Hit Me With Your Best Shot” is a recurring series hosted by Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience, inviting writers all across the internet to chime in on their favorite shots from films. This is our take on the best shot from Magic Mike.
Back in December 2012, I had no idea how to properly rank anything in my Top 10 list. This was a time of total confusion in my life, of course, since I started coming out as transgender to people the following Summer. There were a few things I was certain of; that Tabu was an absolute masterpiece, perfectly and provocatively constructed in nearly every register, that I had an unreserved ball with Mirror Mirror, and that I didn’t love anything that year quite the same way I loved Magic Mike.
I have no problem saying its placement at #1 on my list was for mostly personal reasons. It’s a ranking I’ve altered in hindsight, but it’s still a film that holds quite emphatic sway with me, but for reasons different from those I had when I saw it at age 19. Back then it was a powerfully bleak symbol of a path that American masculinity has been on, but also one that I felt was encroaching upon my own view of the world. For me, Magic Mike was the ultimate display of performed masculinity. What’s more, it acknowledged the short fuse on that emotional release.
After seeing Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, which releases in U.S. theaters today, no less, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons between the emotional journeys of their two main characters. Both are following passions which tend less towards tangible achievement than towards some intangible sensory nirvana, each bathed in colorful, strobing neon lights and soul-consuming music. The main difference is that, through Alex Pettyfer’s character, Channing Tatum’s Mike sees that these senseless pleasures ultimately lead him to a deadend. In Eden, Paul never gets such a revealing mirror, only burning out of the garage music scene when time, drugs and finances have taken their toll on him. (I wrote about Eden more at length here)
A lot has changed about my relationship to Magic Mike. It remains a potent study of overstimulated masculine possession, but it’s not like Pain and Gain where what is entirely lacking is a sober outside perspective. It holds up because of the critical eyes of both Soderbergh’s camera and the principal female characters. The public contempt for Cody Horn’s mannerisms always frustrated me, a judgment particularly recycled for criticisms of Kristen Stewart. Horn’s gaze is decisive and clinical, but also one of great concern and frustration, something that Mike recognizes while Pettyfer’s Adam apathetically ignores her.
As lucid as that critical gaze is, Soderbergh understands the necessity of submitting to the entitled pleasures of Mike’s world, but also showing that it’s a world of distinctly warped reality. We see this early on in whip-pans from one side of his car to the other. Later on, though, once Adam’s been plunged head first into the male stripper spotlight, Soderbergh really goes all out with a bravura 180º pan as Adam’s right-sided perspective is pulled into Mike’s delirious, upside-down world.
In only one moment, though, are the warped reality of Mike’s world and his aspirations towards the more natural world synthesized in a single image, and it’s through the only character who’s found away to coexist in both environments, Olivia Munn’s Joanna. An almost-psychologist who Mike has an occasional fling with, her four scenes establish her as somebody with conscious utility in how she approaches relationships. Mike, on the other hand, is driven by the emotional; what he feels at any given moment, and his instincts to follow what gives him pleasure, in one form or another.
This is Mike at his most willfully vulnerable, his glorious, well-shaped body entirely obscured, in a sense filled, by Joanna’s presence. It’s not a moment of utilitarian sexual release, though Joanna may use it that way. It’s a moment of comfortably warped closeness, halfway between the right-sided world Cody Horn’s character inhabits and the upside-down world Mike is increasingly disillusioned by. It’s not gravitationally correct, but it feels right. However lost that moment may be by the end, Magic Mike is still about finding that sweet spot, carefully negotiated between what we love and what we need.