In This Issue
When Magazine Dreams writer and director Elijah Bynum began to conceptualize Killian Maddox, the film’s protagonist—a socially inept, lonely Black man whose primary focus in life appears to be becoming a professional bodybuilder, and therefore one day, appear on the cover of a magazine—he was taking on a character he thought of as rare.
“I wanted to paint a portrait of a life, specifically, a Black life that's not often depicted on-screen," explains the director. "A life that is complex and nuanced and speaks to sort of the vast spectrum of a Black experience.”
Bynum certainly achieved this in the depiction of Killian, who was in many ways a terrifying if isolated figure in the inescapably beautifully shot film that first premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival in January. Killian, played spectacularly by Jonathan Majors, was at times difficult to watch: with his neurotic sense of maintaining his physique in pursuit of bodybuilding; his failure to connect with most people he encounters except for a court-mandated counselor following a violent outburst; his apparent and uncertain relationship with reality; and his desire throughout it all, to do something great—something worth remembering—before he dies. It’s a cauldron of anti-social masculinity designed to result in violence—and periodically, Killian partakes in just that.
However, Bynum says it would be “foolhardy” to think he might teach viewers something about masculinity via the film although he accepts that in Magazine Dreams, he is inviting the audience to ask questions about its intricacies, as opposed to drawing straight conclusions.
“I think what Killian does represent is sort of a generation of broken men, and I think this country is obviously sick with them at this moment,” shares the director. “And I'm not quite sure why where that comes from. And hopefully the movie doesn't try to answer that question.”
For Majors, Killian represents a side to the “human condition” that is hideous but necessary to confront. He says getting to know the character was an uncomfortable experience, but not consequently because of the difficulty of playing the role.
“I fell in love with the guy because you know it is that vulnerable, complex, misunderstood in-a-way, boy image of ourselves. I was blown away by it and knew immediately that I had to play [him] because the amount of growth I was going to do and the size of the blessing was equivalent, if not greater than the difficulty of the role,” explains Majors.
To get into shape for his character's daunting but chiseled physique, the already buff star was lifting weights and doing cardio three times a day, as well as eating up to 6000 calories daily. But to get into the mind of the character, Majors says it was important to focus on the primary archetypes of the role, such as the orphan archetype. Indeed, as we discover as Killian’s story unfolds, one of the roots of his trauma is that he lost both parents violently—his father murdered his mother before killing himself. However, for Majors, it was also important for him to not to judge his character's actions but instead to lead with empathy.
“As far as the work goes, it’s falling in love, you know? You can’t love anybody without empathy,” shares the Yale-trained actor. “When you decide to play a character, you’re deciding to get married for a little bit. For a small time, you yoke your spirits together.”
Majors certainly delivers an impeccable performance and despite the fear his character instills, it is also true as the actor points out, that Killian inspires a raw vulnerability that a viewer will have to hold in tandem with his angst and anger. You may find yourself with a longing for Killian to succeed in his bodybuilding competitions, to authentically connect romantically and sexually with someone—anyone; and for him to treat himself with love and care through all the disappointments—and there are many—that he faces throughout the film.
Sometimes, Magazine Dreams is difficult to endure in what can feel like a seemingly endless stream of traumas that Killian as a Black man has to withstand. All the while the character is performing almost as a caricature of a scary, angry Black man which does feed into historical ideas about Black people’s penchant for violence. Bynum, however, in his intentionality in creating this film and this character is aware of these ideas and, in fact, pondered them throughout the making of the story.
“I mean, one of the big things we wanted to talk about here was the long and complicated history of the Black body in America at large, and the idea that it has been bought and sold and exploited and controlled, in many ways, and profited off of and destroyed,” he says. “But we also wanted to explore the strength of the Black body, the beauty of its resilience, and to try to put all those things in there at once.”