Conceivably Leftist Cinema: MAGIC MIKE XXL (part 2 of 2)

Ain’t there something money can’t buy?” – Nick Waterhouse






Magic Mike XXL makes its intentions and divergences from Magic Mike clear in its very first shot, opening as it does with a new colour-grading. We are moving from diagnosis to construction. The jaundice is in twilight, as the escape of escape the first film closed with, by the very nature of Mike’s appearance, has been recognised as fictive. Mike, as is elaborated in the opening act, has come to a deeper understanding of capital’s pervasiveness and machinations.

Rather than seeing the stripper’s world alone as a world of imaginary escapism, we see that escape from this world is an equally escapist fiction—there are only layers and grades to capital’s totality. The return to stripping that Mike enacts is not done for any motivation the first film addressed (i.e. money, solvency, equity, owning something), but in a return to something that was for its own sake: the dance. Mike’s dancing to ‘Pony’ in the garage, makes clear his decision to return is purely for the love of what the dancing could do: draw a smile, elicit pleasure. He needs a break from his entrapment. It is a return, a repetition—with a difference: it is not to empty a woman’s purse, but to go on one last ride to strip for others, his friends, himself, and to bring about as much joy as possible.


The weakness of the first film’s conclusion is quickly addressed in the opening minutes: a return to the “respectable” capitalist world is merely a formal acceptance of and subjection to other forms of the same problems (“I only have one employee, and I can’t even afford his healthcare”). Precariousness is merely formalised, and the “real connections” the first film posits as motivation disturbed in this formalised, with Brooke having left him.

Throughout XXL this difference appears textually and thematically in contradistinction to Magic Mike. XXL is about the fugitive attempts of labour to find something within itself that resists or ruptures capitalisation and commodification. Where Magic Mike is focussed on the need and the exploitation of the need for money (this is literally all that it is about), as well as the proliferation of capitalist semiotics (i.e. debt and credit) in daily life and language; XXL is about giving and receiving freely beyond and outside of the circuits of the logics of accountancy (money never once is seen to change hands, and receives next to no mention). It wants to reflect on finding something that resists “purchasability”. Transactional logic is abandoned in favour of recognition of an originary life together that exceeds capital’s attempts to foster, manipulate, and reduce desire to itself. Interactions are at every moment seen to surpass the terms of exchange value and market logic. XXL believes that our need for one another cannot be fully economised. It opens with Mike’s intuition of a need for another world, communicated in the affective disposition of a look at twilight. The film is not about Mike and company soliciting or owning something, but giving—without why—freely to another.


Big Dick Richie: “That girl looks like she’s never fucking smiled in her entire fucking life.”
“Then that’s your goal.”

Fugitivity is not only escape, “exit”…, or “exodus”…, fugitivity is being separate from settling. It is a being in motion that has learned that… there are spaces and modalities that exist separate from the logical, logistical, the housed and the positioned.’ – Jack Halberstam

With the early film implying cinematographically that Mike is on a journey to establish new connections that could be the beginnings of a new world, it becomes significant that XXL is a film that is set on the road. In this sense, the film is essentially homeless—the characters of Tito (Adam Rodríguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) even speak of living in the van the group uses to travel in, and travelling to make their living. It is about movement and the encountering and making of new spaces in that mobile displacement. It is about moving through what is repressed by and exists underneath dominant economic logic.


On the road the characters challenge themselves to rethink their identities, to rethink work—not in their alienation, but as making and reimagining the terms of society to allow for it to be about pleasure that one controls: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. Is this not the essence of the scene in the convenience store? The clerk, as an alienated labourer who isn’t smiling, becomes a prompt to the group of dancers to create and give to her based on her need. Their job as “male entertainers” is not to solicit money from her but to make her laugh, to make her smile—from ability to need.

This is the site of an excessive giving that cannot be and need not be reciprocated. It is meaningful because in this it resists commodification, and on these terms it becomes an element in a fugitive world—an event, a space made in the interstices of the governing economic and social logic.

The overt anti-capitalist nature of XXL begins in this fugitivity, beyond the capitalist analysis of Magic Mike. Fugitive movement operates as an elaboration upon escape, giving it something to do, create, and connect with. The characters of the movie begin, in their movement, to find the ability to use space in their own way to make and fashion separate worlds and logics. This fugitivity is formalised as a guerrilla enterprise as the film continues, and it is this that we’ll discuss now.

No Church in the Wild

We’re like healers, man… Or we can be. We can be.” – Andre

Rome likes to stay in her castle, that’s why she built it.” – Andre

The undercommons, its maroons, are always at war, always in hiding.” – Stefano Harney & Fred Moten

Not simply to be among [one’s] own; but to be among [one’s] own in dispossession, to be among the ones who cannot own, the ones who have nothing and who, in having nothing, have everything.” – Harney & Moten

We see this fugitive landscape come out further in Rome’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) sanctuary, Domina. Here the non-marketability of recomposing selves is made clear as something that occurs excessively, beyond price. Sure people pay, but Rome understands that her work is not about money—this is simply a strategic tactic to maintain economic face—it is about beauty, and an understanding of its democratic application in the celebration of bodies of any shape and size. This democratisation leads to experiences and the fostering of artistic and creative capacities that evoke transformations in the self and the social sphere. Rome’s anger with Mike is that he betrayed her project to get rich, without regard for the people who are there to behold and be/held.


Rome built her walls precisely because the allure and corruptive forces of the capitalist world threaten the generativity of her project: the movement of ability to need. The nature of Rome’s project is made clear in Andre’s (Donald Glover) articulation of what he understands his job to be: asking women what they want, and facilitating a healing experience on the basis that the needs of the women who come to Domina have an inherent value. It is his responsibility—as an artist with the ability to heal—to meet these needs. We see this clearly in what he creates for and gives to Caroline. This retroactively determines what the preceding moments of the film have been, and what the rest will be: a journey through healing encounters, had in the in-between, without price.

The film is structured around the excessiveness of the generativity that defines a project like Rome’s, as well as Mike and company’s journey: the artistic impulse that explodes exchange logics in its being enacted, in its being beyond valuation, and as such offered freely. The scene in Nancy’s (Andie McDowell) house is yet another example of these healing, excessive connections—characters interact because the nature of movement has challenged social rules regarding safety and openness.The encounter in the house becomes another instance of free interaction that involves a meeting of characters beyond the terms of hegemonic social norms: Ken (Matt Bomer) and Mae (Jane McNeil), Nancy and Richie, Tito and Megan (Carrie Ann Hunt), Mike and Zoe (Amber Heard), and vice versa. The characters share their woundedness and the truth of their emotional worlds—everyone has been burned by neoliberal expectations for society and propriety, by its disregard for their subjective wellbeing—and are brought into therapeutic encounters with one another—from ability to need.


The encounter in the house becomes another instance of free interaction that involves a meeting of characters beyond the terms of hegemonic social norms: Ken (Matt Bomer) and Mae (Jane McNeil), Nancy and Richie, Tito and Megan (Carrie Ann Hunt), Mike and Zoe (Amber Heard), and vice versa. The characters share their woundedness and the truth of their emotional worlds—everyone has been burned by neoliberal expectations for society and propriety, by its disregard for their subjective wellbeing—and are brought into therapeutic encounters with one another—from ability to need.

The fugitive impulse of these scenes, as it comes together with the characters’ fragility, opens with notions of spontaneous and hidden organisation—taking place in the in between and beneath of formal projects for the organisation of desire, as an undercommons, that allows for real human connection. We might want to describe these locations, in the second act as well as what we will see in the third, as what the “no church in the wild” looks like—an improvised, responsive, spontaneous being together that knows all we have is each other, in strategised disorganisation, rather than in organised institutional structures.


“Some asshole in Miami stole your smile, and you need it back.” – Mike

I have been trying to articulate something of the ways in which XXL is about what can be given for free and how. No major interaction comes with a price attached. The film is focussed on the excess that renders expense moot. Relations cannot be compacted down and reduced to debt and credit, or a “good deal.” The fulfilment of need is beyond price.


We see this in a multitude of ways, but the climatic moments of the film and clearest example of this is in Mike’s goal: to win back Zoe’s smile—ability to need. The artistic value and telos results in a priceless overabundance, it is this that is the crux of the film’s interest in giving freely, the most visceral expression of what might occur in a new world that fugitively moves through the gaps of the hegemonic order.

Is it a coincidence that the group’s name for their final performance is “Resurrection”? We are witnessing an imaginative expression of terms for a new world, a transvaluation of capitalist valuation, of excessive giving, and the disorganisation of all of this in fugitive communities whose logic is simple: that which is needed is given, from ability to need, for the sake of joy.

As Neil Bahadur notes in his Letterboxd review:

The movie ends [in] a celebration, a curtain call ala Wagon Master! [T-Pain] chants “ALL I DO IS WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN” over this final montage. But it wasn’t the competition which needed to be won. It was the smiles.”

* * *

Where Magic Mike is fundamentally about the prevalence of logics of accountability in social life and the escape we so often try to make from them, XXL registers the fantasy of escape for a redoubled journey through exploitation to encounter the tangibility of bodies together, held in common.

XXL registers that these encounters are best managed in movement, on the move, away from the grounds of neoliberal priorities of property and propriety; in doing this it repositions the characters’ relationship to capitalist strategies of accounting. The point of XXL is this repositioning and how it allows for the making of connections in dispossession, in the refusal of possession, in movement.

The contours of a new life held in common emerge in the provisional nature of the new relationships made. They are interstitial, occurring at, among, and through the margins; where “goods” are traded recklessly on the basis of need. There is no guarantee of longevity, but that is not to say that none of this new social life is without power; as, in the case of stripping, in the movie’s heightened way, it allows for the giving and sharing of artistic, creative, and beautiful means of bodies healing and coming together. Magic Mike XXL relies, decidedly, on forging another world—another that it embodies and is the (be)coming of.

What I’m really saying… is: anybody who’s breathing should have everything that they need and 93% of what they want – not by virtue of the fact that [they] work today, but by virtue of the fact that [they] are here.” – Harney & Moten

In Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL’s positions as films about labour and labour relations we see their utter openness to Leftist readings, as Marxism at its core is about the worker and their position in a socio-political economy dominated by capital. Work, for Marx, was always secondary to the enjoyment of life, an outworking of it even; something that took as of our time as possible and allowed our lives to be the fulfilment of doing what we care about, for self- and social-maximisation.

In the first film Mike is the alienated worker, doing something we come to understand he loves for reasons other than the thing itself. XXL is the vision of a world, where, on the assumption that we have what we need and want—or rather that we find what we need and want in one another—we can be the realisation, as healers, for one another, of what we love: never for survival or the realisation of a basic need, but as a social gift given without why, beyond purchase—from ability to need.

“Ain’t there something money can’t buy?” – Nick Waterhouse

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