PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: Jonathan Majors attends the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Magazine Dreams” Premiere at Eccles Center Theatre on January 20, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/2023 Getty Images)
By Katie Small
Tense and provocative, Magazine Dreams premiered Friday, January 20 in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The film traces the dark odyssey of bodybuilder Killian Maddox, who dreams of gracing the cover of a magazine. When he’s not caring for his aging grandfather, Killian obsessively pursues his goal; he works out nonstop, pumps his body full of steroids, and consumes an unbelievable amount of calories.
But while he exerts a tremendous amount of self-control over his body, Killian lacks emotional control. He struggles to express himself, his sincerity is socially awkward, and his frustration turns to sudden, angry outbursts. He alienates more than one love interest, lies to his therapist, and ignores warnings from doctors as he pushes his body to unsustainable extremes. A prisoner to his own pain, Killian’s dark inner world spirals into a fragmented reality fraught with psychological tension and unpredictable violence.
The intensity and visceral physicality of Jonathan Majors’ captivating lead performance earned him a lengthy standing ovation during the post-premiere Q&A. He single mindedly inhabits Killian’s character with honesty, fearlessness, and adrenaline. The result is gut wrenching and maintains a painful level of suspense as viewers wait to see what lengths Killian will take to achieve his dream of being seen.
Writer-director Elijah Bynum says he wrote Killian with Jonathan Majors in mind. “Killian’s character was very much a character in search of a story,” he explains. “There was a brief period of time when I thought I should try to get back into shape, so I started going to the gym,” Bynum recalls. “And there was this guy I would see at the gym, who was clearly a bodybuilder and had this real intensity about him… he seemed to be in quite a bit of physical and spiritual and emotional pain, because of this intensity. And myself and everyone at the gym sort of just looked the other way and pretended he wasn’t there.”
“I thought, what a peculiar way to move through the world, where you’re both feared and ignored at the same time,” Bynum continues. “He seemed to be someone with a very fragile and delicate soul behind this armor of muscle.” Magazine Dreams captures that contradiction; the film masterfully portrays an isolated, complex individual with empathy, honesty, and a tremendous respect for the human condition.