Ernie Anderson was the cool voiceover for the ABC television network that would introduce upcoming programs for years. He was a staple of the television industry from the 1970s through the ‘90s. I promise you or your parents know his sharp, recognizable tempo. So it makes sense that his son Paul Thomas Anderson would center his multiple story crossover film “Magnolia” around the television industry around a 10 block radius in the Hollywood Area. “Magnolia” presents the off chance coincidences that somehow happen and the unusual phenomena that can occur when never expected.
Anderson’s three hour epic offers storylines centered around former and present day game show quiz kids (Jeremy Blackmon, William H Macy), the game show host stricken with cancer (Phillip Baker Hall), the drug addicted daughter he’s estranged from (Melora Walters), the dying game show producer (Jason Robards), the producer’s son who is a motivational speaker for men to sexually conquer women (Tom Cruise), and the producer’s gold digging wife (Julianne Moore).
Because the narrative of the film has a biblical theme specifically referencing Exodus 8:2, there are also two good natured guardian angels involved. John C Reilly as a sweet but clumsy police officer proud of his work and a sentimental hospice nurse played beautifully with bedside sympathy by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Anderson’s film opens with three stories of random coincidence that resulted in the deaths of three different men. More than likely most people would say these tall tales of legend could only occur in a movie. Yet, the voiceover narrator , Ricky Jay, says they did not, and thus begins one specific day with lots of rain where all of these random characters will come in contact with a personal experience of monumental impact that will change their individual lives forever. Oddly enough, all these people are somehow connected to one another and are within blocks of each other located near Magnolia Blvd in the Hollywood Hills.
Like “Boogie Nights,” Paul Thomas Anderson directs a film of very weighty emotions that thematically focuses on the sins of fathers that carried over to the futures of their children. The game show is titled “What Do Kids Know?” which likely symbolizes what they didn’t know when at the behest of their parents during their youth. What they know now about their fathers is a burden to bear in insecurities, drug abuse and outright cruelty for the opposite sex. Every character represents some aspect of this ongoing theme during “Magnolia.” It’s a lot, a whole of of information, but fortunately it moves at a very swift pace with much steady cam and dramatic notes of instrumental soundtracks.
Anderson consistently shows different references to Exodus 8:2 by either using the numbers in clocks or decks of cards or temperature readings of the weather or on marquee signs. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt when seeing the film on a multiple viewing.
MAYBE A SPOILER ALERT:
“But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs.”
Sure. Most recognize the Bible verse as Moses’ decree to Pharaoh to release the Jews from Egypt. I like to think Anderson used “Magnolia” to release his beloved, but damaged, characters from their own sins or the sins of their fathers. Set them free even if it could be by means of confession, offering and begging for forgiveness, or journeying towards a personal salvation.
The smart device that Anderson uses is the angelic music of Aimee Mann. Often I talk about how I love when film characters would spontaneously dance. In “Magnolia,” the cast sings to Mann’s confession number called “Wise Up” and it more or less summarizes each individual plight the various characters endure. “Magnolia” is only an even better film because of Mann’s music.
“Magnolia” is a beautiful film that I draw many personal parallels from, especially having now lost both of my parents and being by my father’s bedside during his difficult final days illness in the last year.
It is very touching, sometimes funny, and sometimes a difficult film to watch with a belief in random coincidence that is only stronger after watching it.
Like the film insists “we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” After “Magnolia” finishes, you won’t be through with Paul Thomas Anderson’s film. It’s a film that will stay with you.