If we were to say Magazine Dreams shocked audiences over the weekend during its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, that would be an understatement. 

But regardless of the shock, surprise, awe and overall on-the-edge-of-your-seat energy of it all, one this is for sure– Jonathan Majors delivered what is probably the most dynamic performance of his acclaimed career thus far.

The film, also starring Taylour Paige and Haley Bennett, is directed and written by Elijah Bynum as his second feature. 

It centers on Majors’ Killian Maddox, a man with dreams of becoming a famous bodybuilder who struggles to control his temper and keep his life together while maintaining this ambition amid court-mandated therapy, working at the local grocery store and caring for his grandfather. Tackling toxic masculinity, mental health and societal expectations, the film pulls no punches.

“I had a character in mind for a while that I was interested in exploring,” Bynum said after the packed premiere for the film at Park City’s Eccles Theatre. “He was very much a character who was in search of a story and I hadn’t found a story for him yet. And it was [during] a period of time in which I was trying to get back into shape and going to the gym. And I would see this guy come in every day and was clearly a bodybuilder. He had this severe intensity to him because he seemed to be in quite a bit of physical pain, spiritual pain and emotional pain. Everyone in the gym around seemed to look the other way and pretend he wasn’t there. And I thought [he’d be] an interesting character…and what a peculiar way to move through the world when you’re both feared and ignored at the same time. That was really the first idea to pop in my mind and the more I thought about this man, who I don’t know at all, he seemed to be someone with a fragile delicate soul.”

Bynum rewrote the film after wanting to land Majors for the part and states that the film “came alive in a way that it hadn’t before.” 

“It was really the peculiar nature Killian had that allowed for a slightly different journey [for this character]…the bodybuilding element, you push your body to that point– the density of the muscle and the density of the character [kind of went] hand in hand,” Majors explained, giving kudos to his training team in the audience. “As we do leg day, I’d break down and be sitting on the floor crying, not because the body was fatigued, but sometimes the spirit had gotten involved to get the weight up and to push past the pain there. That became pattern recognition.” 

“This may not make a lick of sense to nobody,” he said to the audience’s laughter. “This guy is real…this guy is a real cat…you’ve seen this guy…I’ve been this guy. And that’s the implication…to allow that rage, and that loss, and that fear to be there and not hide. You can’t hide to play him.” 

Paige got emotional when speaking about the film and how she felt when she first read the script.

“We have to take care of each other. We’re so fragile and we’re kind of all walking this fine line of being OK and we’re not always OK. I read the script and it felt like a scab…like [a] scab I keep picking it and it hurts. But I just didn’t want to look away. We can’t look away. We have to walk each other home. I think that the fate of Killian, if something bad happened, it’s our fault. These are our children, these are our brothers, this is our father. It’s all so complicated but it’s also not. It’s tired. Let’s just be better to each other.”

Magazine Dreams premiered Jan. 20 at the Sundance Film Festival and is awaiting acquisition.