In “Magazine Dreams,” a lonely, emotionally troubled young man (Jonathan Majors) develops an obsession with bodybuilding. Premiering this weekend at Sundance, the film is both an individual character study and a portrait of the American Dream in all its flawed glory.
Writer-director Elijah Bynum, Majors, and cast members Taylour Paige and Haley Bennett visited TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge for a conversation with Executive Awards Editor Steve Pond.
Bynum had been “walking around with a character in mind for a while” before he found a story to match. He found the missing piece at his local gym, where he took notice of a bodybuilder who came in every day.
“He had this energy about him, or he seemed to be in quite a bit of pain, physical pain, and spiritual pain, and emotional pain. There was an intensity about him that everyone in the room could feel, but no one wanted to look too closely at, so we all just sort of looked the other way and pretended he wasn’t,” Bynum explained. “I thought there was something very peculiar about someone who must move through the world, being both sort of feared and ignored at the same time.”
In building his character, Killian Maddox, Majors focused on the connection between Killian’s inner turmoil and outer appearance. “The density of killing his muscles runs parallel to the density and the complexity of his emotions,” he explained.
Paige was so drawn to the script’s sense of “urgency” and universality that she said she would have played a tree or a sidewalk just “to be a part of this history.”
“I’m reading it and like, want to just hug this person and tell him that I see you, and I hear you, and I care,” she added.
Bennett said that despite outward differences, she “saw herself” in the story. “What I loved about the script, I think what we all loved about the script, [Bynum] so beautifully translated to this cinematic poem to the underdog.”
Majors emphasized how the film speaks to “the idea of the American dream, and what that looks like, and the fabric that makes up America: its religiosity, its militarism, its toxic masculinity, its absence of femininity.”
He described the characters’ journey as an effort to “figure out how they arrived together within the ecosystem of America” in the moment we are currently living through.
“You know, this piece is a time capsule in a way, that says, ‘This is who we are,’” he added.
Like any American Dreamer, Killian’s ambition fuels his survival while also pushing him to the brink.
“It’s what pushes us forward, that glimmer of hope and idea of light,” Majors continued. “You understand this ambition, this drive for the light. I think paramount amongst all of the political social issues that we have, there is a metaphor in the heart of every American, which is ‘we can get to the light.’ Sometimes we do cruel and unusual things to do that, and we learn from them. But this story is a story of an aspirational society and ambitious protagonists trying to get to the light.”
Check out the full interview above.
TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE