USA 1999, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, stars Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Melora Walters, John C Reilly
Magnolia is way too much to take in at once. A second viewing isn’t just preferable, it’s essential, and the film has been made with this in mind. Saying that, it clocks in at over three hours, so Paul Anderson is asking a hell of a lot from his audience, and many people will give up after half an hour of their first attempt. There are many flaws in Magnolia, but you only really notice them in retrospect. This is a cinematic experience that, while the film is running, is supposed to connect on an emotional, rather than a rational level. You may be swept along, feeling, as the end credits roll, that you’ve been taken on a remarkable journey.
Anderson is a director who, thanks to the ecstatic critical reception given to his last film, Boogie Nights, had carte blanche to do exactly what he wanted. While Scorsese was the most obvious influence last time, Magnolia shows Anderson’s debt to Altman, specifically Short Cuts, as it tells the story of ten main characters who all live or work in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and whose lives overlap over the course of 24 hours.
Thanks to Anderson’s astonishing technical skills, the finished film is basically an exact record of the director’s way of looking at the world. It’s hard to recall a Hollywood movie which so precisely represents what’s going on in its maker’s head, reaching the screen without any noticeable outside interference – Citizen Kane might well be the closest parallel. Anderson has achieved exactly what he set out to achieve, and whatever faults Magnolia has – and, the more you think about it, the more problems you encounter – are mainly to do with his own limitations and immaturities, and not with the way he has translated them to celluloid.
It’s one of the many paradoxes of Magnolia that it is, first and foremost, a movie to be watched in a cinema, and not a cinematic ‘text’ to be dissected and analysed – a paradox because the film itself, with its endless signs, parallels and omens, seems to be made with precisely that kind of academic process in mind. And to do full justice to the film requires a full exploration of its final section – but the less audiences know in advance about the ending, the better. All I’ll say is that everybody should go and see Magnolia at least once, and if you want an exhaustive (and exhausting!), spoiler-filled analysis, you can come back afterwards and click HERE for it.
by Neil Young