Magnolia is less overtly relevant to the theme of dystopian, acopalyptic futures than any other film we’ve watched this semester. However, in a way, this film allows individual audience members to relate to the idea of the end of the world on a more personal level than a film about a smitten cleanup robot, a zombie apocalypse film, or a film about an asteroid hitting the planet. Magnolia essentially depicts events that are the metaphorical end of the world on a microscopic level for individual people who are developed and portrayed as everymen with problems not different from the struggles we in the audience face in our own daily lives. While the world may not literally be ending in this film, many of these characters’ worlds as they know it are ending.
The film essentially tells three different tales. We have the tale of the former child television star turned bum after being robbed by his parents who nearly ruins his life by robbing his former workplace. We have the tale of the dying sugar daddy whose wife has decided that she really loves him and has turned suicidal. And we have the tale of the dying estranged father who may have molested his daughter when she was younger.
While these are just tales of individuals’ private lives which are full of similar struggles to those we are used to seeing in everyday television, the way they are told presents them as much more severe, and the symbolism of the fantastic “it’s raining frogs” trope at the end of the film is meant to convey the fact that these events are more significant than they appear to be. It literally is the end of the world for these characters. Donnie Smith has lost everything he once had – fame, money, and opportunity – and he’s about to destroy the rest of his life by committing a robbery that may lead him to a lifetime of prison. Rose Gator and Claudia Wilson are destroying their chance to ever rebuild their lives by not putting the baggage of the past behind themselves. Jimmy Gator is literally dying, but, more importantly, he’s finally making an important confession to his wife that has weighed down his conscience for years. Linda Partridge is literally about to kill herself, and symbolically ending her life by failing to reconcile with her son and deal with the burdensome issue of inheritance. Frank Mackey’s life is seemingly going fine, but he’s destroying his soul by basically running a sleazy business, and it will surely weigh on him years down the line that he chose this line of work and failed to maintain a relationship with his family. All of these characters are basically destroying their lives, dragging themselves nearer to the end of their own worlds, but they fail to realize this for one reason or another. The importance of the frogs is that they act as a catalyst to change these individuals’ lives and prevent their ends. Ironically, what is usually a symbol of apocalyptic destruction, especially in biblical stories, the sky raining some sort of animal, is what saves these people who are on the brink of self-destruction.
Closing question: What benefit do films draw from using biblical parallels like the falling of the frogs from the sky to convey a theme or message? What drawbacks do they experience?