The Rise and Fall of Dirk Diggler

10 Dec

A couple of semesters ago I wrote this film analysis of P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights. I plan on submitting a few more of the analysis I wrote in that class before the end of this semester. Hope you enjoy this one.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 classic Boogie Nights revolves around the porn career of Eddie Adams aka Dirk Diggler. In plot it is the fictional story of a larger then life character who from humble beginnings eventually rises to fame and fortune. Unfortunately Diggler’s success also will become his down fall, as is the case with so many individuals who rise to power too quickly.

This paper will analyze Boogie Nights from the concept of the classic rise and fall story.  In Boogie Nights we see a man who had little, but then grew to fame so fast that his life spiraled out of control. This paper will examine some of the interesting styles and techniques employed by P. T. Anderson in producing one of the most thoughtful and symmetrical films revolving around the timeline of the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler.

As in all of Anderson’s movies he shows a keen eye for cinematography and camera movement and the opening shot of Boogie Nights is no exception. With ease the camera tracks across a quiet city street into the interior of the bustling Boogie Nights Nightclub, where we are introduced to a slew of characters over several minutes that directly affect our main character storyboard. Perhaps just as important to the beginning of this shot is the music that is played before this exceptionally long take. Broken Circus music as Anderson described it is played immediately following the opening credits of the film. Only to quickly bust into 70s style disco music. In implementing this method with the score, Anderson sets the tone for the entire film as a metaphorical roller coaster ride of ups and downs. In relation to the main character the sudden change in the music and vibe of the scene foreshadows the abruptness of changes that will occur in Dirk Diggler’s life over the course of the film. The importance of this first scene cannot be over looked, as it provides a starting point for the timeline of our main characters life in the porn industry.  In the Boogie Nights Nightclub he is just a dishwasher making minimum wage, yet he aspires to be something else. As a 17 year old he is aware of his special gift and so is filmmaker Jack Horner who we are also introduced to in this scene. Horner has a keen sense that Diggler has a million dollar piece of gold just waiting to burst out of his pants.

It is the feeling of unfulfillment that pushes Dirk towards Jack Horner in the hopes that he is the key to making him noteworthy.  In Dirk Diggler, Horner has acquired his future star that he hopes will bring him the notoriety as a filmmaker he wants to achieve. Simultaneously Diggler will becomes the biggest pornstar ever. As Jack Horner and Diggler grow together, so do the rest of the characters in the film, each of these characters encompass an important part of Horner’s crew. This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of ‘Boogie Nights’, the ways in which Dirk Diggler’s life parallels so well with the characters that surround him in this film as if each person is dependent of the other. This type of symmetry is intriguing because unlike other rise and fall stories this one seems to have more depth as not only are we witnessing the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler but simultaneously we are given glimpses into the successes and hardships of all his friends. Diggler is metaphorically speaking like the sun and every other planet revolves around him. If the Sun burns out so do the planets around that sun. If Diggler burns out so do his friends.

There is a crucial moment in Boogie Nights when Dirk Diggler’s fortunes begin to change it occurs right after he has just won his 4th best male actor of the year award and the decade is changing from the 70s to the 80s. This switch in time perfectly divides Diggler’s rise and fall. His influences begin to become negative as drugs become a problem in his life, soon spiraling him into addiction.  Simultaneously as he begins to fall so do his peers. The cameraman killing himself after catching his wife cheating on him again is the first sign that failure is lurking around the corner.

As the film progresses, moments from the early parts of the film are once again transcribed in the timeline of this story, however this time around there is much more anguish and less fun then what use to be. In some cases characters try to start a new life away from the porn industry. For Dirk though the pressure to be the best begins to get to him, eventually allowing his ego to take over his decisions escalating into a fallout with Horner. Unfortunately for both of these characters they need each other.

The fall of Jack and Dirk are followed very closely in the end of ‘Boogie Nights’. P.T. Anderson captures this through alternating perspectives of each characters life with the other. Dirk who has fallen into drug addiction has become broke and tries to use his fame to launch a musical career with co-star and friend Reed Rothchild. Anderson in doing so is playing with the idea of how often celebrities who were once the king of the entertainment world try so hard to get back to that spot doing something they are not cut out for.  Obviously Dirk’s music career fails and with it he plummets to all-time lows. Subjected to prostituting his body to make money, Diggler ends up in a situation in which he is picked up by a strange man, who hopes to pay him 10 dollars, to watch him masturbate. Yet In the end this man has set him up so that he can attack him with a group of friends. Diggler officially hits rock bottom at this moment in the film.

Parallel to this we witness Jack Horner go from being the best director in the business to a man subjected to driving around in a limousine shooting amateur porn.  P.T. Anderson plays these scenes simultaneously because he is showing the mirrored perspectives of these two individuals. Each moment builds up slowly to violent endings forecast through, errie shots and lighting techniques that go along with the dark  foreshadowing music. It is clear to some point that this scene weighs above the rest of the scenes in the film. In some regards it is the last straw. Jack Horner would rather retire then be subject to this amateur style of filmmaking and as for Dirk, he is beginning to realize that he can’t make it on his own.

Meanwhile as Dirk and Jack’s lives are spiraling out of control, so do the rest of their peers.  Each one realizes some flaw with their lives.  P.T. Anderson specifically details each person’s problem. Anderson seemed to be concerned with the symmetry of the situation, I think he wanted to make a point with this suggesting that we cannot become complacent. That seems to be the case with many of these characters with the exception of Buck Swope a quirky yet optimistic pornstar, who hopes to leave the industry to start his own business and succeeds in doing so.

However this rise and fall story is one that comes full circle. In the end Diggler goes back to Horner apologizing for his misdeeds and he is forgiven. The concluding scene brings back the familiar broken circus music as we witness Diggler trying to pump himself up in the mirror of his dressing room before his first shoot in years. He speaks to himself while doing karate in the mirror in such a way that you cannot help but feel a sense of nervousness.  Anderson was paying homage to aspects of Robert Deniro’s scene in Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver when Deniro character is talking to himself in the mirror. However Anderson’s take on the scene is more quirky, and less serious which is fitting for the film.  This is where the film ends.

PT Anderson

Anderson succeeds with Boogie Nights because he took a unique twist on the sometimes typical ascension story. In doing so he managed to transform a topic of pervasion into a charming film that left audiences endeared to the characters. At the same time he seamlessly weaves a story about one man’s life and how symmetrical our lives are in comparison with each other.


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