When I first watched this a few years ago back in high school, I was transfixed on glorious party scenes and grand visual splendor. There seemed to be a carefree, overjoyed nature to many of this film's scenes that put a huge smile of my face and I couldn't help but brim wit joy watching these characters live it up.
This time however, I saw what I did not see before in this film - a brooding tragedy. PTA has a way of making you care about these characters by paying mind to their personality details to an almost Scorsese-like level, then crushes these characters under the weight of an unforgiving world. It's a deadly reminder that often fantasy-like highs can only be fueled by deadly lows of depression, of addiction, of missed opportunities, of failure, and, of course, of impotence.
This is all fueled by PTA's wonderful filmmaking. In later films, he would feel more calculated in his direction, but here, he holds on to no bars. He lets his flamboyance fly about from behind the director chair, throwing out every long take, close up, zoom-in, and jarring tonal shift he knows. I mean, sometimes it feels like the movie is engaging in stark and grim realism in its conversational scene, but then the next moment we get Tarantinto-esque insanity scenes (the Chineese firecracker scene - holy shit). He knows how to make BIG directing statments but is able to pull his head out of his own ass too for emotional moments to really make them land.
This being the film that blew PTA up in the movie-viewing world as a genius, this is the perfect example of how to pull out all the stops on a film's style yet still present characters who are tired, hurt, passionate, alive, dead, broken, and are all in it together.