Blindsided by MAGNOLIA – Review

~ Magnolia is the Blind Spot entry for November. Full listing here. ~

Once upon a time there lived a Paul Thomas Anderson fan. Watching Cigarettes & Coffee with envy, Hard Eight with awe, Boogie Nights with fascination and There Will Be Blood in appreciation my latent infatuation has finally been rewarded with a viewing of arguably, his finest work. Magnolia.

Hard Eight was a fantastic debut: layered with an auspicious undercoat that would lay the foundation for the white walls of a critically acclaimed filmography. Not a speck of dirt or loose brush hair in sight. Such a glittering filmography serves to stand out even more against this white background. But at the far end of the corridor, all alone hangs PTA’s magnum opus. A beautifully lonely portrait of the San Fernando Valley framed in a dull magnolia. This is just something that happens.

Magnolia is without a doubt one of the smartest films I have ever seen. At a challenging 180 minutes it is no easy ride. Set to a scorching pace complemented by the ever shifting, omnipresent soundtrack Magnolia takes the viewer on a ride into love, forgiveness, sin, loneliness, coincidence and chance. Pausing for breath to reiterate the wisdom of Bergen Evans, “We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.”

Combined with the looming visual iteration of Exodus 8:2 “If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole countryMagnolia has a determined undercurrent of anticipation that only relents in it’s final moments. But it’s the journey and the warnings that make this film stand-out as a dramatic masterpiece. Alas, the warnings was not headed

The warnings are there for each and every character to see. To pull themselves out of melancholic loneliness and wise up to their sins, to their past and become the masters of their fate. 82, 82, 82.

Loneliness is a plague upon San Fernando Valley.

Since the three crooks, Green, Berry, and Hill were hung with the number 82 swinging from their necks. Since scuba diver Delmer Darion was scooped up by aerial firefighting plane #82 and ejected as fire retardant. Since Sidney Barringer suffered the ironic hand of cruel coincidence right after ignoring the rooftop wiring spelling 82 and falling to his death.

It appears that these tragedies are not void of happenstance, yet the recurring numerical signposting cannot just be coincidence. These are all things that happen to those who ignore the signs and with loneliness comes a whole lot of signs, crossroads and visual iterations.

The irony of PTA’s thematic approach, that of loneliness, is that all of these characters, from the misogynistic Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) to the kind-hearted Officer Jim Kurring (John. C. Reilly) are not alone. They share the tragedy of loneliness.

This film deserves more than just a review to cover the extensive allusion to Exodus 8:2 and the numbers 8, 2, and 82 in particular so I will keep this strictly review based but I will be pursuing a more in depth analysis in the future. The IMDb trivia page is full of interesting side notes and connections that only numerous viewings can account for.

There is no question that Magnolia is a work of intricate brilliance. Yet, while intricate in the details it is epic in scope. Based in PTA’s trademark LA, as usual it becomes one of the driving characters in the interconnected lives of the inhabitants.

Frank T.J. Mackey, Claudia Gator, Jimmy Gator, Stanley Spector, Donnie Smith, Phil Parma, Earl Partridge, Linda Partridge, and Officer Jim Kurring. The lonely hearts of the San Fernando Valley.

An abandoned child, a coke addict, a dying gameshow host, a pressured quiz kid, an aged quiz kid, a caring nurse for the dying, a bed-ridden lung cancer sufferer, a guilt crazed wife, and a faithful policeman.

PTA brings these troubled characters to the sreen with a deft and purposeful hand. Building and swelling with anticipation as the visual cues add up. Utilising his recognisable trademarks to great effect the Iris In/Out shows up, his extended takes steal the show and the script is flawless.

Despite the reported 190 uses of the word f*** (I’m not counting), the script is extremely sophisticated. Everything is done with purpose and even with a fine toothcomb and magnifying glass this film requires endless research to pick apart each intricate addition.

But the details are never the focus, always lurking in the background (the Frogger machine is a highlight). It’s the stories that drive the film forward to a compelling and ultimately satisfying conclusion. Despite the 180 minute running time I wouldn’t say it was overly long but certainly a challenge that demands your attention.

Don’t have the time? Find time. For any self-proclaimed film fan this is a Must-see. PTA is a filmmaker’s filmmaker and Magnolia is just further evidence to support this growing legacy.

* * * * *

~ This is something that happens ~

 Oh, It’s a Wonderful Life next month. Completing this year’s Blind Spot Series.

25 thoughts on “Blindsided by MAGNOLIA – Review

  1. Amazing. I still remember the first time I watched this – 2 VHS tapes. I wasn’t ready for it. I had to come back to it, a few years later. It’s such a neat piece, there are so many layers and so much talent. There’s a lot for a film lover to discover, and I’m still astonished by it when I rewatch it now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brilliant review, James. Magnolia is one of my favourite films. I love how you discuss the Preface sequence. The entire film is ripe for a deconstruction editorial. This story and its characters are phenomenal. While the mataphors and climax aren’t for everyone, I also loved PTA’s daring approach. His style is like Robert Altman meets Martin Scorsese.

    I worked at a theatre at the time of Magnolia’s release = free movies. I must have seen this about 10 times! – 3 trying to explain the more interpretive parts to my then girlfriend (cheerleader, I’m just sayin… this movie isn’t for everyone right).

    Oh… And like you say, the music is amazing! It connects the multiple intricately woven storylines and really helps “every” viewer understand what’s happening. We bought that Aimee Mann soundtrack on CD right away. I wrote about the Wise Up sequence for That Moment In. But I digress… this film needs to be talked about more. Really enjoyed your in depth article, James!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you mean to tell me that this film wasn’t targeted at the steroetypical cheerleader image we are served throug pop culture? Huh, I’ll have to rethink my indepth analysis for sure! Haha.

      The music is awesome, it creeps up on you until about half way through the scene when you realise that the music never actually stopped and has actually been playing in the background of every scene. Just another link to these ‘lonely’ figures.


  3. It’s funny – It turns out that I wiped Magnolia off my own “blindsided” list around the same exact time you did. It just happened to be on one of the pay cable channels when I was channel-surfing one night, and 3 hours later I was up much later in the night than I expected but it was worth it since Magnolia is so good. However, I have to admit. I actually find the film to be a little imbalanced. Among its parallel story lines, I found myself far more drawn to some than others, and I am in the crowd who simply can’t get pass the whole “And then it rained frogs” thing. That is an act of God too far for me. However, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s best works there are multiple sequences in this film which have really stuck with me, and just as a film fan I could watch the oner he does through the backstage of the children’s quiz show over and over again just as I have with all those continuous shots in Boogie Nights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, some characters are a little tiresome (I have an unjustifiable dislike for Julianne Moore so her role, in pretty much anything, is grating). Disregarding Moore I found the rest of the picture an absolute delight, especially Reilly and the game show. I found the biblical references a nice, unique tie in for every characters to unite around, knowlingly or not. I need to watch Punch Drunk Love, The Master, and Inherent Vice to complete my PTA education. I have waited far too long to watch Inherent Vice, especially after reading Thomas Pynchon’s novel so I may just have to bump it up my ‘To Watch List’ for th new year


Share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s