Viewed January 2018 (probably 5th time) and April 2020
It’s an enormous masterwork—pure filmmaking ambition
Certainly, since it’s an ensemble piece set it in LA- you have to think of Altman’s 1993 Short Cuts
Ebert calls is “operatic ecstasy”
It’s a 3 hour film that follows people with ties during one day in one city
I love the line from critic Kenneth Turan at the LA Times saying Anderson is “drunk and disorderly on the pure joy of making movies”
There is seemingly endless hidden meanings in the film— it’s sort of like the Beatles “White album” (which I think the grandeur and perhaps a little of unevenness makes sense as a comparison). But there’s nothing done unintentionally in the film- from the Exodus references on down
Anderson admits the purposeful placement of Charles Fort who wrote on odd phenomena and the entire prologue of the theme of unexplained events— Fort’s book is visible in the library and he’s thanked in the film end credits
There’s a clear interest in the Masonic as well (book in library, Ricky Jay’s line “part on the square” and he has a masonic ring… many more)
“The Onion” head writer Todd Hanson talks about how the flowers in the Magnolia are petals of the characters
The Frogs are clearly from the Book of Exodus 8:2 “And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs.”– “Exodus 8:2” and “8:2” can be seen many times in the mise-en-scene throughout the film
Stanley, the boy, is a prophet- he’s the only character that isn’t surprised by the frogs raining from the sky (love the “cats and dogs” raining comment all the time and the raining itself, in LA, is ironic—anyways)– he says “This is something that happens”
The prologue pronounces the ambition—it’s clear up front. This is a meditation on chance, coincidence and fate and in the prologue we have tracking shots and freeze frames
Aimee Mann sings three times- at the beginning we have “One” introducing the robust ensemble, we have her “Wise Up” theme singalong and then the “Save Me” finale. Three songs, three weather forecasts.
Anderson is moving in and out with the camera on nearly every shot not unlike say Scorsese’s 3 hour epic casino- it must take so much energy (and filmmaking talent) to keep up that level of “directing a film” for a long film like this
It could just be me but Maria Falconetti from Dreyer’s the passion of joan of arc looks a little like the profit kid (Jeremy Blackman) here Normally I wouldn’t think anything of it but knowing Magnolia and PT Anderson I wouldn’t put it past him
25 minutes in we have the Cruise introduction to the 2001 music and his volcanic performance. His introduction and cathartic reunion with Robards may be the show-stoppers but his acting in his interview when he’s getting exposed— wow—anyone who thinks Cruise can’t act- please watch those scenes
It’s an angry film- so many of the characters are shouting— Cruise, Julianne Moore (who really walks that line of being over-the-top), Cleo King’s “Marcie” character, Melora Walters is shouting almost all of her time on screen as well
A meditation on death
Tough to break down the rap sequence which is repeated- I’m sure someone out there has and has found meaning but at least I could pick out the “the good lord bring the rain in” biblical old testament reference
At the game show studio (and backstage) it’s almost a continual tracking shot and I love the sequences where picks up following/tracking different characters
Cruise is charismatic and arrogant (playing into his main talent as an actor) and studied (even in bad movies like cocktail he’s dedicated to learning how to act like a bartender, or shoot pool)…. I thought of that here with his summersault while changing. It looks like he’d done it a million times.
There’s so much here that Anderson owes to Altman and Nashville– it’s a an ensemble, statement on a city, statement on a time era—we have the casting of Henry Gibson here (old man in bar with Macy) and Murphy as Moore’s lawyer
Whip pans galore between stories at 66 mins
Nearly every single action is so well set up formally. Reilly drops his night stick first…then the gun- his character thanks God one moment for introducing him to a woman and then he curses god or at least questions him for making him lose his gun
The characters are almost all hanging by a very thin thread
Gorgeous slow-motion bar shot of Macy with his braces set to rock/pop. Can’t do a slow-motion shot like that in a bar with that music and not think of Scorsese (mean streets, casino, goodfellas)
All the performances are superb. As good as the actors are in like Nashville these here in Magnolia are some of the best actors of their generation, PSH, Julianne Moore, Cruise— Jason Robards is equally brilliant- there is some great Ingmar Bergman-like staging of faces with him and Cruise in their scenes. The sequence where Cruise really tells him off and breaks down is devastatingly brilliant and should’ve given Cruise the Oscar for 1999 supporting
The “Wise Up” Sing-a-long is a transcendently brilliant form-breaking moment. It’s ballsy but I love it. It’s one of the best filmmaking sequences in the decade. Equally ballsy is the choice to do the frogs—absolutely love it
The interconnectivity is set up in the opening. PTA’s camera flying at you (with timely freeze frames)—“this was not just a matter of chance”—PTA is all about stating the thesis up front formally like the montage on the beach in The Master– then rolls into Aimee Mann’s “One”—
Forward tracking shots introduction of ensemble
At 13 minutes we get the first of three weather forecasts. PTA- always the formal master. The pink/blue color splashes in Punch-Drunk Love, the wake in The Master
Dense—difficult—but always engaging. The Charles Fort references, the freemasons, the rap lyrics, cats and dogs in the text with the Exodus 8:2 throughout. This is a day in the life of this ensemble in LA. Gibson’s character says they are “a spoke in the wheel that goes round and round”
At 43 minutes the weather comes in again—then a great 3 minute tracking shot following the characters on the game show and picking up and trading off to someone new as they interact
A film really about bastard patriarchs, mentor/mentee as always with PTA—the quote from the Bard—Merchant of Venice “sins of the father” — “Yes, truly; for, look you, the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children; therefore, I promise you, I fear you. I was always plain with you, and so now I speak my agitation of the matter: therefore be of good cheer; for, truly, I think you are damned.” These characters (the Macy character, Melora Walters, Cruise, Jeremy Blackman young genius Stanley)
It takes like 5 viewings of the film but there are pictures or paintings of magnolias throughout the movie, video game in the bar is frogger
At 140 minutes the “Wise Up” sing-along—9 characters. Transcendently bold – theme and variation in great art- this is a moment of breakthrough
142 minutes the weather for the third time.
The John C. Reilly and Melora Walters section of the film is like a preview of Punch-Drunk Love– Reilly is so good at the dinner scene
166 minutes the frogs raining—another bold breaker
And the final shot- a long shot- one take to Aimee Mann’s “Save Me”—Walters stares at the camera as PTA moves the camera in. Devastating—uplifting. PTA has given us 3-4 (absolutely There Will Be Blood and The Master) of cinema’s great ending shots—this is one
I first saw this when I was 14 or 15 and was impressed from that 1st viewing. Just completed probably viewing 5 or 6 in my lifetime
– PT Anderson is conducting a highwire act here juggling so many stories together, this a film that probably could have backfired badly in the hands of just about anyone else as it never lets up. Just an absurd amount of energy start to finish and extraordinary ambition; PT Anderson was 29 when he made this, talk about a Wunderkind!
– Cruise gives a very complex performance; it starts off hilariously over the top starting with the 2001 music opening and the ridiculous huckster he’s portraying. But this persona starts to melt away with the mention of his parents which continues the theme of patriarchal failure
– Loved the use of Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp with the William H Macy scene, the entire soundtrack, mainly Aimee Mann is great
– Julianne Moore can overact without overacting if that makes sense, she always brings it
– The John C Reilly part was hard to get into initially, but I actually ended up thinking he gives one of the best performances
– I have this #2 for PTA behind only There Will be Blood (2007)
I have been fascinated by this notion of hyperlink cinema, which gained popularity around the rise of the internet when people started considering how connected everyone is, more than we had ever been before. Films like Magnolia, Babel, Contagion, and Pulp Fiction really drew on that. Even Dunkirk is an evolution of that idea, and Nashville handles a similar conceit way before so many others did decades later. All of these are big ensemble movies made up of strangers whose lives cross in unexpected ways, often without the characters even noticing.
One that came out last year that I was quite impressed by was The Devil all the Time. I thought it handled all its interweaving plot threads in a really interesting way, even if there are some flaws here and there. There’s a dry irony to its treatment of fate, as it draws parallels between characters across different generations who believe they can make their own way forward, only for sheer bad luck to send them down similar tragic paths. Have you seen this one?
You absolutely need to take a look at Iñárritu’s first two films, they pull off this effect even stronger than Babel (which completes a loose trilogy with them).
Yeah I’ve seen those ones mentioned in regards to hyperlink cinema. I adore everything I’ve seen of Innaritu so I look forward to getting to those!
@Declan- I have not had a chance to see The Devil All the Time unfortunately.
@Declan – Yeah, I love this idea of coincidence/fate and interconnectedness. To me, the greatest example is still Three Colors: Red, my favorite film.
[…] Magnolia – P.T. Anderson […]
“and “8:2” can be seen many times in the mise-en-scene throughout the film“
Do you remember any specific examples of this Drake? I’ll be on the lookout for it (and write it down) next time I watch Magnolia too.
@Matthew- I came across this- may find it interesting http://thoughts-out-of-season.blogspot.com/2014/09/magnolia-number-82.html
Wow. That’s utterly incredible. Love stuff like this. I’m having a little bit of a breakthrough with Magnolia, I feel like it’s all clicking (or mostly, there’s just so much here that it’s likely the rabbit hole runs deeper), all of the formal elements (I’ve been recently trying to understand/educate myself more on film form) like the 8:2 (how it plays into the larger thematic elements and as a visual motif), the rap, the “weather forecasts” as you call it, specifically the “wise up” moment which I don’t necessarily think is “form breaking” as I think it plays into the larger fate/randomness theme (are they all singing it because they are all connected by some sort of fate that draws them together (via them sharing the same trauma) or is this just a one in sextillion situation where 9 people of the same town that share the same problems happen to be singing the same song at the same time), masonic imagery (well, not 100% grasping the role this plays), the two Reilly examples you cite above, and then the formal elements that are more central to the core of the narrative like the parallels/relationships between characters (sins of the parents, how that impacts them, how fate/chance impacts, drives their lives, and ultimately interconnects some of them (Macy-Reilly), etc). This is closer to an intricately designed clock with dozens of working parts that are all connected and rely on each other to function than it is a traditional movie. You take the movie at face value like you take the exterior of a clock, you see the whole (not much there), but not all the inner workings that define the whole. It’s like a seemingly infinite labyrinth and I can’t recall ever looking at a movie like this. Its really changing the way I look at filmmaking.
Reading back at what I said, it’s a little clustered, and maybe I got away from the point with my “Wise Up” comment, but I think you should get most of what I’m going for here. Would you say this is a flagship example of film form? For me it is, it all runs so deep and there’s so much interconnected hidden meaning on so many different levels.
Hi, Drake! im sorry for asking but why is the frog scene so good? im kinda new to movies
@Tozoco- thanks for visiting the site and the comment. I thought this article does a good job https://filmschoolrejects.com/magnolia-frog-storm/
ohhhh cool, thank you so much
What did you think of Magnolia overall? Like it? It’s a big, bold, unique one, and one of my personal favorites
you are probably going to hate me for this but in my opinion the frog scene ruins the movie, i know people say that it was the best part of magnolia, but i dont get it yet. i know that in a couple of years maybe ill think this is a dumb thing to say, but for now Magnolia is a Must See
Did you read the article drake sent? (I haven’t read it) but it could clear up any confusion on *why* it happened?
Also have you seen any other films from Paul Thomas Anderson?
i took a look at it, my brother Pedro, that recommended me “the cinem archives”, and he is a movie lover too. he tried to explain the greatness about that frog scene but i just don’t agree. Magnolia is the third Pta movie i watched, i also watched the master and licorice pizza