Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Magazine Dreams’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As we grow, we understand where our character stems from. What our insecurities are and what we strive for can become an obsession. It can be rooted in deep trauma and slowly manifest into something else. It can be personal issues, relationships or a career. Whatever happens in childhood is considered baggage because everyone has gone through something. Even minor mishaps can stay in your mind and have long-term effects on future situations are handled. Magazine Dreams, written and directed by Elijah Bynum, is a dark, chilling look into the mind of Killian Maddox, a bodybuilder obsessed with appearing on the front cover of a magazine. We see how far Maddox (Jonathan Majors) is willing to push himself and uncover many repressed thoughts and feelings. 

Bynum masterfully crafts a psychological drama deeply rooted in familial trauma and profoundly affects the trajectory of Maddox’s life. Maddox is a complex character whom people can sympathize with until they can’t. Bynum creates a balance between the highs of Maddox’s mental illness and the lows to gain sympathy but also address serious issues that plague our society. A major one is eating disorders which can lead to an obsessive and unhealthy connection with food. After losing a father figure, Maddox turned to a bodybuilder as his source of inspiration. He became the main figure in his life, someone to aspire to be and get out of the reality he was living in. This caused many issues for Maddox as the commentary from judges would consume him and push him to improve.

The obsession with his career as a bodybuilder took over his life and changed him. He did not socially interact with people the same way others would. He tried hard to be loved and accepted by others. Bynum also shows toxic masculinity through the old-fashioned ideology that you keep pushing even when you’re down and hide when you’re feeling low. And it’s heartbreaking to watch Maddox pass out from the pressure of being the perfect specimen. This is an acting showcase for Jonathan Majors and how talented he is. There are moments of sincerity and hopefulness in between the unhinged obsessive side of Maddox. It’s a blend of emotions and feelings that boil to the surface that Maddox has no explanation for. And Majors gives his most powerful and rather perfect performances to date. 

Magazine Dreams is unhinged, anxiety-inducing, and unpredictable. Bynum creates a chilling atmosphere with an incredible score and camera work to make you feel as impulsive as Maddox. He explores toxic masculinity, mental illness, trauma, and body image in a story filled with horrible circumstances. Jonathan Majors is at his best as Killian Maddox, and his performance will not leave anyone’s mind after they watch it. Maddox is a character that people can learn from, and it does end on a hopeful note. Bynum has created something that will help others understand that you are enough, and to always take care of yourself first. It is one of the most haunting films about body image and how to prioritize your mental health and self-esteem over trying to achieve perfection through societal norms.

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