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Jonathan Majors Delivers A Career Best In Elijah Bynum’s Enthralling ‘Magazine Dreams’ – Sundance 2023 Review

Sundance is back in full force (and snow), with their in-person option reinstated after a long virtual hiatus. Sundance, however, still made the festival accessible with a virtual component, so let’s give them kudos for that. Amongst the slate of films premiering this year in Utah, the most anticipated has to be the Jonathan Majors’ led drama, Magazine Dreams. Poised for a big 2023, Majors stars in Elijah Bynum’s second feature about a bodybuilder ready to push himself to the absolute brink of self-destruction for perfection. The film delves into Killian’s (Majors) insecurities, past pains, and desire to be seen and remembered, fueling his obsession with becoming a bodybuilder and winning world championships.

Bynum masterfully reveals the duality of Killian’s existence, depicting the toll of a toxic stew of self-imposed pressure to meet unrealistic expectations and hyper-masculine role modelling while simultaneously conveying his genuine, if fraught, efforts to fulfill an underlying desire for human connection. The cinematography helps elevate the portrayal of the physical and emotional pain that comes with Killian’s darkening odyssey. Bynum doesn’t shy away from mental health issues by highlighting that more must be done to help struggling people. 

(Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Glen Wilson)

One of the most powerful aspects of the film is how it explores the idea of scars, particularly the metaphorical ones that we can easily forget exist. Killian states, “Bodybuilders can’t have scars,” but he has plenty of scars he tries to conceal to achieve his dreams. Killian wants to be remembered but, most importantly, seen. Symptoms of the severe disease known as loneliness. Bynum delves into the complexities of a universal theme that many people, including myself, can relate to.

The film is intense and very draining, as the audience watches Killian’s life spiral out of control as he self-destructs in his quest for attention and validation. To enrapture the audience, you need a lead performance that pulls you in. Majors gives that kind of incredible performance, fully immersing himself in the role and giving every part of himself, both physically and mentally. You can feel how much effort he puts into every scene, making the film a draining but powerful experience. Major has put in a performance that can be considered award-worthy and will be a central piece of conversation next award season.

Magazine Dreams is a must-watch for anyone interested in a thought-provoking and intense story that will leave a lasting impact. It is a powerful examination of the human condition and the lengths people will go to in their quest for validation and acceptance. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the physical and emotional pain that comes with this quest, and the audience is left feeling the damage but also left with a deep understanding of the character. The film is a tour-de-force for Majors and a remarkable second feature film for Bynum.

Rating: 8/10

Magazine Dreams premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision.

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