Essay Exchange Part 1: On a Personal Note….

In conjunction with Thomas Wishloff over at The two of us decided to write about some must see movies and swap articles for our respective blogs.  I sent over to him 1000+ words on the 10th anniversary of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  I will post that article here eventually because I’m a whore for content, but first I wanted to post Tom’s essay here.  We each picked a personal movie and his pick was “Magnolia” Enjoy…..


When Adam told me that he was going to do a personal film in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, I said to myself “great, now I have to do a personal film too” (way to go Adam, now I can’t talk about Dogville). So I was stuck. Originally my portion of the list of films that Adam and I are using for this project, was a list of films that I wanted to have seen at some point, not a list of my all time favorite films; and while I have since seen many of those films, none really stood out in particular to me as having a personal resonance. Unlike Adam, I would never dare take a romantic interest to a majority of the films that I had picked out. While some of the films moved me, I cannot say that I would suggest any of those films to the general public for emotional weight. Most of the reasons I have a strong affection to a good percentage of those movies, begins with the technical aspects (I’m kind of like a movie watching robot for those of you who don’t know me). And then it hit me in a way similar to the film itself did the first time I experienced it; I should write about Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

This is probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve tried to write about the colossal epic that is Magnolia; and every time, I fee like I’ve failed to do the film justice. Simply put I’m warning you in advance, the sixth time is not likely to be the charm. Even if I manage to get about half of what I want to say on paper, there still so much that I simply cannot articulate in an essay type format. Some of the most important aspects of Magnolia just cannot be put into words, and you know what I’m okay with that. I’ve since given up on trying to describe Magnolia to someone who doesn’t love film the way I do, or someone who couldn’t tell Magnolia from Steel Magnolias, because I just look like some sort of raving lunatic every time I try to do so. In essence, I think I’m writing this to finally come to some sort of personal reasoning why this movie means so much to me. What is it about Magnolia that leaves me shaking every time Amie Mann’s glorious Save Me begins overtop of the films end credits? Is there something in particular that causes my spine to shiver, in a manner not too dissimilar from the shivering that every Canadian does for six months out of the year, when the always moving camera perfects a beautiful zoom in on Julianne Moore’s face not even eight minutes into the film? Why does Tom Cruise breaking down at the side of an old man’s bed leave me with the feeling of pure emotional deflation? How does this film make me, the emotional robot, feel so much?

The first time I watched Magnolia, I watched it in one sitting. At the time, I was swimming competitively and I had morning practice the next morning at the beautiful hour of 4:30 AM (I was a dedicated young athlete). I decided at 9 PM, that I had about 30 minutes or so to start Magnolia, and then I’d probably have to go to sleep. Flash forward to around 1 AM, and I sat awake starting at the roof of my room, pondering the same questions mentioned above (remember this story because it’ll turn out important later). There something intrinsically raw about the emotions of Magnolia, that lends it to what it is. Magnolia, isn’t just a movie, it’s some kind of epic experience…with raining frogs.

Magnolia opens with three seemingly unrelated stories, that in every other situation you’d probably respond to with a quick “cool story bro”. Except you don’t, you continue watching because, there’s something so damn fascinating about where this is all headed. Then we get Amie Mann’s rendition of One originally from Three Dog Night, that plays over a black screen, until a guitar rift bursts into a succulent cacophony of color that comes directly from a time lapse photography of a flower in bloom and several maps and other things. I’ve never actually attributed it until now, but that’s where I buy into this film, right at the vibrant title image. Then we get to meet all of the oh so many characters. To retell the plot in a way that isn’t going to take five hours, there are a lot of stories involved in this film. Tom Cruise plays a male dating coach on steroids, and his long lost father is dying of cancer (Jason Robards). His wife (Julianne Moore), attempts to deal with his waning life, and her guilt at her multiple indiscretions. Her husband’s male nurse (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) meanwhile is tasked with finding Tom Cruise’s character for a long lost reunion. The cancer stricken man’s television empire runs a show called What Do Kids Know, where host (Phillip Baker Hall) deals with boy genius Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackham), whose success is eerily similar to that of another boy genius from years ago (William H. Macy) whose lost his intelligence following a freak lightning accident. The host’s daughter (Melora Walters) is cocaine addict whose past hides a dark secret; she beings a relationship with a genuine, but lonely cop (John C. Reilly), whom is just looking for the right person. At this point, I know this sounds like a terrible joke (especially if they all walk into a bar). In fact I don’t think I would have even taken a chance on this film if I had seen what I just wrote that night so many years ago. That’s part of what is so endearing about this film; it’s a film that really shouldn’t work at all but does.

I think what makes Magnolia work where it shouldn’t, is it’s devastating emotional content. Maybe it’s just a personal thing, but all of the performances I find to be brilliant. I still tear up when I get the impassioned manic Julianne Moore sequence in a pharmacy, where she just can’t get some medication for her husband without having to face the pharmaceutical inquisition (to be honest if I as a pharmacist and saw what she was trying to purchase, I would’ve assumed she was planning to have some kind of a wicked party too). This is the kind of scene, which would be the highlight montage presented at the Academy Awards; and they’re all like this. Magnolia, just flat out has that power that other films don’t have.

I’ve often gone on record and said that Magnolia is my second favorite film of all time, falling behind Memento. Look this film isn’t without flaws; it’s actually very flawed, to the point where I can totally understand why someone would be turned off by Magnolia. The film is basically Almodovar meets Run Lola Run, all hopped up on Mountain Dew, for three hours. There’s the crazy camera work, where the camera never stops. There’s a cancer patient singing an Amie Mann song, there’s Meta aspects, there’s raining frogs. If you told me you hated Magnolia, I wouldn’t hold it against you. There’s just something personal about this film for me.

While Magnolia may not be a movie I took my girlfriend of ten years to on our first date, and let’s be completely honest here, no matter what kind of shenanigans went into my first viewing of Magnolia it cannot hold up to that. Yet, this is a film that I’d say is personal to me, simply because it’s special. It’s special in a way that I can’t put my finger on, and I know it’s a complete cop out, but really the only way I can say it is it’s Magnolia. I guess for me, it’s one of the first movies that I really discovered on my own. I saw the title in a book one day, and I decided to watch it. I guess at the end of the day, what makes Magnolia special to me is that I see something inherently special within it. If that silly sixteen-year-old kid (I told you it was going to be important), hadn’t spent the whole night thinking about what exactly it is that makes Magnolia special, his life wouldn’t be the same. His life would be inherently different, and he probably wouldn’t even be writing this article. Because Magnolia just hit that kid, in a way that he wasn’t expecting, but after all, that is just something that happens.


~ by ATOM on March 28, 2014.

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