Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson-1999)

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic feature drama is a classic cinematic piece of film which depicts an important message about life, society and circumstances. “No man is an island”. On a seemingly normal ordinary day in Los Angeles several people from a variety of backgrounds attend to their own daily activity and personal drama. By somewhat mysterious and divine coincidence they all collide and end up altering their individual destiny through family, friends, work, love, tragedy and sincere humanity.

Anderson is not just about making ‘movies’ but is about the true literary like form of conveying important messages to the masses through film as a medium. The three short stories dramatised at the opening highlight this intentional message.

“The story of a shop-owner in London 1912 who owned a shop called Greenberry Hill is intriguing. Robbed and murdered outside while closing up, the culprits were caught. Daniel Green, Dave Berry and Jimmy Hill”

“The story of Frank also is interesting. While a teenager he lived with parents who argued and were extremely violent towards each other. The weight of the intense atmosphere so heavy he jumps from the roof of the apartment building to commit suicide. By chance the parents are as usual arguing in a heated manner. The wife and mother is threatening the husband with a rifle but with no intention to use it, however it goes off. The bullet misses the husband and father and hits Frank who is somehow free falling past the living room window. How unfortunate as the building owners had installed a safety net for window cleaners weeks earlier which would have saved his fall”

“It is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just “something that happened.” This cannot be “one of those things”… This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can’t. This was not just a matter of chance. … These strange things happen all the time” —- Narrator

To start a film with these truly bizarre episodes in history real or fictional of chance circumstance is already setting up the audience to think about life choices, good and bad luck and how we should all treat each other. “Do on to others….” So to speak.

Magnolia is a film of Shakespearean proportion. It is grand and epic in scale both with clearly expensive high end cinematography and the titan well established actors who appear. Most importantly it is like a Shakespeare play in form of great story telling. It features a large ensemble cast of characters who intertwine through love, tragedy, greed and family dysfunction. Audiences are not watching one persons story through life but a group of disconnected and connected people trying to find happiness and peace at different stages in life.

Julianne Moore plays Linda. This performance is captivating and showcases Julianne Moore as one of the best working actresses in Hollywood. The character Linda could have easily been perceived as superficial and boring if played by someone of less skill. A middle aged trophy wife of a dying wealthy elderly rich man with a pharmacy pill addiction sounds trite. However at some mystery point Linda becomes enlightened. One of my favourite scenes is her inner breakdown becoming visible. While she is at the chemists who by now, know her well she has verbal meltdown. They have decided to stop her anxiety and sleeping pills as she has been taking prescription advantage. This moment she REALLY takes in how she led her life, she was not used to being told no. Again like a play Linda has a monologue pf personal change and arch. Her self awareness of who she is has peaked but in front of uninterested pharmacist.

Linda Partridge: Who the fuck are you? Who the fuck do you think you are? I come in here. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am, what my life is. You have the balls, the indecency to ask me a question about my life?

Linda Partridge: Fuck you, too. Don’t call me “lady”. I come in here, I give these things to you. You check, you make your phone calls, look suspicious, ask questions. I’m sick. I have sickness all around me and you fucking ask me about my life? “What’s wrong?” Have you seen death in your bed? In your house? Where’s your fucking decency? And then I’m asked fucking questions. What’s… wrong? You suck my dick. That’s what’s wrong. And you, you fucking call me “lady”? Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on both of you.

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Continuing with the collective of connected and disconnected characters which revolve around each other on this bizarre day in L.A enters T.J Mackie played by Tom Cruise. He is the estranged son of the wealthy elderly man Linda (Julianne Moore) is married to. They are also in roughly the same age bracket, however do not often interact or converse due to the awkwardness of this. T.J Mackie has been long estranged from his Father since the death of his real biological Mother. He made a name for himself by being a playboy pick up artist. He travels across American giving lectures to men about the art if seducing women. He has become extremely sexist, materialistic and superficial in attitudes towards women in general through his only escapism which is casual promiscuity.

I really admire what Tom Cruise and Paul Thomas Anderson do with this character. He is a cinematic portrait of a modern man NO woman would like to meet. The sexism is so explicit and blunt to highlight this through offensive dialogue.

“Tame the CUNT and respect the COCK” – T.J Mackie

It’s a horrible sentence to write, hear or see delivered on screen out loud by Tom Cruise in a scene. However this showmanship at pick up artist conference is to show that his deep hatred of women for use of other than sex is deep. It stems from loosing his Mother early and seeing her quickly replaced by new stepmother. What is to be grasped from this scene is that he assumed his Father saw women as disposable and replaceable. He grew into a man who did it in more harsh brutal fashion. It is here to consider that he does not know the actual sincere original circumstances of Linda (Julianne Moore) and his Father. He quickly assumed and judged to then make bad decisions which would affect women across America with his advice to men about getting and keeping women. This is one of Tom Cruise’s career defining performances. It showcases P.T Anderson’s faith and in bringing the best acting ability out of anyone.

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Entering this particular triangle of emotional drama between the characters in Magnolia is Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the caretaker of this dying wealthy father and husband. The talented but unfortunately now deceased actor takes on this role well, conveying extreme sympathy for the bizarre events that surround this man’s passing. The dying man is so sick, it’s now no longer a question of if he is going die but more of when. He feels more emotional and regretful than ever than having to look over his past life as death comes knocking. Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Phil Parma does the ultimate deed of actually tracking down Tom Cruise’s character T.J Mackie for everyone to forgive, forget and say goodbye. I really love this moment as it sums up the major themes behind the entire narrative which is do onto others and have empathy and grace for people. Not related to these people by blood purely occupation, he could have really ignored their personal dramas with each other, but chooses not to as his sick patient is delirious on deathbed.

“There is no number for Frank (T.J Mackie) in any real stuff….Like i said this man is dying of cancer. This is the part in the movie where you help me out” — Phil Parma

This piece of dialogue depicts the caretaker as over extending his job description for the sincere sake of trying to be a good man. Also is clever breaking the fourth wall of cinema by reminding us that we ourselves as viewers are watching fictional film. It’s easy to forget as we these very real life like situations happen to these people on screen. 

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Whilst not as mainstream cinema appreciated unlike the obvious likes of Martin Scorsese or Quieten Tarantino P.T Anderson sits in a league of his own as a film director. It is often considered that Daniel Day Lewis is the greatest actor of all time but humble man. He does not come out of hiding to do projects to simply pay bills unless he is interested in a genuine cinematic tale. Regarding his latest great popular performance was in P.T Anderson’s ‘There will be blood ‘(2007). This says even more about this specific directors understated power in Hollywood as a person bring films to screen which are important to all audiences outside age, race, sex or time period.

Von Von Lamunu

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