‘Magnolia’ Film Review on Amazon Prime

January 3, 2018

Magnolia is one of P.T. Anderson’s earlier works and it is easily his darkest. Mr. Anderson innovatively wires together the inanities and hideousness of commercial entertainment, i.e. “Show Business”, with a seriously negative outlook on the reality which its humans inhabit. The film looks at the dark side of human agency in nearing the advocacy of rejecting the affirmation of life.


The most apparent decry of being human introduced in the film is the cosmic misfortune that entangles a select anecdotal set in the beginning of the film, which lays the groundwork for the rest of the narrative. That being, human folly or rather inappropriate direction of their agency, leads to havoc and moral encumbrance among the rest of mankind.


Indeed, such an assertion from the master filmmaker cannot be denied. His ability to weave an ensemble drama centered around this point and embedded within the Hollywood factory perhaps is a foreshadowing of the ugliness that is most recently exposed within the entertainment industry at the time of this writing. But his presentation of the human condition is not fully contained within this compartment of human society. The misfortune is represented in a general sense of being human and the stamina that is required to remain human.


It is perhaps in this bleakness and void with a running time of over two and a half hours that an affirmation can be gleaned? That by revealing rock bottom there is no way to look but upward and onward? Indeed, there can be; for while Mr. Anderson shows us a depraved cast of humanity, which is a continuum across eons of the race, he shows one commonality: and that is a lack of religion.


The meaning of the work may be best summarized by the Christian anthem: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? The patriarchs in the film, both of whom reach the terminal ends of their lives, face the music which they composed and it is an ugly melody. Living for nothing higher than their apish delights, they create carnal chaos which resonates with the misfortune of human agency Anderson reaches to depict. And at the end, when their time pieces are turning ever slower, they have nothing but regret for what they are, and therefore, what they have become.


It is not to say that religiosity is a panacea for such havoc among the human race. But it is to say that the weakest members in the species are provided boundaries to which their free will may operate within. To give free will carte blanche to those without proper preparation on how to handle such metaphysical responsibility will invariably lead to moral decay and cultural decline. This, then, is a riposte to the Enlightenment’s optimism, that by clearing the cobwebs and allowing all minds to think freely, the best will be brought forward. But goodness as a quality, and greatness as a further rarefication of The Good, is seldom struck. The mediocre, in other words, will by inertia bring the state of man downward, if they are given equal or majority influence of his meaning.


And thus, it is compelling to find the hopeless abandonment of each of the mired individuals in the film sing a song of “giving up”, on quitting, as opposed to finding a reason for a life worth living. This reason, in such an age of spiritual latitude, must be given by themselves. They must create a reason for their prime movement, even in the face of the ugly. This presupposes then that living itself is an act of gratitude, and therefore must be expressed toward an externality which it is necessarily bound and subservient to. But this also supposes that all individuals possess the strength to provide, create, or give themselves such value.


This, then, is the reason for religion’s vitality in the course of human history. Most cannot undergo such an excursion. And most is an underestimation. Virtually all of mankind does not possess the urgency to birth new ways of being human. Does it require then rigid social constraints to prevent the deplorable from happening? Or does it require a pedagogy which compels humanity to act deferentially toward the righteous, to devour wisdom, to maintain its course’s path on the straight and narrow, and to inhibit the eternal chicanery of its animal nature? Chock up Magnolia, then, to a further examination of humanity’s growing pangs of learning to become free.


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