The film does an excellent job at making the audience feel invested in its characters, from the naïve but loveable Dirk to the father-like Jack. These people are completely enamored with the world of pornographic films, with Diggler finally feeling like he has accomplished something and Horner captured by the artistic side of X-rated film. Our attachment to Dirk as a character makes his turn from a lovable idiot to a self-absorbed diva all the more tragic, as he pushes away everyone who initially cared about him. Anderson’s writing carefully crafts his character arc in a way that keeps the audience constantly hooked.
Along with the great characters and story-telling, Boogie Nights captures the way that the 70’s viewed pornography and how much that idea has shifted. Horner is praised for his pornographic films, which have stories along with the porn segments. But, as time changes, people begin to care less about the story and more about the porn, with the shift from porn on film to porn on VHS becoming paramount to the industry. This shift cripples both Diggler and Horner, who are trapped in the old mentality of pornographic filmmaking. This display of the old ways of porn and the shift of the market, which also parallels the shift in Diggler, is a perfect way of showing the lifestyle of the 70’s to an outside observer while also creating narrative complexity.
Dazed and Confused
There are pretty much no main characters to speak of either, with the movie constantly jumping between different groups of people. And while this might seem jarring at first, each character is so distinct that it becomes pretty easy to tell what is happening with all of them. What makes the film so charming and fun to watch is how different, and yet the same, the 1970s were for teenagers. On the one hand, these kids seem to get away with a lot more than teenagers nowadays, staying out all night partying and drinking, hazing the new freshman by humiliating them or beating them with paddles and constantly driving around the town like hoodlums. There is a distinct lack of caring about what the kids did, with the only intervention by adults being the occasional threat with a gun or confrontation with a cop. On the other hand, the way that the characters think is very similar to that of modern high schoolers, feeling as though high school is a complete waste of time, adults don’t understand their complexities and that the best years of their lives are just around the corner. In this way, by showing both the similarities and differences of 70’s and modern high schools, the movie is fascinating. With the added bonus of the 70’s style and vernacular, the movie has an amazing aesthetic.
Unfortunately, the lack of a substantial plot or characters who are the focus makes the movie feel less important. There is nothing for the audience to really latch on to, as the movie lacks a solid narrative. The film feels as though you are on a ride through the lives of partying teenagers, but doesn’t have the substance to be heavily effective. And while that may work for some people, I feel as though the lack of conflict detracts from my enjoyment of the film's feel and style.
The movie functions both as a sci-fi mystery, with the characters putting the pieces together involving strange events and a sudden military presence in their town, and a coming of age story. Joe is trying to cope with the loss of his mother, having a father who isn’t really around much. He spends the majority of his time making short movies with his friends, forming a close relationship with a girl named Alice (Elle Fanning), who also has some family issues. The movie does a very good job at writing believable child characters, who speak to each other the way that most people expect kids to talk. They are mean and crude to each other, but in a way that you can tell means they care about each other. The relationships between each of the characters, and its overall believability, drives the film and strengthens the narrative.
Like Dazed and Confused, Super 8 uses the 70’s to show how differently kids acted back then. The children of Super 8 spend their days making films, riding their bikes all over the town and being very independent. It reinforces the idea that kids, in those days, had more freedom to roam around and act however they wanted. The kids in Super 8 aren’t nearly as rebellious as those in Dazed and Confused, but they are just as independent. And it is because they are so independent that they work as characters, not needing the adults in their live to work out their issues for them. The strength of the movie comes from the way they act, and the way they act would not feel genuine had the film not taken place in the late 70’s. Thus, the movie succeeds at being a great coming of age story and a great look at life in the 1970’s.