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Magnolia (1999): Review

Troubled people make interesting characters. To look at the conflicts that trouble us all so deeply is to create a story that engages an audience on a psychological level. As humans, we want to see what is raw and vulnerable about people even if we're aware that the characters we're sympathising with are not wholly good people. To ease the insecurity that I am strange, I need to be shown that other people are also as fucked up as I believe I am. From a surface perspective, Magnolia (1999) portrays a series of objectionable characters doing things that many people would find unforgivable.

A movie poster for the movie 'Magnolia' containing the various characters in their roles.
Source: JoBlo

I feel like I will struggle to describe this movie fully to anyone mainly because there is not one single plot going on. The events of the film are all occur over the course of a single night with different characters experiencing different troubles. For example, Claudia's story revolves around her relationship with her estranged father, her drug problem and the police officer who comes to her door after a noise complaint. Throughout the film, we are taken to see what other characters are doing and how this may relate to Claudia; I got to understand both her father and the police officer, along with their friends, family or complete strangers. Events in the story revolve around how people connect with one another and how they ultimately deceive the people they care about the most. Portraying events from multiple perspectives is one of my favourite cinematic and literary techniques; some of the best examples in my opinion include Pulp Fiction (1994), Closer (2004) and Gone Girl (2014).

The themes of deceit and regret permeate the film on all levels of success and wealth. Whether you are an over-achieving child on a game show or a pick-up artist with daddy issues, it is clear that everyone in this film has been deeply affected by the meddling and controlling actions of other people. No one here is simple. No one here has not been through something traumatising. What the filmmaker is trying to make the audience aware of is how these people can be connected through what has hurt them the most. This is truly evidenced in the film's renowned scene where all of the leading actors are connected through singing along to Aimee Mann's 'Wise Up', a song which seems to perfectly convey how each person feels. Through editing and sound design, the filmmaker is able to link these people, many of which have never met.

Connections that may not be overt at first become clearer the further we are taken through the stories that are occurring. Something as insignificant as someone holding a sign reading 'Exodus 8:2' in the audience of a TV show becomes a major point of chaos towards the end. Coincidences are not to be taken lightly and it is the smallest of things that could mean the difference between meeting our significant other or the death of a loved one. If it one thing I adore, it is philosophy and whilst I don't believe in fate, as a plot device it serves its purpose well in joining together a group of people.

What I would criticise about this film is the running time. An intense emotional exploration of trauma would be expected to take maybe slightly longer than the average movie due to the amount of characters that need screen time but three hours is definitely excessive. There are certain sections within the film that feel as thought they drag out much longer than is necessary. This film is requires endurance that someone with a short attention span (i.e. me) may not be able to fulfil. However, I did make it through and if I can do it then anyone can.

This multi-perspective journey exploring the ugly sides of people is something that does need to be seen by audiences and filmmakers alike. Conflicting personalities and emotions come together to tell an unconventional story that feels more like an exploration of character which I thoroughly enjoyed.