Written by The Kid
Picture source: Taste of Cinema.
“ But if you refuse to them a let of go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs.” – Exodus 8: 2
In the words of Pablo Picasso, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” If one looks at humanity in a close up, it is filled with fragility. People drift around their lives afraid of change, afraid of suffering, afraid of insecurity, and time. We fear the past because of the price we pay in the present for our mistakes, and we fear the future, because it is filled with the mistakes we have yet to make. If we observe life in this way, people are not black or white in nature, rather, gray, and inarguably self centered in nature.
I can make all of these armchair philosopher, blanket statements because I can look at myself, I can look at the people around me, and I can look at the characters of art and films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia . Over the course of the film’s three hours, the lives of multiple characters are illustrated and deconstructed in such a way that leads each individual to blend into the others’ lives. Yes, by the end of the film , we all know how they are connected on a surface level, but what give the film it’s poignancy is in its role as a work of art. What makes each character significant is not the roles they play in the story, but in their presence in the story at all. None of them are too distinct –they’re all broken people, stricken by the pain of past failures and anxiety over the uncertainty of the future.
At it’s core, Magnolia is about the shared experience of life — our connections to each person and the significance of an individual in being simply human. Anderson wrote this after the death of his father, and it reflects the grief that is experienced when we lose somebody close to us. Grief is about what we didn’t do, rather than what we did, and each character’s story is a parable of failure in our connections: the failure to appreciate those who love us, the failure to be present for each other, the failure to fulfill our own dreams, the failure to fulfill others’ dreams for us, and the failure to let it all go.
We feel for each person, because they are all so supremely human, and are all given the same amount of time to reflect the story’s themes. Anderson, incorporates post-modern, and almost mythological elements into the story to further illustrate each person’s connection to each other, with a heart-wrenching (and equally cheesy) musical number, and a climax of biblical proportions that leads to a final moment of catharsis and ultimately, redemption. It’s gratifying in small ways, while also being epic in equal measure.
Magnolia is often compared to Altman’s Short Cuts in it’s striking similarities, which are impossible to ignore (and I will review that film eventually, because it is also a masterpiece), but this film stands on it’s own due to Anderson’s talent as a filmmaker. He directs the film with a rhythmic pacing, in that each character’s story is given the same importance and follow the same structure, flawlessly crosscutting between them in order to highlight the importance of each person in the grand scheme of the story. Much of Anderson’s talent, that is present in all of his films, lies in his ability to speak in minimal coverage. Scenes are staged in sweeping long takes and well timed close ups, which create an intimacy to the psychological subtext of scenes and characterization.
In short, Magnolia is a cinematic masterpiece about heartbreak, loss, love, connection, and most importantly, hope. Through it’s grand scale, it contains a beautifully human message: even if the skies are dark, and the prospect of rain is high, there is always now to celebrate and strengthen the bonds we have with each other.