sexually and making him short-tempered enough to lash out at Jack and quit the industry, then further ruins him as he, Reed, and Todd Parker resort to increasingly desperate and illegal measures to fund their cocaine budget.
Dumb Is Good: Almost all of Jack Horner's cast members exude sweetness and amiable natures. But none of them are the sharpest tools in the box. Especially not the bumbling, loveable oaf that is Reed Rothchild. In one of his Establishing Character Moments, Reed is introduced to Dirk at the pool party, with Dirk being described as "the new boy on the street"; Reed interprets this literally, assuming Dirk lives on the same street as Jack.
End of an Age: How the changing porn industry is depicted. With the demise of film and the rise of videotape, Jack is forced to transition from attempts at plot and artistry with professional (if modestly talented) actors to assembly-line films with amateur actors and no plot.
Epic Tracking Shot: The opening shot of the movie, and the next-to-last shot, forming Book Ends. Other long takes in the movie include the pool party scene and the end-of-the-70s New Year's party.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Rollergirl is only ever referred to as such except by her former high school classmate, who addresses her by her real name of Brandy.
Even Evil Has Standards: 'Evil' might be a bit strong, but while Jack Horner has little problem with the Colonel's obvious penchant for teenage girls who are clearly somewhere below the statutory age-of-consent limit, he is utterly disgusted and breaks with him completely upon discovering that the Colonel's tastes extend to pre-pubescent children.
Fanservice: Since the movie centers around pornography, a lot of skin is bared.
Gut Punch: The movie is rather light-hearted and comedic for the first half, until the 1979-1980 New Year's Party scene where Amber introduces Dirk to cocaine, and Little Bill finally snaps and shoots his philandering wife, her lover and himself dead. From this point on, things get a lot darker.
Heroic BSOD / Villainous BSOD: Dirk suffers a 51-second long take one during the drug deal when he realizes it is not going to end well.
Hookers and Blow: It's a story set in the porn industry covering the years 1977 to 1984. What did you expect? Sunshine and lollipops?
Horrible Hollywood: Played with. In a larger context, the porn industry is clearly this, being corrupt, exploitative and more than a bit shady (several of the producers are implied to have mob ties and definitely have rather unpleasant perversions). But when focusing on the main characters, while they are a bit dim, spoiled and vaguely incestuous, they clearly love each other as something like a family.
Incest Subtext: Very heavy between Amber and Dirk. Though they share numerous sex scenes on camera and a love that borders on romantic love at times, Amber becomes a mother figure to Dirk after he runs away from his own parents, and he becomes a replacement son to her as her own attempts to gain access to her biological son, Andy, are rebuffed by her ex-husband, Tom.
Mood Dissonance: The Drug Heist scene is a masterclass in Mood Dissonance, managing to be unbearably tense, terrifying, surreal and hilarious all at the same time.
Mood Whiplash: At first glance, the movie comes of as a fun, light-hearted portrayal of the Golden Age Of Porn. At least until the New Year's Eve party where Dirk is introduced to cocaine and Little Bill shoots his wife, her lover and himself. Needless to say, the film gets darker fast.
Dirk Diggler is clearly based upon John Holmes, from his prodigious member, to the botched drug heist that was an allusion to the Wonderland murders. Dirk even mentions Holmes at one point. Let's hope he doesn't end up the same way, dying of painful AIDS-related illness.
Similarly, Amber Waves' custodial problems were inspired by those that Veronica Hart went through. Hart even has a cameo as the judge presiding over Amber's case.
First, after kneeling to give Eddie Adams a blow job, she unzips his fly and sees what she has to deal with.
Second, when the frat boy whom she and Jack have recruited for "On the Lookout" says, "You're Brandy, right?" - revealing himself as one of her former high school classmates whose mockery drove her to drop out of school.
Parental Incest: Implied. Eddie's mom seems a little too jealous of his relationship with Sheryl Lynn.
Remake Cameo: Michael Stein, who appears as the stereo store customer, played Dirk Diggler in The Dirk Diggler Story, P.T. Anderson's 1988 short film that was expanded into this movie (also, Robert Ridgely played Jack Horner in the short).
Round Table Shot: The scene where Dirk, Reed, and Todd plot their visit to Rahad Jackson's house.
Shaped Like Itself: "See this system here? This is Hi-Fi... high fidelity. What that means is that it's the highest quality fidelity."note Which it is - "high fidelity" = high quality reproduction of live sound - but Buck's wording is deliberately clumsy to mark him as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
Stalker with a Crush: Scotty J towards Dirk. Unlike most examples of this trope, however, he doesn't turn psychotic when Dirk turns him down, just self-pitying.
Straw Hypocrite: The homophobe who picks Dirk up and beats him up along with his friends for supposedly being a "fag" and disagreeing with what he was doing. Never mind that he seemed to get pretty into it when he was watching him masturbating, telling him to go faster and harder.
Team Mom: Amber takes many of the younger stars in Jack's employ under her wing and mothers them, in what is all but outright stated to be a substitute for her own custodial battles over and Missing Mom nature towards her own son. Takes on a slightly weird edge when it comes to Dirk, in that she appears to view herself as a mother-figure to him while simultaneously kind of falling in love with him at the same time. Lampshaded in the case of Rollergirl, in the course of a coke-fuelled heart-to-heart with Amber:
Rollergirl: I love you, mom. I want you to be my mom, Amber. You're my mom? I'll just — I'll ask you, if you're my mom, okay? And you say yes, okay? Are you my mom? Amber: [tearful] Yes, honey. [They embrace, weeping.]
Technology Marches On: invoked Horner has a distaste for using videotape to film. He dislikes that video limits the quality of the image, as well as the fact that it opens the market up to any amateur that can stick a cassette in a camera, cheapening the whole industry.