Boogie Nights

by KE Monahan Huntley

Nominated by the Academy for Best Original Screenplay, Boogie Nights is this reviewer's pick to win. This '70s joyride through Lala land's porn scene is a fresh twist on the extended family and the curious ties that bind. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson presents a story that coolly dismisses accepted societal standards. He populates his screenplay with empty souls who follow their own (a)moral code, yet instead of alienating the audience, he convinces it to care.

A key component of this success is its underlying story structure. An exact storyform, however, is not immediately evidenced. At times it feels like an objective story with a goal of obtaining -- the characters all want something -- sex, drugs, fame and fortune. Other times the goal appears to be being -- the characters believe their lifestyle is temporary and want to take on another role -- Buck dreams of being his own boss -- ruling the "Super Cool Stereo World." Following the grand argument may be somewhat difficult when the plot progression falters, for example, after Dirk Diggler (main character) and Jack Horner's (influence character) falling out, the relationship story steps aside for a considerable amount of screen time in favor of the other three throughlines. Still and all, dressed in its best polyester double knit, Boogie Nights turns story into film art as the acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and so forth spins you through its disco party. What follows is one "rolleroid" snapshot perspective of this Goodfellasesque epic:

Pornographic film director Jack Horner opens the door to his private paradise as the setting for the objective story. "It resembles the Jungle Room at Graceland" and comes complete with Jacuzzi, swimming pool, and its own (basement) film studio. Talent resides at this secure (thematic issue) fun-house where reality is distorted by white lines and Cuervo Gold. It is here where the changing industry (story goal of progress) is debated:


The video revolution is upon us--and our role is critical.


Jack, please understand that this is not an argument . . . this is a fact (objective story catalyst) of--




I think that there is a serious case to be made for the price and the gamble on the whole idea of a home video market . . . two, three years from now, everyone's gonna be able to walk into their local supermarket and buy or rent a videocassette . . . film is just too damn expensive . . . the theaters are already planning converting to video projectors.

Jack represents a different way of thinking. He has the ability (thematic issue) to direct "stellar, sexual standouts" but his true desire (thematic counterpoint) lies in making porno films with "stories." Jack discovers (story driver--action) the next big thing, Dirk's big thang, and the relationship story throughline sets in motion as each takes a fixed position on what it means to be a director and an actor. The thematic issue of confidence illustrates the positive aspects of their relationship. Jack is certain of Dirk's value (relationship story catalyst), and this assuredness plays out -- making the director amenable to the kid's ideas -- his own stage name and his own action series (Brock Landers: Angels Live in my Town).

Sweet-natured and trusting (main character symptom), Dirk is a physics character, whose first approach to a problem is to work it out externally (do-er). His male mental sex has led him to an environment where he can be "a big, bright, shining star." An inexperienced (thematic counterpoint) actor, Dirk's raw skills (thematic issue) are applauded in the adult film world ("Diggler delivers a performance (doing) worth a thousand hard-ons").

The relationship story concern is explored in the preconscious, where Dirk's anywhere, anytime, sexual impulses ("I can do it again if you need a close-up") are filmed under the direction of Jack. The fantasy world Jack fabricates for Dirk eventually inhibits their relationship. Dirk boasts he blocks his own sex shots ". . . and he (Jack) gives me flexibility to work with the character . . ." -- his vanity pricked as Jack laughs it off. Jack's tolerance (problem of accurate) of Dirk's escalating ego and cocaine habit reaches its limit, illustrated when Dirk, strung out, screams, "YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!" (solution of non-accurate) and Jack immediately fires him (objective story consequence of preconscious).

Anderson deftly indicates how the effects of the objective characters' individual circumstances create dilemmas for them: the effect Amber Waves' career choice has on her custody battle (no visiting rights), the effect Little Bill's wife's flagrant sexual escapades have on her husband (murder in cold blood), and particularly, the devastating effect Dirk has on Scotty (heart wrenching humiliation).

For Dirk, doing the hustle no longer means choreographed booty shakes -- it's risky street business with ill effects (main character problem). Trapped in a nightmarish parody of his own action films (Guns! Firecrackers! Sister Christian!) Dirk finally realizes he has no other option but to stop his wayward course -- that only he can be the agent (cause) of his change -- a solution shared in the objective story.

Stripped of his pride, a wiser (unique ability) Dirk stumbles back to his Hollywood home. By this time, Jack has resolved his own problem of sticking to the proven method of producing porno on film to successfully using videotape (unproven). Preparing for his next feature with Jack, Dirk's angst has evaporated (story judgment good). He is cool. He is sexy. He chants to his mirror image -- "I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a big bright shining star" -- and karate kicks to the credits.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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