~ 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 country” Magnolia 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.
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~ This is something that happens ~